Long Day's Journey into Night | Study Guide

Eugene O'Neill

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Long Day's Journey into Night | Plot Summary

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Summary

Act 1

Long Day's Journey into Night takes place in the Tyrone family summer home during a single day and night in August. James Tyrone was once a successful actor and has been married to his wife, Mary, for 35 years. Mary has suffered from an unspecified problem (later revealed to be a morphine addiction) since the birth of their youngest son. Their sons, Jamie and Edmund, live with them. Jamie is a hard-drinking cynic who fights often with his father. His younger brother Edmund traveled the world and worked as a journalist. Now he is home, sick with what his mother claims is a summer cold. Jamie and Tyrone believe Edmund has consumption (tuberculosis).

Members of the Tyrone family have their disagreements. Tyrone disapproves of his sons' taste in politics and literature. Everyone criticizes Tyrone for being miserly and Jamie for being a drunk. All three of the men worry about Mary, who has recently come home from being treated for her "illness." She is looking healthier, but now her worry about Edmund is causing some troubling behaviors, things which in the past were signs of drug abuse.

While they are alone, Jamie expresses his concerns to Tyrone. He also worries Tyrone will choose less expensive care options for Edmund and suggests Tyrone's choice of an inexpensive "quack" doctor is what led to Mary's addiction.

When Mary returns, Tyrone leaves to work in the yard. Jamie tells Mary they are proud of her progress, but she gets angry with him for suggesting Edmund is seriously ill. Jamie leaves to work with Tyrone. Edmund comes in. Mary is frantically nervous as she cares for him. She complains of being lonely but becomes defensive when Edmund suggests her own problems may be partially responsible for their isolation. She says they are all suspicious of her and heads upstairs, supposedly to take a nap.

Act 2, Scene 1

It is lunchtime. Edmund reads a book while Cathleen, the servant, brings a tray of drinks before the meal. Edmund has one before Jamie steps inside. Then Jamie sneaks one before Tyrone comes in. Edmund and Jamie worry about what Mary is doing upstairs. Edmund insists it does not matter, but Jamie is unconvinced.

Mary enters. She is affectionate but acting strangely. Jamie's suspicions are confirmed. Edmund does not notice at first, but Mary's odd comments and detached manner make him suspicious too. Jamie confronts Mary, but she denies it. Edmund defends his mother and asks her to reassure him, but she cannot. As Tyrone approaches, Mary heads to the kitchen to make sure lunch is ready.

Tyrone and the boys argue about drinking. Tyrone sees they are unhappy and assumes it is Jamie's fault. Mary appears and Tyrone sees her condition for himself. She is chattering frantically and will not meet anyone's eyes. Tyrone says he was a fool to believe in her. Mary attacks him for drinking more than usual, then begs for understanding, saying she is worried about Edmund. Tyrone will not accept this excuse. They go in to eat lunch.

Act 2, Scene 2

After lunch, Mary fidgets and talks incessantly. The other three look angry, ill, or both. The phone rings and Tyrone answers. It is the doctor with bad news. Tyrone insists Edmund go see the doctor, but Mary explodes into a tirade. Speaking to Tyrone, Mary says the doctor Edmund will visit is the same as the one "who first gave you the medicine—and you never knew what it was until too late!" Mary goes upstairs, and they know she will take more drugs.

After Edmund leaves the room, Tyrone confirms to Jamie that his brother has consumption. Jamie and Tyrone argue over the cost of Edmund's care. Jamie leaves and Mary returns. Tyrone speaks to Mary about her addiction, but she alternately denies her addiction and blames it on others. When Edmund returns, Tyrone suggests he talk to his mother. Edmund asks him for money and Tyrone gives him $10, which is unusually generous. Tyrone leaves and Edmund talks to Mary. She will not discuss her addiction but instead asks him to skip his doctor's appointment. Edmund refuses and leaves with the others. Mary is alone. She laughs, saying she is glad they left, then cries about being lonely.

