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Long Day's Journey into Night | Study Guide

Eugene O'Neill

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Long Day's Journey into Night | Act 3, Section 1 | Summary



It is 6:30 p.m. Mary and Cathleen, the servant girl, are together. Cathleen is drinking whiskey. Mary is pale, her eyes "shine with unnatural brilliance," and she's behaving as if she were in a dream. She is wearing a nice dress but in a messy, unkempt way. She keeps Cathleen in the room for company but does not listen to what the servant girl is saying. Mary talks about how much she loves the fog. She encourages Cathleen to keep drinking, reassuring her they can use "Jamie's trick" to make the bottle look full. By the time Tyrone gets home, Mary says, he will be too drunk to care. He drinks because he worries not about Edmund, as Cathleen suspects, but only about money. Cathleen asks if Mary ever wanted to be an actress, but Mary scolds her. Mary was educated in a convent and dreamed of being a nun. Cathleen wonders how this is possible since Mary never attends church.

Cathleen brings up the drive they took this afternoon when Mary sent her to the drugstore to get a prescription. Cathleen describes how the man looked suspiciously at her until she told him the prescription was for Mrs. Tyrone. Mary is untroubled by this. She tells Cathleen the medicine is for rheumatism in her hands, the only thing "that can stop the pain—all the pain—I mean, in my hands." She talks about how much she used to love playing music. She claims she might have studied music in Europe if she hadn't fallen in love with Tyrone. Mary gave up playing when she followed Tyrone on the road once they got married. She says normally she cannot stand to look at her hands, "but even they can't touch me now."

Cathleen wonders if Mary has been drinking or if the medicine has affected her. Mary barely responds, caught up in daydreams of the past. She remembers how she first met Tyrone when he became friends with her father. Her father took her to see one of Tyrone's plays, and she admired his performance and his looks. They quickly fell in love. Mary says they have been married 36 years and "there has never been a breath of scandal about him ... with any other woman." Cathleen agrees she is lucky to have Tyrone and then asks if she can go help with dinner. Mary says yes, although she is not hungry.

Cathleen leaves. Mary sits peacefully for a moment; then the foghorn sounds and her hands jump and quiver. She speaks to herself, calling herself "a sentimental fool." She tries to pray the Hail Mary, a Catholic prayer to the Virgin Mary, and interrupts herself halfway to ask if she thinks the Virgin Mary will "be fooled by a lying dope fiend reciting words." She hears voices and asks why the men are coming back when she wants to be alone, then abruptly shifts to saying how lonely she has been.


Mary is definitely under the influence of her "medicine" now, and it is becoming difficult to keep track of the contradictions. In only a few minutes of stage time, she claims to have had plans to become both a nun and a highly trained pianist. She regrets the loss of those opportunities, yet claims to be happy with Tyrone. She insists there has never been any other woman in his life, yet in the previous act she blamed him for a mistress who sued him. Many drug addicts lose their ability to think analytically, and they may lie if they think it is to their advantage. In Mary's case, she does not seem to care if Cathleen is listening. Her lies are meant to ease her own emotional pain. She now claims to love the fog, when before she said she hated it. The fog represents denial, which also eases emotional pain. Denial is comforting, and Mary embraces her denial.

Catholicism reappears as Mary discusses her past. Many Catholic families chose to educate their children in a Catholic school, such as the "convent school" Mary attended. Mary's expressed desire to be a nun seems unlikely. A nun is a woman who takes a vow to become a "bride of Christ." She makes a promise to God to live a life of prayer and service, pledging she will not become a wife or mother. At the time Mary would have been in school, nuns were expected to live cloistered lives—to reject the outside world, for the most part, and live in their own isolated community. Given Mary's complaints about loneliness and the story of how she met Tyrone, it is doubtful being a nun would have suited her.

Still, Mary retains some of her faith. She attempts to pray the Hail Mary, one of the best-known Catholic prayers, dedicated to the Virgin Mary:

Hail Mary, full of grace
The Lord is with thee
Blessed art thou amongst women
And blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus
Holy Mary, Mother of God
Pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death

Eugene O'Neill specifically states that she gets about halfway through the prayer ("Blessed art thou amongst women") before she stops, calling herself a "lying dope fiend." It must be exquisitely painful for Mary to recite a prayer to someone who shares her name and who is celebrated as an outstanding mother. Mary does not feel "full of grace," nor does she feel God is with her. She feels cursed rather than blessed, and the "fruit of her womb" is what caused her addiction. She certainly sees herself as a sinner, and the "hour of our death" feels a little too close to home after Edmund's diagnosis.

This section of the play is also when Mary shares another equally unlikely goal of her youth: to train in Europe as a pianist. She is quite likely to have studied piano—many young women of her era did—but to study in Europe would be a huge leap, probably not available except to the most highly skilled or the wealthiest pupils. Assuming she played even a little bit, though, her crippled hands must be even more upsetting. O'Neill's highly specific stage directions do not suggest her hands actually prevent her from doing things, but she is deeply troubled by their ugliness—except in this act, where she says even they cannot bother her anymore.

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