In the play Long Days Journey Into Night by Eugene ONeill, the Tyrone family is haunted not by what is present in flesh facing them, but by memories and constant reminders of what has been the downfall of the family for years. ” No it can never be now. But it was once, before you-” (72) [James Tyrone referring to the Morphine addiction of his wife, Mary, which attributed to the undoing of the family]. Their trials and tribulations are well documented by ONeill through the proficient utilization of theme, characterization, plot, setting, and style.
Throughout the play, ONeills theme is one of a disclosure into the life of a seemingly normal family on the outside yet convoluted with bitterness on the inside. It portrays the actions of a dysfunctional family and brings us on a reflective journey from when the fledgling family had started, devoted to one another with high hopes for the future, to what it is today, a family engulfed in turmoil. “Who would have thought Jamie would grow up to disgrace usIts such a pityYou brought him up to be a boozer.” (110) In this excerpt from Marys conversation with James regarding their son, it is obvious that their life had taken a 180-degree turn from when their offspring were mere children with promise.
Characterization throughout the play helps us not only to understand the characters actions but also to see into the soul of each and to comprehend their thoughts and emotions, essentially assessing the motives for their actions. Early in the play, Mary is perceived to be a common, traditional housewife “She is dressed simplyshe has the simple, unaffected charm of a shy covenant-girl youthfulness she has never lost-an innate worldly innocence.” (13) Yet as the play progresses, she is portrayed in a different light. “I hope, sometime, without meaning it, I will take an overdose. I never could do it deliberately. The Blessed Virgin could never forgive me, then.” (121) It is apparent in this muttering by Mary to herself that her addiction has seized control over her and that she no longer can bear the pain.
James Tyrone is faced with many a problem. Through this tough time he is faced with personal, family, and financial conflicts, thus attributing to the plot. Besides having to deal with his wifes addiction, his sons ill health and drinking problems, and his financial decisions, (which have proven to be for the worse), James struggles with a personal conflict throughout the play. He believes that he may be the cause of some of the family problems and that he has dealt with them in an improper manner. “So Im to blame!” (39)
The setting of the play is the Tyrones Puritan New England home, which provides for many of the arguments that take place in the novel. These arguments often arise due to the fact that their house never really felt like a true home to them. “I never felt it was my home. It was wrong from the start” (44) The town in which the Tyrones made their residence also made for arguments and acrimony. Primarily “WASPs” dominated the area and the Tyrone family had always felt out of place, being that they were Irish Catholic. “Ive always hated this town and everyone in it.” (44)
The Style that ONeill uses is one of reflection, as the play is set on one day but goes in-depth about many past issues and events. The use of vivid descriptive phrases by all of the characters creates the feeling of their true unease and disappointment. “we sit pretending to forget, but straining our ears listening for the slightest sound, hearing the fog drip the eaves like the uneven tick of a rundown crazy clock”(152) Symbolism is also utilized by ONeill as he uses the fog that surrounds the Tyrone house to symbolize the “fog” that Mary is in as she is high on her morphine. “Its such a dismal, foggy evening.” (108)
Throughout the play, in his reflective style of writing, ONeill demonstrates how, in the past, all that has been said and done has had a significant influence on all that occurs in the present. The actions and statements which had been done have forever affected the Tyrone family, albeit adversely. Throughout it all, however, Mary always tries to keep a positive view and disposition. The final verse of the play is Mary reflecting on the good in her life, which ultimately manifested into bad: “Then in the spring something happened to me. Yes, I remember. I fell in love with James Tyrone and I was so happy for a time.” (176)