Long Day's Journey into Night | Study Guide

Eugene O'Neill

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

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Summary

It is around 12:45 p.m. Edmund is half-heartedly reading a book. Cathleen, one of the servants, brings in a tray with bourbon, glasses, and a pitcher of water. Cathleen chats with Edmund, but he does not respond much. At his suggestion, she calls Tyrone and Jamie to come in for lunch. She tells him Mary is upstairs, wide awake. This bothers Edmund. He sneaks a drink before the others step inside.

Jamie enters first, wiping sweat from his forehead. He also takes a drink, then adds water to the bourbon bottle to conceal their drinking from Tyrone. Jamie is starving, but Edmund is not hungry. They discuss Edmund's illness. Edmund suggests it is a reoccurrence of malaria. Jamie clearly does not think so, but he changes the subject and asks for Mary. When he hears she is upstairs, Jamie becomes concerned. He says she shouldn't be up there alone. Edmund tells Jamie he is overly suspicious. Jamie retorts that he knew what was going on 10 years before Edmund did, so he has reason for concern.

Mary comes in. She is affectionate with Edmund but detached, and her eyes are very bright. Jamie instantly knows he was right to worry, but Edmund does not notice. Mary blames Jamie's bad mood on working too hard. He does not argue. She criticizes him for making fun of his father, but her tone shifts. Sometimes she hardly seems to know they are present. She talks impersonally of "the things life has done to us." Edmund realizes something is wrong.

Mary chatters about Tyrone's penchant for saving money and how he does not appreciate a real home after living in hotels for so long. Edmund steps out to call his father, and Jamie tells his mother she is not fooling him. She gets very upset. Edmund returns, sees she is upset, and blames Jamie. Jamie shrugs and turns his back. Mary tells Edmund not to be angry with his brother, but Edmund insists Jamie is lying. He wants Mary to reassure him, but she cannot. Tyrone approaches, and Mary exits to tell the cook to serve lunch.

Tyrone, Jamie, and Edmund argue about drinking. Tyrone tries to prevent his sons from having a drink, then gives them permission but criticizes them for taking large drinks. He sees they are unhappy and attributes it to Jamie's bad temper. Mary reappears and refuses to meet anyone's eyes. Mary is angry because Tyrone made them all wait for lunch. She becomes increasingly agitated, saying Tyrone never should have married her because he did not really want a home. She finishes with "then nothing would ever have happened." When she sees Edmund has had a drink, she blames Tyrone for not stopping him: "Don't you remember my father? He wouldn't stop after he was stricken." Then she realizes what she said and immediately insists there is no comparison between Edmund's illness and her father's. She puts a hand to Edmund's cheek, but he pulls away.

Jamie and Edmund step into the dining room. Tyrone remains behind, staring at Mary. He says he was a fool to believe in her. Mary never felt anyone believed in her. She attacks him for drinking more than usual, then begs him to understand, saying she is so worried about Edmund. Tyrone will not accept this excuse, however. Mary sounds panicked for a moment, then abruptly shifts to a casual tone and says they should have lunch. As Tyrone walks away, Mary cries, "James! I tried so hard! I tried so hard! Please believe—!" Tyrone says maybe she did, but asks why she could not keep trying. She acts as if she does not know what he is talking about. He says, "Never mind. It's no use now." They exit.

Analysis

One of the "unities" often cited by classical dramatists is the unity of time: the action of a play should occur within one day. As this scene shows, Eugene O'Neill is even more precise about his timing—he sets his first three acts at breakfast, lunch, and dinner, respectively. While in the morning everyone (except Jamie) was hopeful, by lunch the disappointment and cynicism have already set in. Jamie has disappointed his father again, and Mary has disappointed all of them.

The interactions around the bourbon illustrate the dynamics between Tyrone and his sons. Jamie and Edmund's behavior is ludicrous for men in their 20s and 30s—concealing their drinks like a couple of teenagers sneaking behind their parents' backs. Yet when Tyrone enters, he treats them like teenagers. His reactions to their drinking, particularly Edmund's drinking, are also contradictory. This is partly because Tyrone and Jamie believe Edmund's illness to be more serious than Edmund believes himself. If Edmund has only a summer cold, then a drink is not a big deal. In a moment of panic, Mary blurts out what all of them are thinking—Edmund has consumption, as her father did.

The Tyrone family lives in utter denial. Denial is a psychological function, a defense mechanism in which an individual denies the existence of a problem because he or she is unable to cope with it. Mary and, to some extent, Edmund are in denial about Edmund's illness. Both Edmund and Tyrone are in denial about Mary's illness. However, denial cannot sustain itself against reality. Mary suspects the truth of Edmund's illness, and both Edmund and Tyrone are forced to face the truth of Mary's situation.

At this point in the play, Mary's illness is clear: drug addiction. Her shifts between high-energy chattering and the detached, impersonal, or dreamy tone can only be explained by addiction or mental illness. Since her changes in behavior are associated with trips upstairs, she must be visiting her secret drug stash. Mary is addicted to morphine. Morphine was a prescription drug developed from opium. It has many medical uses and was commonly prescribed for soldiers' care during both the Civil War (1861–65) and World War II (1939–45). It was also an easy drug to become addicted to, as Mary demonstrates.

One thing Mary regrets about her marriage is the loss of a real home. This came up in Act 1 when she talks about hating their home, even though Tyrone insists they live there. It is further developed in this scene. When Tyrone is late for lunch, Mary cries, "I'm so sick and tired of pretending this is a home ... You don't really want one!" She claims he should have stayed a bachelor, living in hotels. To Mary, the lack of a "proper" home represents everything she failed to achieve in her life with Tyrone. As with other family issues in this play, there are two sides to the story. Would their summer house have been Mary's idealized home if she had never become addicted? Or did she develop an addiction because she lacks a real home to call her own?

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