Long Day's Journey into Night | Study Guide

Eugene O'Neill

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Long Day's Journey into Night | Act 4, Section 2 | Summary

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Summary

Neither Tyrone nor Edmund want to go upstairs while Mary is awake, so Tyrone suggests a game of casino to pass the time. Tyrone begins to shuffle, but he is less interested in the game than in clearing up Edmund's misconceptions about Mary's life. In spite of her claims, she was not going to be a concert pianist—and certainly not a nun, since she loved to flirt. Edmund dislikes these revelations.

They hear Mary coming downstairs and pretend to be involved in their card game, but she does not appear. Edmund is relieved because he does not want to see her. He objects to the "bank of fog in which she hides and loses herself" on purpose. Tyrone says it is not her fault, and he asks Edmund not to be too hard on his mother. Edmund turns on Tyrone, blaming him for having sent Mary to a cheap doctor who got her addicted to morphine after his birth. Edmund says, "I know your system! By God, I ought to after this afternoon!" But when Tyrone asks what he means, Edmund changes the topic back to Mary. Tyrone should have done more to help her, Edmund says, but Tyrone insists he has spent "thousands upon thousands in cures" with no success. To Edmund, Mary does not want to be cured because she is miserable in her life with Tyrone. Edmund says he hates Tyrone, and he blames him for Mary's addiction. Tyrone retaliates by blaming Edmund's birth for Mary's problem. Edmund sadly acknowledges that Mary has said as much to him. Tyrone insists Mary loves Edmund and says he does as well. Edmund says he "can't help liking" Tyrone, too.

Tyrone reassures Edmund that he will get well. Edmund does not believe it and says Tyrone does not believe it either since he is sending Edmund to a "state farm." Tyrone argues it is the best possible place but admits it is a less expensive sanatorium run by the state. Tyrone's property is valued at $250,000, Edmund says, but Tyrone insists it is all mortgaged. In spite of this, after pleading poverty to the doctor, Tyrone bought another piece of property from a schemer who admitted to cheating him. Edmund says he has tried to accept his family's shortcomings: "You have to make allowances in this damned family or go nuts!" He can sympathize with his father's fears because he experienced hunger or homelessness when he traveled around the world, but he cannot accept the way Tyrone behaves. He rages until he has a coughing fit. Furious and guilty, Tyrone denies Edmund's accusations and tells him to go to any sanatorium he likes.

The men keep drinking as Tyrone begins to talk about himself. He acknowledges his miserly tendencies, but he rejects Edmund's claim of sympathy through similar hardships. Edmund was given everything in his boyhood, Tyrone claims, and Edmund's travels were "a game of romance and adventure." Edmund points out that he attempted suicide once during his travels, but Tyrone will not hear it: "No son of mine would ever—You were drunk." Edmund retorts he was actually sober.

Tyrone talks about his father, who abandoned the family when Tyrone was 10. His father returned to Ireland and then died from an accidental ingestion of poison. Tyrone loudly insists it could not have been suicide because "no one in my family ever—." He describes his life after his father left—evictions and little to eat. When a dollar felt like a fortune, he admits, he learned to be a miser, and it is hard to unlearn. He tells Edmund to choose any sanatorium he likes—within reason. Edmund smiles, but he is honestly moved by his father's stories. When Tyrone mentions another sanatorium that supposedly offers good care at low cost, Edmund accepts the suggestion.

Tyrone volunteers something he never told anyone else: he ruined his career with a single play. He got a large role in an easy play that earned him lots of money. Then he stayed in the role too long, eager for the income. By the time he decided to move on, the audience was tired of the play and of him.

