Long Day's Journey into Night | Study Guide

Eugene O'Neill

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Long Day's Journey into Night | Act 4, Section 1 | Summary

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Summary

It is midnight and mostly dark onstage. Tyrone is playing solitaire. The whiskey bottle he brought out in the last act is nearly empty, and another full bottle is waiting nearby. Tyrone is drunk and struggles to see his cards clearly. The drinking has not helped him escape from his circumstances, and he still looks just as sad and broken as he did at the end of the last act.

Edmund makes noise offstage as he arrives. He is drunk, but like his father, he handles it pretty well. He stumbles in the dark, turning on a light in the hallway before he comes onstage. Tyrone welcomes him, criticizes him for leaving the house, and orders him to turn off the hall light, all before Edmund can say anything. Edmund gets angry about the light and because Tyrone criticizes him for being drunk. He says the cost of a single bulb is not high, but Tyrone does not believe him. Edmund claims Tyrone does not care about facts and will believe whatever he likes. He derisively suggests that Tyrone believes Shakespeare is an Irish Catholic. Tyrone insists it is true, but Edmund rejects it. They fight over the hall light, which Edmund refuses to turn off. Things get fairly heated, but they both back down and apologize. Edmund offers to turn off the light, but Tyrone grandly turns on all the lights, saying they may as well go to the poorhouse. Edmund cynically responds, "That's a grand curtain."

Tyrone and Edmund talk of Jamie. Neither of them knows precisely where he is, but they assume he has gone to the whorehouse to spend the money Edmund shared with him. Tyrone reluctantly offers Edmund a drink but says he should not take one. Edmund ignores him and drinks up. Edmund says he went for a walk in the fog. He quotes poetry and launches into his own semipoetic description of sitting in the fog "alone with myself in another world where truth is untrue and life can hide from itself." He says it was peaceful "to be nothing more than a ghost within a ghost." Tyrone is impressed by the poetic expression but dislikes the morbid pessimism. He asks why Edmund cannot quote Shakespeare. Edmund claims what he wants to say cannot be found in Shakespeare. He quotes Baudelaire and Dowson, claiming their poems express Jamie's attitude toward the prostitutes he sleeps with. He laughs and calls it "nuts," but Tyrone is upset by his son's atheism and "filth and despair and pessimism." Tyrone says: "When you deny God, you deny hope," and "when you deny God, you deny sanity." Edmund notes Dowson died of "booze and consumption" and looks frightened for a moment. He is clearly frightened that his life will be as brief as Dowson's.

Tyrone attacks Edmund's taste in literature. Tyrone lists philosophers like Rousseau, Nietzsche, Voltaire, and Schopenhauer, along with poets and playwrights like Ibsen, Wilde, Dowson, Baudelaire, and Poe. He calls them all "atheists, fools, and madmen ... whoremongers and degenerates," and insists Edmund would do better reading one of his three sets of Shakespeare. Edmund suggests that Shakespeare could have been a drunk too, and Tyrone admits Shakespeare may have "liked his glass—it's a good man's failing." Then he is off on Edmund's authors again: Zola and Rossetti, whom he calls "a dope fiend" and then winces.

A sound from above draws Tyrone's attention, and he worries Mary has not gone to sleep. Edmund tells him to forget it and keep drinking. Tyrone hopes she will not come down, and Edmund agrees. He says she will be fondly remembering the days before he was born. Tyrone points out that she does the same to him—making it sound as if her life before their marriage was perfect and her father the greatest man ever. Tyrone, like Mary, fears their best days are long behind them, but he wants to set the record straight with Edmund. Tyrone tells Edmund to "take her memories with a grain of salt." Mary's father was "a nice enough man" and "prosperous enough," but was hardly as noble and generous as Mary describes him. Her father also drank, even if Mary claims otherwise. Tyrone says drinking and consumption finished Mary's father off; then he looks at Edmund guiltily. Edmund says they cannot seem to avoid unpleasant topics.