Act 3

At dinnertime, the men are not home. Mary has invited the servant, Cathleen, to drink with her. Cathleen is nice, but Mary is in her own world and does not listen. Cathleen complains about how she was treated when she went into the drugstore to fetch a prescription for Mary. The drugstore man treated her suspiciously until he learned who she worked for. Mary does not care—or does not understand—what bothered Cathleen. Mary talks about her youth: her convent education, her plan to become a nun, and how she met Tyrone. Cathleen leaves to help with dinner. Mary tries to pray but cannot. She hears the men returning.

Edmund and Tyrone are home. They have both been drinking but conceal it well. They observe Mary and can tell the state she is in. Mary talks energetically about the boys' childhoods and their other brother, Eugene, who died at age two. She shifts between reminiscing and blaming everyone around her. Repeatedly one of the men protests her savage statements, and the other says not to bother arguing with her. Mary is lost in memories of her adored father and how he spoiled her, particularly about her wedding. She wonders where her beautiful wedding dress is now stored.

When Edmund challenges Mary, she furiously blames him for her condition. She became addicted after a doctor gave her medicine to help her recover from Edmund's difficult birth. Edmund attempts to tell Mary about his diagnosis, but she will not listen. Upset, he leaves the house. Then Mary bursts into tears because she fears for Edmund's health. She believes Edmund is ashamed of her. Tyrone encourages her to eat dinner, but she heads upstairs, presumably to take more drugs. Tyrone is left alone and sad.

Act 4

It is midnight. Tyrone is drinking and playing solitaire when Edmund comes home. Edmund is drunk. They discuss their differing tastes in literature and poetry. They talk about Mary, and Tyrone says many of Mary's stories about her childhood, her father, and her marriage are not based on reality. Edmund is still inclined to trust his mother's version of things.

Neither Tyrone nor Edmund wants to go upstairs while Mary is awake, so they begin playing cards and continue talking. Tyrone shares details about his childhood and his acting career. He claims he had a great start to his career, but he took an easy role to make money and lost his chance to become a great actor.

Jamie comes home after visiting the town brothel. He is very drunk. Tyrone leaves to avoid a fight. Jamie insults their father, but Edmund wants to give Tyrone the benefit of the doubt. When Jamie sneers at Mary, Edmund hits him. Jamie says he deserved it and begins to cry. He had been so hopeful that Mary was going to beat her addiction, and now he knows she will not. He expresses his worry about Edmund and simultaneously warns Edmund against himself. He admits he is sometimes jealous of Edmund and has at times given Edmund bad advice. But he still expresses deep love and affection for his younger brother. After a confrontation with Tyrone, Jamie dozes off, and a few minutes later Tyrone sleeps too. But when someone is heard playing the piano, all three men sober up.

Mary wanders in, carrying her wedding dress. She does not recognize the men at all. She believes herself to be a convent girl again and talks about her dream of becoming a nun. Even Edmund shouting his diagnosis at her does not break through. She falters for a minute, then goes back to her memories. She talks about marrying Tyrone and being "so happy for a time." Tyrone "stirs in his chair," and Jamie and Edmund "remain motionless" as the play ends.

Long Day's Journey into Night Plot Diagram

123456789101112131415ClimaxResolutionIntroductionRising ActionFalling Action

Introduction

1 Mary acts oddly after a bad night of sleep; the men worry.

Rising Action

2 At lunch, the men can tell Mary is using morphine again.

3 The men leave for Edmund's appointment; Mary is alone.

4 Edmund tries to tell Mary the truth about his diagnosis.

5 Tyrone admits his failings to Edmund while drunk.

6 A drunken Jamie returns from the brothel.

7 Edmund punches Jamie, and Jamie cries over Mary.

8 Jamie warns Edmund against himself.

9 Jamie quotes both Edmund's and Tyrone's favorite authors.

10 Mary plays Chopin on the piano.

Climax

11 Mary enters hallucinating, holding her wedding dress.

Falling Action

12 Tyrone gently takes Mary's wedding dress away from her.

13 Tyrone sits holding the dress.

14 Edmund tries to make Mary acknowledge his illness.

Resolution

15 Jamie, Edmund, and Tyrone watch Mary babble to herself.

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