As the fog descends around the Tyrone’s summer home, another fog falls on the family within. This fog is that of substance abuse, in which each of the four main characters of Eugene O’Neill’s play, Long Day’s Journey into Night face by the end of Act IV. Long Day’s Journey into Night is a metaphoric representation of the path from normalcy to demise by showing the general effects of substance abuse on human psychology and family dysfunctions through the characters Mary, Jamie, Edmund and Tyrone.
Mary Tyrone makes the transition most clearly throughout the entire play. In Act I, her hands move restlessly, and she seems to be quite nervous. When she appears in Act II “one notices no change except that she appears to be less nervous, but then one becomes aware that her eyes are brighter and there is a peculiar detachment in her voice and manner” (O’Neill 58). These subtle signs of her relapse back to chemical dependency continue until the final scene, where she is most obviously under the influences of a chemical substance.
The morphine seems to make her reminiscent of the past. In Act III, she talked about her two childhood dreams of becoming a concert pianist or a nun. By Act IV, she has dragged her old wedding dress from the attic and attempted to play the piano again. This presents a psychological reasoning for her relapses. She considers herself to be growing old and ugly, and often refers to the how she was at one time young and beautiful.
“To her, the ugliness of the hands is the ugliness of what she has become over the last twenty-five years, which is why she uses the pain of the rheumatism in them as her reason for the morphine” (Chabrowe 181). Thus, it can be correlated that at one time she used the morphine to escape pain, and when she realized that it made her feel youthful again she became addicted.
Her failure to desist is also connected with her interfamily relationships. When she was accused of relapsing she said, “It would serve all of you right if it was true” (O’Neill 47)! This suggests that she is seeking justification to continue her drug addiction by using her family’s suspicions as a reason to relapse (Bloom 163). Not only are her actions influenced by her family, but they also influence the men, namely Edmund. He is quite aware of his diminishing health, and suspects that he may have Tuberculosis.
He feels, however, that he can overcome his illness as his mother overcame her addiction. His optimism is crushed when he realizes that she has indeed relapsed. Mary and Edmund are connected in more ways than a mother is to her youngest son. Michael Hinden notes that besides the fact that they share the same physical features, they have both tried to kill themselves and are both linked to sanitariums (62). Because they are so similar, it is not unusual that he uses her strength as motivation to persevere within his own problems, while her failure ensures his own failure in his mind.
Jamie is the disappointment of the family. He enjoys the company of whores and other alcoholic degenerates. He was expelled from college, and was a seemingly bad influence on his younger brother. Mary blames Tyrone for Jamie’s alcoholism, since he fed Jamie a teaspoon of whisky as a child whenever he was restless. Yet, Jamie blames his mother. “[His] alcoholism is tied directly to [her] morphine addiction: over the years his drinking has risen and fallen in relation to Mary’s cures” (Hinden 54). He had hoped that if she could beat it, so could he. It is apparent that his alcoholism is also the cause for his failure in life.
In Act IV, Jamie admits that he has glorified his lifestyle in order for his brother to fail. This apparently worked, since Edmund too has a problem with alcohol. Although their relationship seems healthy, it is obviously poisoned. It is not uncommon between two brothers that the younger looks up to the elder, and Edmond does. Knowing this, Jamie purposely sets a bad example due to his jealousy of his mother’s affection for him. This suggests that Jamie knows the harmfulness of alcohol and continues to inflict the bad habit onto his brother in how he “made getting drunk romantic” (O’Neill 165).
Edmund most vividly describes why he drinks. He uses alcohol as an escape from thought. When he describes the night he tried to kill himself, his father claims that he was morbid because he was drunk. Edmund retorts, “I was stone cold sober. That was the trouble. I’d stopped to think too long” (O’Neill 147). He also quotes Baudelaire, “Be always drunken. Nothing else matters: that is the only question. If you would not feel the horrible burden of Time weighing on your shoulders and crushing you to earth, be drunken continually” (O’Neill 132). These two instances clearly pronounce that Edmund uses alcohol in order to forget. There is irony in this because everything that happens that day makes it impossible to forget the past, and the intoxication only worsens the problem (Bloom 171).