Analysis

When Edmund enters, he and Tyrone engage in a ridiculous argument over a single light in the hallway. The debate is typical of the pointless arguments family members often have over and over again. Tyrone has the same reaction to virtually anything Jamie does: criticize, blame, and find fault. Although Mary's routines seem lost in the fog of her drug addiction, there are moments where the audience can still see her doting fondness for Edmund and her inclination to baby him. In this act Tyrone and Edmund's half-hearted card game is another example of aimless behavior. They cannot even remember whose turn it is.

The argument also illustrates Tyrone's miserly tendencies. Mary has excused some of Tyrone's stinginess as the result of his difficult childhood, and Tyrone himself has insisted that he is not miserly—his money is tied up in his land investments. However, keeping the house in the dark to save the cost of a burning light bulb is miserly. There is no other explanation. Figuratively, the darkness represents Tyrone's mood. He recognizes now that Mary will probably never be cured, and it depresses him.

Tyrone has been in denial about Mary, but now he is facing the truth. All the Tyrones have a loose relationship with the truth. During the spat, Edmund says, "Facts don't mean a thing, do they? What you want to believe, that's the only truth!" Mary is so frightened by the truth that she hides in her addiction. Edmund wants to ignore his illness and hide "where truth is untrue and life can hide from itself." Jamie hides in alcohol and the arms of prostitutes. Although all of them try to hide from the truth, they cannot really do so.

At the start of the play, Eugene O'Neill describes the variety of books on the various bookcases. This is where those differences really come into view. The authors represent Tyrone and Edmund's differing worldviews. Edmund's choices reflect more modern and more complex thinking. Tyrone, on the other hand, reflecting a life of dedication to tradition and to the stage, believes literature begins and ends with Shakespeare. Although many authors are mentioned, Edmund returns to one author repeatedly: Ernest Dowson (1867–1900). Dowson was a British poet who wrote in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. He was a member of the Decadents, a group of poets and writers whose work represented the results of an overly materialistic and repressed society. Decadent writers celebrated artificiality and rejected many conventional morals, such as the value of hard work or the traditional sexual roles of the era. Oscar Wilde was a leading representative of the Decadents in England, and he was prosecuted for homosexual acts. The Decadents laid the groundwork for modernist writers, many of whom would be favorites of O'Neill in real life. Dowson is an understandable favorite for Edmund, who has explored the world and presumably tested society's boundaries in his own way. Edmund quotes the poem "Vitae Summa Brevis Spem Nos Vetat Incohare Longam." Translated, it means "The brief sum of life forbids us the hope of enduring long." Although he avoids discussing it, Edmund is clearly haunted by the diagnosis he received from the doctor. He talks about being out in the fog where "life can hide from itself" because he is trying to hide from the truth of his life. Edmund quotes "Vitae Summa Brevis Spem Nos Vetat Incohere Longam" not only because Dowson is a favorite poet, but because he fears, like Dowson, that his life will be brief:

They are not long, the days of wine and roses:
Out of a misty dream
Our path emerges for a while, then closes
Within a dream.

When he realizes Dowson died of consumption and alcoholism, Edmund flinches.

This sense of loss and the idea that the good days will disappear are relevant for all of the Tyrones. Tyrone and Mary both feel as if their "days of wine and roses" are far behind them, never to return. This is why Mary continually dwells on the distant past. Her best memories often exclude the people around her. When she speaks to Edmund, her best days were before he was born, but when she speaks to Tyrone, her best days were before she met and married him.

The audience is already aware of Mary's contradictions, but in this section, Tyrone makes it even clearer how much her memories deviate from reality. Her father was a nice man and took care of her, but he was not the paragon of virtue she describes. Mary's addiction brings out one of her negative qualities—comparing the men in her life to others. According to her, Tyrone does not measure up to her father, and Jamie and Edmund do not measure up to Tyrone.

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