Long Day's Journey into Night | Study Guide

Eugene O'Neill

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Long Day's Journey into Night | Act 1, Section 2 | Summary

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Summary

As soon as Mary leaves, Tyrone criticizes Jamie for causing her to worry. Jamie forces his father to admit the truth: Edmund has consumption. Jamie criticizes Tyrone for sending Edmund to the local doctor, "a cheap old quack." Tyrone pleads poverty, and Jamie points out how often he invests in questionable real estate deals. Tyrone says "it's too late" for another doctor. Jamie asks if he thinks Edmund is dying. Tyrone denies it and attributes Edmund's illness to his wild behaviors and blames Jamie for those behaviors. Jamie insists he was only trying to warn Edmund, whom he loves deeply. Jamie thinks Edmund's world travels were ridiculous, but Tyrone speaks admirably of them.

Tyrone worries about Mary, saying how Edmund's illness comes at a bad time for her. Mary has "been so well in the two months since she came home," Tyrone says. Jamie sympathizes, and the two of them share a moment of deep mutual understanding. Tyrone says Edmund's consumption will terrify Mary because her father died of it. He believes Mary is cured now, but Jamie is unconvinced. Jamie talks about some of Mary's behaviors, which he sees as warning signs. Tyrone attacks him for being suspicious. After a moment, Tyrone admits he has wondered too. Jamie again criticizes his father for using cheap doctors, since Mary's problems began after Edmund's birth. Tyrone grows furious. When Mary enters the room, the two men change the subject to the work needed in the front yard. Tyrone calls Mary to the window to show her how the fog has lifted: "I'm sure the spell of it we've had is over now." Mary and Jamie joke about him volunteering to do chores, but she knows they were arguing. Mary speaks disjointedly and urges the two men to hurry out to do the chores before the fog returns, saying, "Because I know it will."

Tyrone heads out to work in the yard. Jamie stays behind for a moment to tell Mary how proud they all are of her and to reassure her about Edmund. Mary attacks him for even suggesting Edmund might be seriously ill. Jamie walks out. Alone on stage, Mary sits down, her hands moving restlessly. When she hears Edmund coughing as he comes downstairs, she moves frantically around the room. Edmund comes in, saying he avoided his father and brother because he feels too sick to fight. Mary soothes Edmund, calling him "the baby of the family."

Mary describes the scene outside. Jamie hides from neighbors driving by, but Tyrone greets them "as if he were taking a curtain call." Mary reflects on how she dislikes their house and feels "cut off from everyone." She blames it on Tyrone and the boys' bad behavior. Edmund cautiously suggests her own illness might have caused some estrangement as well. Mary gets upset, saying she is in an "atmosphere of constant suspicion." She complains of loneliness, and Edmund says they try to keep her company only to have her protest how they never leave her alone. Edmund admits he heard her moving around during the night and wondered if she was all right. Mary gets angry, almost threatening: "It would serve all of you right if it was true!" Then she shifts abruptly, saying she is just worried about him. He reassures her, but when he mentions the possibility of a serious diagnosis, she pays no attention. He offers to go out and watch Jamie work so she can rest. Eugene O'Neill notes, "[Edmund] forces a laugh in which she makes herself join." As he leaves, Mary sits, drumming her fingers incessantly on the chair.

Analysis

Edmund, like Eugene O'Neill, suffered from consumption (tuberculosis). Consumption was a leading cause of death in the United States at the beginning of the 20th century. Mary's father died of it, as Tyrone points out. Consumption was not always fatal, but it was a very serious disease. O'Neill had it before he had any success as a playwright, and he went on to live a full life and enjoyed great success after he recovered. Tuberculosis is easily spread through coughing, as Edmund frequently does in the play. For this reason, treatment usually involved a stay in a sanatorium to reduce the risk of contagion. Edmund likely picked up the disease during his travels, but in 1912 he could have contracted it anywhere in the United States as well.

As if Edmund's illness is not stressful enough, there is tension around the cost of his care. Jamie suggests both Edmund and Mary suffer because Tyrone employs cheap doctors in order to save money. To Jamie, Tyrone is a wealthy miser. From Tyrone's perspective, he has made lucrative real estate deals. Tyrone's obsession with land is connected to his Irish heritage. For centuries, Irish peasants were unable to own the land on which they lived. The land had been given to English noblemen and landowners, and the Irish peasants lived as tenant farmers. This was the situation when Tyrone was born in Ireland around 1847. By 1912 a series of land acts had begun to remedy the situation in Ireland, but Tyrone is strongly affected by his childhood memories.

O'Neill continues to hint about Mary's illness without explicitly stating it. The audience learns her illness began after Edmund's birth, over 20 years ago. Mary demonstrates intense nervousness and a certain defensive quality. The audience may wonder if Mary's illness is psychological rather than physical.

Mary is distinctly troubled by fog in this act. She complains about the foghorn the previous night. Mary is grateful the fog has gone, but she is convinced it will come back. Tyrone, on the other hand, insists it is gone for good. The fog functions symbolically; it represents Mary's "illness." Tyrone believes—or wants to believe—her illness is behind them and will not return. Mary, on the other hand, fears it will come back.

Tyrone's insistence that the fog and Mary's problems are behind them is an example of the entire family's remarkable capacity for denial. In a place known for fog, it defies logic to claim that the fog will never return. Although the audience may not be clear about exactly what Mary's illness is, Jamie has pointed out signs that she may already be relapsing. Tyrone may be hopeful, but his hope seems to border on self-delusional denial. Mary, of course, is by far the most obvious example of denial, and she utterly rejects the idea that Edmund is seriously ill. She even gets angry at Jamie for suggesting it. Notably, no one suggests that Mary be forced to face reality. They seem almost fearful of her realizing the truth of Edmund's diagnosis.

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