Long Day’s Journey into Night,


“Tyronian” Tragedy


Drama Essay

February 10, 2003

In Eugene O’Neill’s agonizingly autobiographical play Long Day’s Journey into Night, readers are introduced a dismal family situation. Drugs, death, illness and failure lace each conversation, and regret flows almost as unreservedly as the alcohol.

In such a tragedy, one would expect to have a clear idea of with whom the blame lies. In this piece of drama, however, there is a distinct inability to do so.

Eugene O’Neill persistently manipulates the emotional responses of the reader. This manipulation keeps partiality off balance and uncertain. O’Neill accomplishes this by allowing readers to sympathize with one family member. Once sympathy is established for one particular character, that character promptly says, or does, something that loses the reader’s alliance, along with the alliance of whichever character he or she is berating at that particular moment. This results in the reader’s inability to discern who, precisely, is culpable for the Tyrone family’s situation.

The idea of assigning culpability in Long Day’s Journey Into Night is almost humourous. Even if one wanted to, it would be difficult to sort through years of built up anger, layer upon layer of repression, and huge amounts of guilt in each character; for each character is at fault for one thing or another, and, in addition, each character blames someone else for his or her problem. For example, Mary blames her husband and his tightfistedness for her addiction to morphine. Due to their mother being an addict, Jamie is unable to bring girls home, thus he visits prostitutes. Such behavior has influenced his younger brother Edmund, “making him old before his time” (35). Consequently, Jamie is at fault for Edmund’s poor health. In turn, his mother, for causing the addiction by being brought into the world, as well as worsening it with his own illness, blames Edmund. And so, the vicious circle continues.

However, if one does not wish to inflict upon one’s distinguished teaching assistant a painfully long dissertation of each member’s contributions to the tragedy and the results thereof, one ought to maintain, for argument’s sake, that the majority of the culpability lies with James Tyrone, for his behaviour in regards to money, alcohol, and his own status as a failed actor.

James’s father had left the family when James was only ten years of age. This left James as the man of the family, working twelve hours each day to help provide for his mother and three sisters. As James explains, “It was in those days I learned to be a miser”(151). He feels proud of his savings, and announces to his family in regards to buying something: “I got them dead cheap”(15). His own early recognition of the importance of money explains his continual contempt for his own children’s lack of concern when it comes to working: “What do you know of the value of a dollar?”(150). He accuses Jamie of being lazy and having no ambition.

Not only does James Tyrone wish his sons understood the value of money, but since they do not, he is forced to be miserly enough for the whole family. Consequently, the family resents his overly economic ways. There are many attacks throughout the play on James Tyrone for this, the first one being Jamie accusing him of not sending Edmund to a real doctor for his illness when he first got sick. Jamie says, “Hardy only charges a dollar. That’s what makes you think he’s a fine doctor!”(31). Later, another dialogue gives an even worse view of the situation; Tyrone sending Edmund to a cheap sanatorium, but spending money on real estate:

JAMIE: Well, for God's sake, pick out a good place and not some cheap dump!

TYRONE: (Stung) I'll send him wherever Hardy thinks best!

JAMIE: Well, don't give Hardy your old over-the-hills-to-the-poorhouse song about taxes and mortgages.

TYRONE: I'm no millionaire who can throw money away! Why shouldn't I tell Hardy the truth?

JAMIE: Because he'll think you want him to pick a cheap dump, and because he'll

know it isn't the truth ­ especially if he hears afterwards you've seen McGuire and let that flannel-mouth, gold-brick merchant sting you with another piece of bum property! (82)

Later realizing the anger this statement comes from, James Tyrone offers Edmund “any place you