Edmund’s drinking not only has noticeable affects on his psychology (or “morbidness”, as his father likes to call it) and his family relations, but it is apparent that his alcoholism has and will continue to cause problems with his health. According to www.lungusa.org, TB development “may be [due to] drug or alcohol abuse or a lack of health care because of homelessness.” It was stated in Act I that Edmund was working as a sailor, and had spent much of his time living in “filthy dives, drinking rotgut” (O’Neill 35).
This accounts for his unhealthy condition. It is implied throughout the play that further alcohol use will accelerate the deterioration of his condition, and possibly destroy his chances to overcome the illness. Alcohol for Edmund could be fatal, yet through most of Act IV he has a drink. He says, “We are such stuff as manure is made on, so let’s drink up and forget it.” (O’Neill 131). Psychologically, he feels that he will not overcome his illness, so he may as well drink anyhow. He has always used alcohol as an escape before, but now it could prove fatal.
The fourth main character is James Tyrone. He claims that he has never been too drunk to miss a performance, yet Mary says, “I know what to expect. You will be drunk by tonight. Well, it won’t be the first time, will it – or the thousandth” (O’Neill 69)? Tyrone is the head of the family, and his children are likely to follow his example. As fore stated, Tyrone was blamed for Jamie’s alcohol problems because when Jamie had nightmares, Tyrone gave him a teaspoon of whisky to help him sleep.
However, many factors influence the outcome of an adolescent. “Families who have problematic functioning along the dimensions of cohesion and adaptability are likely to abuse alcohol as a means of coping with critical family events” (Collins, Leonard and Searles 153). This suggests that the problems that the family goes through, for example; staying in second-rate hotels and never having a steady home, have caused his family to seek chemical means of coping with their troubles.
The Tyrone family is very dysfunctional, especially in their drinking (and drug) habits. They seek every opportunity to drink, and constantly try to justify themselves. Because this is true, their addictions feed off each other and make abstention nearly impossible. Mary’s need for morphine is enhanced by Edmund’s ill condition and the constant suspicion that she is using again.
Edmund, Jamie, and Tyrone all drink because Mary has relapsed, and they were hoping that she could beat it. Thus, the cycle continues, and each character is justified in their substance use. Due to this constant codependency on other members of the family to help them fight their addiction, it is practically inevitable that they will fail. This is quite unfortunate, since substance abuse proposes a real danger for Edmund and Mary explicitly, but also for Jamie and Tyrone.
It was truly a long day for the Tyrone family, where the morning symbolized normalcy and the night represents the demise. The fog was a constant symbol of opioid and alcoholic influences. It fell on all of the characters by the end of the play and was often referred to symbolically. One also notes that the substance abuse causes different occurrences within each family member. The morphine makes Mary nostalgic and the alcohol makes Edmund more aware (when he was hoping to forget.) Jamie becomes quite intoxicated and becomes viciously honest, and Tyrone simply holds his liquor in such a way that he seems to be in control of himself, but one is able to see that he is not.
This is a domestic drama, and in many ways comparable to an ancient Greek tragedy. Most important, however, is the sub theme that alcohol and drugs are what destroy a family from the inside out. The dysfunctions of the family only grow larger and more hideous as the shadows of night darken. Although the end of the play does not seem to leave the reader with a sense of what the future holds for the Tyrone family, the book tends to be repetitive. Thus, one can assume that the play marks one day, one relapse for Mary, one trip for Jamie to the whorehouse, one more drink Edmund takes to forget the past, and one more drink that Tyrone takes to help himself cope. Yet, it will not be the first, or the last. It will be just one more. Night will journey into morning and it will all happen again. Such is tragedy.
American Lung Association. “Who Get’s It.” Tuberculosis (TB.) On-line. Internet. 1 March 2001.
Chabrowe, Leonard. “Rituals and Pathos: The Theatre of O’Neill.” Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism.
Bloom, Steven F. “Empty Bottles, Empty Dreams: O’Neill’s Use of Drinking and Alcoholism in Long Day’s Journey Into Night.” Critical Essays on Eugene O’Neill. 1984 ed.
Collins, R. Lorraine, Kenneth E. Leonard, and John S. Searles. Alcohol and the Family. New York, London: The Guilford Press, 1974.
Hinden, Michael. Long Day’s Journey into Night: Native Eloquence. Boston: Twane Publishers, 1990.