Long Day's Journey into Night | Study Guide

Eugene O'Neill

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Long Day's Journey into Night | Act 4, Section 3 | Summary

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Summary

Edmund talks poetically about his experiences while traveling. He describes being "set free" by the beauty of the world around him. Impressed, Tyrone says Edmund could have been a poet, but Edmund disagrees. Speaking of himself, Edmund says, "He hasn't even got the makings. He's got only the habit." Tyrone leaves the room when they hear a very drunk Jamie stumbling on the unlit steps outside. Once inside, Jamie quotes writer and poet Rudyard Kipling and refers to his father as "Gaspard." He argues with Edmund over the whiskey as Edmund tries to stop his brother from drinking, but he gives in. Jamie disparages their father. Edmund defends Tyrone, and Jamie cynically suggests Edmund got the "old sob act" from Tyrone. Jamie insists it would never fool him. They discuss the conversation Tyrone and Edmund had about the sanatorium. Jamie is disgusted, but Edmund gives his father the benefit of the doubt.

Edmund asks where Jamie went. Jamie says he went to the town brothel and ended up with a fat prostitute who was about to get fired because she had no clients. He quotes poet Oscar Wilde to Edmund and says he quoted "Kipling and Swinburne and Dowson" to the prostitute, who got offended because he was only talking to her. Jamie says Edmund should have come with him to take "your mind off your troubles" because coming home just makes the trouble worse. He speaks jeeringly of Mary, calling her "the hophead."

Edmund punches Jamie in the face. Jamie says he deserved it. Edmund apologizes for hitting him, but Jamie blames it on his "dirty tongue." He says he had really been hoping Mary would beat her addiction this time. Jamie begins to cry, and the stage directions note: "The horrible part ... is that it appears sober, not the maudlin tears of drunkenness." Edmund is also on the verge of tears. Jamie talks about the first time he walked in on Mary injecting herself and how horrified he was. Changing the subject, Jamie talks about how upset he is over Edmund's illness. He demands to know if Mary and Tyrone have warned Edmund against him. Jamie's attitude toward Edmund wavers. He jeers at Edmund for being the family's pride and joy, and then tells him to forget it. He brags that Edmund is his Frankenstein. He warns Edmund against the doctors who just want to make money off him. He suggests the rich get better care and quotes Shakespeare: "Therefore put money in thy purse." He gets serious and warns Edmund against himself. He says he loves Edmund but also wants to sabotage him. He says he is jealous of Edmund and might, on some level, want him to die. Edmund is alarmed and says Jamie is acting crazy.

Jamie dozes off, overcome by alcohol for the moment. Tyrone reappears. He has been listening to their conversation and is both upset and sorry for Edmund. He encourages Edmund to pay attention to Jamie's warning but also says Jamie genuinely loves Edmund. Tyrone begins to proclaim how he has suffered because of his eldest son. Jamie awakens and quotes Richard III (1592–94) by Shakespeare, followed by a passage from Dante Gabriel Rossetti. Tyrone makes a withering comment, and Jamie responds by suggesting Tyrone could play the miser Gaspard "without make-up" in The Bells (reference to the operaThe Bells of Corneville (1887) by French composer Robert Planquette (1848–1903)). Tyrone does not say anything, so Jamie insults Edwin Booth, which provokes a response. Edmund tells them both to settle down or they will disturb Mary. Jamie starts to doze off again. Tyrone sits down, complaining of how tired he is, and he too begins to sleep. After a moment, Edmund hears something and braces himself. Next, the lights in the front parlor turn on and someone begins to awkwardly play a waltz by Frédéric Chopin (1810–49), as if they were just learning.

Both Jamie and Tyrone suddenly wake up, and all three of them sit in dread, waiting. The music stops abruptly and Mary enters. She is wearing a dressing gown and "dainty" slippers. Her white hair is braided into pigtails, and she looks shockingly youthful. She is carelessly carrying her wedding gown, partially dragging it on the floor as if she has forgotten she is holding it. She barely seems aware of the men. Jamie says, "The Mad Scene. Enter Ophelia!" and both Tyrone and Edmund turn on him. Edmund backhands Jamie, and Tyrone threatens to throw him out of the house. Jamie apologizes and begins to sob over his lost hope for his mother. Tyrone feels bad for Jamie and consoles him.

Mary has not acknowledged their presence or the interaction between them. She talks to herself as if she is a young girl again. She worries that her piano playing is not very good because she has not been practicing. She wonders why her hands look so strange and says she will see the nun who runs the infirmary for medicine and prayers. Tyrone blocks Mary's path and, making an effort to calm himself, gently offers to take the gown so it does not get messy. Mary responds as if he is a nice stranger who offered to help her. Tyrone collapses into a chair "holding the wedding gown in his arms with an unconscious clumsy, protective gentleness."

Both Tyrone and Jamie are sober now. Jamie recites an Algernon Charles Swinburne (1837–1909) poem called "A Leave-Taking." He calls out to Mary, but she ignores him. She walks past Jamie and Edmund. Edmund grabs her arm and speaks to her as if he were a little boy, shouting to her that he has consumption. Mary falters for a minute as if she heard him, and she looks frightened. But she regains control of herself and returns to her dream world. She scolds the young man who touched her (she does not recognize Edmund) and says he should not touch her because she is going to become a nun.

