Symbols and Symbolism in Long Day's Journey into Night

Symbols and Symbolism in Long Day's Journey into Night

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Symbolism is used throughout O¹Neill¹s Long Day¹s Journey into Night, a portrayal of the  author¹s life.  The three prominent symbols, the fog, the foghorn, and Mary¹s glasses,

represent the characters¹ isolation from reality.  The symbols in ³Long Day¹s Journey into  Night² are used to substitute illusion for reality.  Although Mary is the character

directly associated with living in illusion, all characters in the play try to hide from

the truth in their own ways. At the beginning of the second act, O'Neill notes a change in

setting which has taken place since the play opened.  No sunlight comes into the room now  and there is a faint haziness in the air.  This haziness or fog obscures one¹s perception  of the world, and it parallels the attempts of each member of the family to obscure or hide

reality.  Tyrone, for example, drinks whiskey to escape his son¹s criticism of how cheap he

is.  The reference to fog always has a double meaning in this play,  referring both to the

atmosphere and to the family.  Much of the activity carried on by the Tyrone family is

under-handed and sneaky, they are always attempting to put something over on somebody  and

obscure the truth. This brings us to the second symbol, the foghorn.  Mary says she loves

the fog because "it hides you from the world and the world from you," but she hates the

foghorns because they warn you and call you back².  This escape is similiar to the morphine

she takes, and the foghorns are the family¹s warnings against her addictions.  When they

discuss the mother, Edmund resents Jamie's hinting that she might have gone back to her old

habit; and Jamie is angry with Edmund for not staying with her all morning. Although they

both think that she has started using dope again, they don't want to have to admit it.

Because the men in the family all try so hard to deny the truth and to blame each other or

the mother for her affliction, it appears that they all feel some guilt and some

responsibility for what has happened to her , and to themselves.  Even when confronted with

the truth (that the mother is using drugs), they all still try to act as if everything were

all right, to deny the reality and live in illusion. Mary¹s glasses symbolize her inability

to see things clearly.  She frequently misplaces them, and really doesn¹t want to find them

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because that would force her to face reality, which she desperately tries to hide from.

 Hearing the mother moving around upstairs, Tyrone tells Edmund he shouldn't pay too much

attention to her tales of the past. The father says, "Remember she's not responsible," and

Edmund replies that it was the father's stinginess that's responsible.  When Tyrone tells

Edmund to take the mother's comments about the past with a grain of salt, we see an example

of how two people can look at the same thing but "see" the thing very differently. The

mother considered her former home "wonderful," her father "noble," her convent days the

"happiest," her piano playing "outstanding," her desire to be a nun "sincere." But the

father says that she was mistaken, that she didn't see things as they really were.  O'Neill

probably felt that these memories were the illusion the mother needed to make reality

tolerable; as she remarked earlier, her medicine kills the pain so she can go back to the

past when she was really happy. These symbols in this play were very effective; providing

the hazy atmosphere and confusion, or the obscured reality.  They were integral parts of

the play, because they were the root of the family¹s conflict and confusion.   O'Neill

rarely misses an opportunity to show in the conversation and action of the Tyrone family

the conflict which each feels internally regarding

the others.   It appears that none of them can do or say anything without hurting the

others; usually on purpose.


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