The curtain rises again on the living room, where Edmund sits reading. It is 12:45 pm on the same August day. Cathleen, the maid, enters with whiskey and water for pre-lunch drinking. Edmund asks Cathleen to call Tyrone and Jamie for lunch. Cathleen is chatty and flirty, and tells Edmund that he is handsome. Jamie soon enters and pours himself a drink, adding water to the bottle afterwards so that Tyrone will not know they had a drink before he came in. Tyrone is still outside, talking to one of the neighbors and putting on "an act" with the intent of showing off. Jamie tells Edmund that Edmund may have a sickness more severe than a simple case of malaria. He then chastises Edmund for leaving Mary alone all morning. He tells him that Mary's promises mean nothing anymore. Jamie reveals that he and Tyrone knew of Mary's morphine addiction as much as ten years before they told Edmund.
Edmund begins a coughing fit as Mary enters, and she tells him not to cough. When Jamie makes a snide comment about his father, Mary tells him to respect Tyrone more. She tells him to stop always seeking out the weaknesses in others. She expresses her fatalistic view of life, that most events are somehow predetermined, that humans have little control over their own lives. She then complains that Tyrone never hires any good servants; she is displeased with Cathleen, and she blames her unhappiness on Tyrone's refusal to hire a top-rate maid. At this point, Cathleen enters and tells them that Tyrone is still outside talking. Edmund exits to fetch him, and while he is gone, Jamie stares at Mary with a concerned look. Mary asks why he is looking at her, and he tells her that she knows why. Although he will not say it directly, Jamie knows that Mary is back on morphine; he can tell by her glazed eyes. Edmund reenters and curses Jamie when Mary, playing ignorant, tells him that Jamie has been insinuating nasty things about her. Mary prevents an argument by telling Edmund to blame no one. She again expresses her fatalist view: "[Jamie] can't help what the past has made him. Any more than your father can. Or you. Or I." Jamie shrugs off all accusations, and Edmund looks suspiciously at Mary.
Tyrone enters, and he argues briefly with his two sons about the whiskey. They all have a large drink. Suddenly, Mary has an outburst about Tyrone's failure to understand what a home is. Mary has a distinct vision of a home, one that Tyrone has never been able to provide for her. She tells him that he should have remained a bachelor, but then she drops the subject so that they can begin lunch. However, she first criticizes Tyrone for letting Edmund drink, saying that it will kill him. Suddenly feeling guilty, she retracts her comments. Jamie and Edmund exit to the dining room. Tyrone sits staring at Mary, then says that he has "been a God-damned fool to believe in you." She becomes defensive and begins to deny Tyrone's unspoken accusations, but he now knows that she is back on morphine. She complains again of his drinking before the scene ends.
Act II introduces us to alcohol, one of the great motifs in the play. In the drinking of alcohol, we see an attempt by the male characters to escape the problems that haunt them. However, notice that this makes them no different from Mary, who uses a different drug to escape the pains of the world. In fact, by the end of Act IV, all three men are drunk, Cathleen is drunk, and Mary is mentally drifting after consuming a huge dose of morphine. The play begins in sobriety but ends in complete inebriation. All the characters are to some degree addicted--to alcohol, or, in Mary's case, to morphine. Thus we see that life for the Tyrone family is very conducive to the desire to escape from the world. Life in the Tyrone family is also conducive to addiction, which we see particularly in Mary, who was on her way to recovery until she came home to her family and could no longer resist the urge to escape mentally. The use of alcohol, furthermore, suggests also that the day on which this play is set is just one of many similar days filled with fighting and excessive drinking until everyone goes to sleep. There is a cycle of alcoholism present in each day for the Tyrones, which leads to the pessimistic conclusion that the family's problems in this play do not resolve themselves, that their conflicts do not lessen. Each family member spends the day working towards inebriation, arguing along the way, and then goes to bed only to wake up the next day and begin the cycle over again.
In this scene, we see clearly Mary's tendency to blame the problems of the family on fate. She initially criticizes Jamie for his tendency to look for weaknesses in other people, but then she attributes the flaw to the way Jamie was raised, which he cannot help. Mary's fatalistic view is one of her character flaws, because it always provides her with an easy way out. Rather than really confronting Jamie about his malice, she simply excuses him. Likewise, she blames much of her own problems on her crushed dreams and disappointment, which in her mind leaves her with very little choice in her actions. The fatalistic outlook, in its removal of responsibility, is a barrier to solving problems, which Mary does not seem to have the ability to do.
One of the ways she hides from these problems is by failing to communicate effectively with her family, which also comes up in this scene. Jamie begins to confront her about her appearance, which we are to believe is somewhat haggard because she is on morphine. Mary, however, immediately decries the supposition and pretends not to understand what Jamie is saying. She will not admit even to her own sons that she has regained her addiction, but at the same time, her sons will not confront her fully about it and force her to confess, even though they know that she is back on morphine. Notice that both sides are to blame for this communication failure; O'Neill is not condemning any one character.
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