Long Day's Journey into Night | Study Guide

Eugene O'Neill

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Long Day's Journey into Night | Act 3, Section 2 | Summary

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Summary

Edmund and Tyrone return. They have both been drinking, but conceal it well. They watch Mary from the doorway and know immediately what she has done. Mary becomes "unnaturally effusive" and fusses over them, which they tolerate but clearly do not enjoy. She chatters about them being early and encourages them to have a drink. Jamie has not returned home for dinner, and she complains he is wasting his life. Edmund admits he shared the $10 with Jamie because he always shares with Jamie if he gets any money. Mary warns Edmund against Jamie, saying he will ruin Edmund if he can. Though both men ask her to stop talking, Tyrone validates her concerns about Jamie, but Edmund rejects them. This leads Mary to reminisce about her babies, including Eugene, of whom she says, "I let him die through my neglect." Tyrone objects, but she ignores him, describing how baby Edmund was always ready to cry over nothing. Edmund bitterly says, "Maybe I guessed there was a good reason not to laugh." Mary's tone alternates between grief for her sons and anger at them and at Tyrone, whom she blames for their behavior. Edmund and Tyrone repeatedly counsel each other to ignore her insults, particularly when Mary attacks Tyrone's family as "the most ignorant kind of poverty-stricken Irish."

Mary begins to talk about the night she met Tyrone. Tyrone is deeply affected, and they talk about how much they love each other. Edmund is "sad and embarrassed" at the situation. The discussion takes an abrupt turn when Mary begins describing how Tyrone had to be helped back to their hotel room during their honeymoon because he was too drunk to get himself home. Tyrone guiltily protests it never happened, but Edmund believes his mother. He blames Tyrone for driving Mary to her addiction. Tyrone pleads with Mary to forget. She cannot forget, but says, "I forgive. I always forgive you." Shifting back to her more cheerful mood, Mary talks about how her father indulged her wish to have the fanciest, most beautiful wedding gown ever. She describes the great efforts she took for her wedding day, but wonders where the gown is now. She says she used to take the dress out and look at it, but it made her cry so she put it away, probably somewhere in the attic.

Tyrone finally takes his drink and notices immediately it has been tampered with. He asks if Mary is drinking now too, but Edmund defends her, saying she probably shared with the servants. Mary admits she thanked Cathleen for fetching her prescription. This upsets Edmund, who asks if his mother wants "everyone on earth to know?" Mary's voice turns steely as she questions why she should be ashamed of needing medicine for the rheumatism in her hands. She aggressively points out she never needed medicine until after Edmund was born. Edmund recoils. Tyrone tells him not to listen because once she is at this point in her addiction, "she's gone far away from us." Mary acts pleased that her husband realizes this and tells them to stop trying to remind her.

Mary asks Tyrone to turn on the light. She criticizes his stinginess, and he leaves the room to get a new bottle of whiskey. Mary tells Edmund about Tyrone's life. Tyrone's father abandoned the family, forcing him to begin working at age 10. Edmund interrupts her and says he has heard this story many times. He tries to tell her how sick he is, but Mary refuses to listen. She claims the doctor is a quack, but Edmund says the doctor brought in a specialist. She goes on about how poorly the doctor treated her, describing a time when she almost threw herself off the dock in her nightgown. Edmund remembers. Jamie and Tyrone stopped trying to conceal her condition from him then. "God, it made everything in life seem rotten!" Edmund says. Edmund tells Mary he needs to go to a sanatorium. Mary disagrees, blaming Tyrone for taking away her babies because he is jealous. Edmund says it never bothered her when he left before, but Mary says she was ashamed once he knew of her problem. Edmund reaches out to her, then stops, and he questions how much she loves him when she refuses to hear how sick he is. She insists he is overreacting. Edmund says Mary's father died of the same thing. Furious, she says her father had consumption so "there's no comparison at all with you." She forbids him to bring up her father's death again. Edmund angrily announces it is difficult "having a dope fiend for a mother," but then feels bad and apologizes. Without acknowledging the apology, Mary begins talking distractedly about the night and the foghorn. Edmund announces he is not hungry and flees the house.

