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Long Day's Journey into Night

Eugene O'Neill

Study Questions

Analysis

Review Quiz

Discuss O'Neill's use of language in the play. How do the characters' different attitudes find expression in the words they use to describe themselves?

A good answer would address at least two issues. First, the play deals with a politicized language that places a high value on meaning, yet the characters assert the right to their own choice of names. Simply put, Mary is always very sure to never allow the others to refer to Edmund's illness as anything other than a bad cold. Similarly, Tyrone views himself as prudent while other calls him stingy. Jamie does not want his lifestyle called reckless; he prefers to call himself an indepen dent young man. Second, O'Neill does a good job of giving the two sons a similar diction, a diction that is different from that of their parents. Nevertheless, some of the parents' mannerisms manifest themselves in the language of the sons, who occasionally repeat their parents' words.

What role does the past play in Long Day's Journey into Night?

A good answer would discuss the fact that, for Mary in particular, the play is as much as long day's journey into the past as anything else. The characters are all to varying degrees obsessed with the past, and they are all unable to forget. Although O'Neill suggests that forgiveness can be an appropriate form of salvation, the characters have difficulty forgiving one another, too. The family is ultimately paralyzed because of its inability to let go of past pains and wrongs. Tyrone cannot be forgiven for his stinginess, and Mary cannot be forgiven for all the promises she has broken because of her addiction. The past is very much alive in the play, and all the characters tend to idealize it as a time when things were better.

How is the play structured? How is it built?

The best answer would reflect the fact that the structure in parts mimics the disintegration that occurs over the course of the day. The first four scenes are built around meals, either before or after. In the case of the former, the scene functions with an air of expectation of something important to come, the meal, and even with a sense of urgency when the family must gather everyone together before the food gets cold. In the scenes set after a meal, the family engages in the process of deciding how to kill time until the next meal. Meals are very important because they bring the whole family together, but the meal cycle breaks down at the end of the play. It gets tougher and tougher to round up the family for each meal, and in fact Jamie does not even come home for supper. The meal plan falls apart, and this mimics the increasing collapse seen in the affairs rest of the family as they get more and more drunk and fall into despair.

Discuss characterization in the play. How does O'Neill create distinct characters and define them based on particular flaws?

What are the major conflicts in the play? How, if at all, are they resolved?

How does O'Neill make use of stage directions in the play? How do they enlighten our reading of the play?

How do drugs and alcohol function within the play? Discuss the role they have in the lives of the Tyrones and the role they have from a literary standpoint.

How does O'Neill balance Edmund's intellectualism with Tyrone's abhorrence of most intellectuals? How does this conflict play out? Be sure to note Tyrone's own intellectual ambitions related to Shakespeare and acting.

Discuss the role of lying in the play. Who lies to whom, when do they lie and why? How are lies treated by O'Neill, and what part do they have in the play?

Discuss O'Neill's use of broken dreams in the play. What do they mean to the characters, and what do they symbolize? How are the dynamics between characters affected by broken dreams?

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