Tyrone describes his love for Shakespeare and how hard he once worked. He performed with actor Edwin Booth, playing Brutus and Cassius from Julius Caesar (1599–1600) and Othello and Iago from Othello (1603–04), alternating roles with Booth. Tyrone claims Booth said he played Othello better than Booth himself even though he (Tyrone) was only 27 at the time. Only a few years later, Tyrone got into his "big money-maker," and his career was never the same. He says, "What the hell was it I wanted to buy, I wonder, that was worth—." Edmund reacts with genuine sympathy toward his father, saying, "I know you a lot better now." Uncomfortable, Tyrone claims that the story is a lesson for Edmund to teach him the value of a dollar. Then he suggests they turn down the lights to save money. Edmund tries not to laugh and agrees. Tyrone turns off almost all of the lights but says he would have traded his money for a career as a great artist. Edmund laughs at how life is "so damned crazy." In response, Tyrone quotes Julius Caesar: "The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars / But in ourselves that we are underlings." This reminds him of Booth's praise of his performance. Tyrone describes how he made the stage manager write down the words on a piece of paper, which he kept in his wallet for years. He no longer knows where it is, and Edmund suggests it might be in a trunk with Mary's wedding dress.

Analysis

Suicide comes up repeatedly in this section. Edmund tells his father he attempted suicide, but Tyrone denies it. Only a short while later, Tyrone admits people claimed his father committed suicide, but he rejects it because "no one in my family" would do such a thing. Tyrone's capacity to make such a claim, given what the audience knows about Mary, demonstrates the extent of his denial. Not only has Mary spoken of wanting to overdose, but multiple characters have described the moment she attempted suicide when she ran out of morphine. Tyrone cannot face the possibility that anyone in his family might ever want to kill themselves, so he pretends Mary's attempt never happened and flatly denies Edmund's attempt. In real life, Eugene O'Neill's parents did not kill themselves, though they both died fairly early in his life. His older brother, the model for Jamie, effectively drank himself to death. O'Neill did know several people who committed suicide, and he did attempt it himself, much as Edmund describes.

While in previous sections of the play the audience gains insight into Mary, in the final act O'Neill offers windows into the souls of the three Tyrone men. For once, Mary has told a story correctly—the facts she stated about Tyrone's childhood are validated by his own memories as he relates them to Edmund. What Mary cannot express, however, is the loss Tyrone feels for what his career might have been.

Tyrone's grief over his career choices reflects the life choices of O'Neill's father, who experienced great financial success playing in Alexandre Dumas's (1802–70) The Count of Monte Cristo in 1882. It was a crowd-pleaser but would hardly be considered a difficult role, much like Tyrone's "money-maker." Lest the audience assume Tyrone is only capable of such roles, O'Neill gives him a very admirable résumé: productions with Edwin Booth, no less. O'Neill's father also worked with Edwin Booth, so O'Neill may have heard similar stories from his own father.

At one time, Edwin Booth (1833–93) was one of the most famous and successful actors in the United States. He came from an illustrious acting family and was best known for his role in Shakespeare's Hamlet (1599–1601). He also worked with Sir Henry Irving (1838–1905), one of the most famous British actors of his era, alternating the roles of Othello and Iago in Shakespeare's Othello. "Alternating" means the two actors would trade off playing each of the leading roles, with Booth as Othello one night and Iago the next. It would be a particularly difficult acting practice, performed only by the most talented actors, but this is what Tyrone (and James O'Neill) did with Edwin Booth, not only in Othello but also in Julius Caesar. Tyrone is thinking of what might have been. Working with someone like Edwin Booth would be a tremendous career opportunity for any actor. Tyrone is grieving for the life he could have had, the life he expected to have: a happy family, a healthy wife, a great career.

Othello, Iago, Brutus, and Cassius are some of the most difficult Shakespearean roles. Booth produced his own shows, and he would not alternate with another actor unless he considered the actor to be truly gifted. In theory, this would also be true of O'Neill's father. In that case both Tyrone and James O'Neill gave up a more challenging career for financial security. In case Edmund is inclined to dismiss his father's bragging, Tyrone has Booth's own words about his performance. Tyrone had the potential to be one of the greatest actors of his generation and gave it up for a "sure thing" financially. This spelled the end of his career as a serious actor. When Edmund laughs about the absurdity of life, Tyrone responds with one of Cassius's lines from Julius Caesar: "The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars / But in ourselves that we are underlings." Cassius is encouraging Brutus to commit to the assassination of Julius Caesar. More broadly, it means human beings are responsible for their own lives and cannot blame fate for what happens to them. Tyrone knows his career trajectory is his own fault, but now, late in life, he wonders what he used the money for.

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