In a longing tone, Mary says, "I hope, sometimes, without meaning it, I will take an overdose." She would never take one on purpose, she says, because "the Blessed Virgin would never forgive me." Tyrone reappears with a whiskey bottle. He is angry because Jamie tried to break into the cellar. Tyrone asks where Edmund is, and Mary says he left because he was not hungry. She talks about Edmund's summer cold, then breaks down in tears about how frightened she is. Tyrone reassures her, but she says if Edmund was never born he would not have to hate his "dope fiend" mother. Tyrone consoles her, telling her it was not her fault and that Edmund does not hate her. He encourages her to dry her eyes as a tipsy Cathleen enters. When Tyrone scowls, Cathleen insists she was invited to have a drink. Then Cathleen tells them dinner is ready. Mary excuses herself, saying she is not hungry and she needs to rest. Tyrone is not fooled: "Up to take more of that God-damned poison, is that it?" Mary claims to have no idea what he is talking about and wanders away. Tyrone stands still, unsure of what to do, then heads off toward the dining room, "a sad, bewildered, broken old man."

Analysis

Although they all criticize Mary for her addiction, none of the men have a healthy relationship with alcohol. Everyone in the family finds a way to deaden the pain of their lives. However, the men's approach (drinking) is more socially acceptable. Also, while the men drink to excess, at the moment, they are more in control of their substance use than Mary is. Still, there is a certain level of hypocrisy in Tyrone's criticism, delivered when he has just come home after having "a lot to drink."

In spite of their problems, Tyrone and Mary genuinely love each other. This is important and possibly unexpected. Mary's version of how they met suggests they did not know each other for very long before they got married. However, their marriage did not turn out as they expected. Their love for each other is possibly the only redeeming circumstance at this point and the thing that has possibly prevented Mary from intentionally overdosing. Their love is now also terribly painful. Eugene O'Neill specifies that Edmund is "sad and embarrassed" by their expressions of love for each other. Tyrone's love for Mary makes his agony about her addiction that much more painful.

Mary's wedding dress serves as a symbol of their love, but it also represents unfulfilled dreams. Mary describes how much she wanted to be beautiful for their wedding day, and she lists every detail of her wedding dress, which sounds spectacular—and expensive. But nothing about their marriage worked as Mary expected, and now the dress makes her cry. She has hidden it away somewhere and does not remember where. The symbol of her hopes and dreams is lost, and she has only a hazy memory of it, much like the loss of the happy, idealized marriage she once anticipated.

By Mary's account, her idealized marriage was over on her honeymoon when Tyrone stayed out drinking. Yet this is another place where it is hard to tell how accurate Mary's memory truly is. O'Neill specifies Tyrone's reaction as "guilty" when he left her waiting in hotel rooms while he drank. The audience may wonder if he really did this on their honeymoon but will not be able to be certain at this point in the play. Mary has both blamed Tyrone for having a mistress and claimed he has never been unfaithful, so she is hardly the most reliable source.

Mary's shifting perspectives are also evident as she describes Tyrone's family in this act. She calls his family "the most ignorant kind of poverty-stricken Irish." But only a few minutes later she defends Tyrone, telling the tragic story of how his family struggled after his father abandoned them. Tyrone's father stands in stark contrast to Mary's account of her own father, who indulged her every wish.

Mary is caught up in her own memories, retelling stories everyone has heard a thousand times before. Tyrone is willing to walk down memory lane to a point, but Edmund has no patience for it. While Mary's denial has been evident throughout the play, Edmund's denial is on full display in this section. He knows intellectually that his mother cannot give him the support he needs, but part of him still hopes and expects that she will be there for him during such a difficult time. She is not capable of supporting him emotionally and is not even capable of facing the reality of his illness. Edmund finally lashes out, but his lashing out serves only to drive Mary further into her personal fog. She does not acknowledge either his attack or his apology afterward.

Mary behaves as if she cannot hear Edmund calling her a "dope fiend," but the words hurt her. She uses those exact words to refer to herself only a minute later when she speaks to Tyrone. Even more telling, as soon as Edmund leaves, she raises the question of overdosing. She insists she would never do it on purpose but also says she hopes she will overdose accidentally at some point. This is the second time the audience hears of potential suicidal intentions: several characters have talked about the time she almost threw herself off the dock in her nightgown when she had run out of drugs. Mary is too emotionally fragile to give Edmund the support he needs, but she is self-aware enough to understand the damage she causes. She is just unable to fix it.

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