Long Day's Journey into Night

by: Eugene O'Neill

Act II, Scene ii

Summary Act II, Scene ii

All the characters in this play try to muster an optimistic outlook at times. Tyrone always hopes that Jamie will one day make a success of himself. Mary still hopes that Edmund will get better and that her husband will finally make her a real home. In this scene, we see that Edmund, in keeping with his youthful romantic outlook, has hope for the whole family to make amends. At the time of his "heartsick" entrance, he appears truly troubled by the fighting occurring within the family. Notice that Edmund also has a tendency to avoid conflicts by laughing them away when they appear. He has his outbursts, but he is less responsive to baiting from his father than this brother is. Mary, in a similar vein, tries to hold the family together in part through imminent talking. She seems to dislike silences, because whenever she is onstage, she is usually making meaningless chit chat simply to create noise, such as at the beginning of this scene. Some of her talking constitutes an attempt to smooth over conflicts and also to change the subject away from conflict between the men.

The second scene of Act II reinforces the idea that in terms of structure, the play is built around meals. Act I is set just as the family returns from breakfast; Act II, Scene i occurs as the family prepares for lunch; Act II, Scene ii is set as the family returns from lunch; Act III is set as the family prepares for dinner; Act IV takes place late at night when the men are having their last drinks waiting to pass out. The structure of meals indicates the centrality of meals to the Tyrone family because meals bring all four people together in a traditional family setting. Nevertheless, we never actually see the Tyrones at one of these central meals. Thus, the play has a sense of waiting and recovering in each of the scenes. In the first part of Act II and in Act III, there is a constant sense of waiting for the main event, a meal, to happen. In Act I and the later part of Act II, the characters are all satisfied and search out activities to do until the next meal. This meal structure, like that structure of alcoholism, is very repetitive, and it further suggests the unchanging nature of life for the family.

In this section we begin to see more clearly that Edmund is an intellectual who reads extensively. He is well versed in the German philosopher Nietzsche, for example, and in Act IV we will see him quote extensively from famous French poets such as Baudelaire. Edmund's intellectualism is a source of conflict between him and Tyrone, who thinks that the writers Edmund reads are leading him astray and turning him into towards a cynical, morbid outlook. This is one of the ways in which we see the autobiographical side of the play emerge; O'Neill himself was the intellectual son in the family who went on to be a literary great. Interestingly, Tyrone himself also has an intellectual streak in his love of Shakespeare. He knows the fine details of every Shakespearean play, and he holds the Shakespearean canon up at the highest form of art. In his praise of Shakespeare and condemnation of almost all other authors whom Edmund enjoys, Tyrone with futility tries to assert his control over Edmund, who despite what he hoped does not respect his father as a model for intellectual thought. Tyrone, ever the actor, tries his best to play as many roles as he can.

Nevertheless, religion is particularly important to Tyrone as well as to Mary, as we see in this section for the first time. Although neither practice Catholicism, Tyrone and Mary both claim to pray on a daily basis, and they say that they fear God. The two sons, by contrast, are skeptics. We see then the breakdown of the Tyrone family values from one generation to the next. Whereas Tyrone was raised on Shakespeare, Irish writers and the Bible, his sons have spurned that same upbringing, turning towards a different type of literature and a lack of faith. The rejection of the old way by the second generation is something that Mary and Tyrone both have difficulty accepting, and it further reminds the reader that they are an aging couple being replaced by new Americans.

Finally, Mary's comments that she cannot forget the past because "the past is the present" further suggests the repetitive nature of life in the Tyrone family. The events of the past are continually repeated in the present, just as the events of each individual day are repeated in a cyclical fashion based on alcohol or morphine. Note that the title, Long Day's Journey into Night, suggests that the day is not really unique; it is just another day in the life of the family, not too much different from most other days except that it is the day that Edmund learns he has consumption.

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