Jamie looks both sad and triumphant at Edmund's rejection and recites Swinburne again. Tyrone tells them both to give up and forbids Jamie from reciting "damned morbid poetry." All three of the men pour themselves drinks. Mary begins to describe having a talk with Mother Elizabeth, one of the nuns. She told Mother Elizabeth she had a vision that she was destined to be a nun, but Mother Elizabeth told her to go home and live life for a while and really think about it before making a final commitment. Mary says that is ridiculous and she is sure she is meant to be a nun. She knows the Blessed Virgin loved her and would, Mary says, "see no harm ever came to me so long as I never lost my faith." This statement makes Mary uneasy and she wakes up for a moment, then deliberately returns to her delusions. She says her conversation with Mother Elizabeth took place during her senior year and then "something happened" in the spring: "I fell in love with James Tyrone and was so happy for a time." All four family members stare in front of them as the play ends.

Analysis

In general, Edmund does less talking about himself than the others do. His one exception is the poetic speech in which he describes "high spots" in his memory. In this instance, Eugene O'Neill is drawing on his own experience of traveling the world in his youth. Edmund calls himself "a stranger who never feels at home" and someone "who must always be a little in love with death." Nevertheless, Edmund dismisses himself as only an aspiring poet, doomed to fail at translating his experiences into poetic phrases. O'Neill's dramas are not always poetic in speech, though he certainly plumbs the depths of human emotion.

Now the focus shifts to Jamie. Jamie is based on Eugene O'Neill's older brother Jamie O'Neill, who so fascinated his little brother that Eugene wrote an entire second play about him: A Moon for the Misbegotten (1943). Like Eugene O'Neill, Edmund struggles to know what is true about his brother. He is not sure if Jamie genuinely hates him, as Mary suggests, or if Jamie is out to ruin his life, as Tyrone claims. Jamie says both things are true but contradicts himself moments later. Jamie is the most ambiguous figure in this very ambiguous family. Jamie himself conveys conflicting messages about his own behavior, expressing his love for Edmund while also warning Edmund not to trust him.

Tyrone says Jamie "has a tongue like an adder when he's drunk," and Jamie proves this point repeatedly. He calls his father Gaspard, after an old miser in a comic opera from the late 19th century. Gaspard is a thoroughly nasty character who is forced to grovel in front of his "betters." It is not a flattering comparison.

Although he is exceedingly drunk, Jamie also proves himself to be the intellectual equal—or even possibly the superior—of both Tyrone and Edmund. He quotes with facility from both his father's chosen works—mainly Shakespeare—and Edmund's preferred authors, such as Kipling and Rossetti. This suggests Jamie understands both his father and his brother. Edmund and Tyrone keep arguing about their preferred authors but, all along, Jamie could have "translate[d]" one to the other if he had chosen to do so.

When Jamie warns Edmund about the rapaciousness of doctors, he quotes Iago in Othello—one of the roles Tyrone played opposite Edwin Booth. The line he quotes—"Therefore put money in thy purse"—is Iago's advice to Roderigo, whom Iago tricks for his own purposes. Edmund has already admitted earlier that if he gets any money, he shares it with Jamie. Again, O'Neill leaves it ambiguous whether Jamie is offering disinterested advice or trying to profit off his ill brother. Later, when Tyrone reappears and wakes Jamie up, Jamie quotes from Richard III. He is quoting Clarence, King Richard's brother, when Clarence describes a dream in which Richard betrays him. Later in the play, Richard betrays Clarence and sentences him to death. Jamie is pointing at Tyrone when he quotes Clarence. Jamie may be implying that Tyrone has betrayed someone in the family. On the other hand, he may be suggesting that Tyrone has spoken to Edmund in such a way, warning Edmund to stay away from his big brother.

Another Shakespeare reference occurs when Mary enters, as Jamie references the "mad scene" in Hamlet. In that play, Ophelia experiences many traumas and finally loses her mind. Her last appearance onstage is famously referred to as "the mad scene" because Ophelia's speech is disjointed and incoherent, talking and singing about people who are not there. Mary's girlish appearance and her drug-induced incoherence are an uncomfortable echo of Ophelia's scene. Also, the audience was told earlier in the play that Mary tried to drown herself in a fit of despair. Ophelia does drown herself, though there is some ambiguity about whether she did it intentionally or not. Both Edmund and Tyrone are horrified by Jamie's words, but there is truth behind them.

Although Jamie is the most critical of Mary, he is, in some ways, the most devastated by what happens to her. He tells Edmund of his horror when he first saw her inject herself with drugs, and he breaks down in tears because he really had hoped she could beat her addiction this time. This mirrors Jamie O'Neill's attitude in real life. When Eugene and Jamie O'Neill's mother died—not from drugs, but from an illness years after she had beaten her addiction—Jamie O'Neill effectively drank himself to death within a year.

At the end of the play, Mary is firmly in a world of her own making. She speaks of "Mother Elizabeth." The woman acting as the head of a convent is often referred to as Mother Superior, but the name Elizabeth is significant. In the Bible, Elizabeth is the Virgin Mary's cousin and the mother of John the Baptist. She is one of the first people to recognize Mary's pregnancy as divine and famously greets Mary as the mother of Jesus Christ. Elizabeth is sympathetic to Mary in the Bible, which makes Mother Elizabeth's rejection of Mary's conviction that she is meant to be a nun more jarring.

Mary seems almost like a ghost, haunting the other three. They become aware of her when she makes odd noises in the other room. Her movements are described as being "like a sleepwalker." Like Jacob Marley in A Christmas Carol (1843) by English author Charles Dickens (1812–70), she is dragging her past actions with her, in the form of her wedding dress, but she barely seems aware that she has it. She has gone so far into her denial that she has blocked out her own memories, both good and bad. Then, just in the last few lines, she remembers marrying Tyrone and being "so happy for a time." The rest of the family just sits and watches her, perhaps wondering if such a time ever really existed. It is significant that O'Neill, in dedicating the play to his wife, writes about "all the four haunted Tyrones." Mary is haunted by her past, and she retreats into drugs and hallucinations. The other three are haunted by her.

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