Long Day’s Journey Into Night by Eugene O’Neil is a autobiographical work of tragedy depicting the author’s life through theatre. The plot of the play focuses on a dysfunctional family trying to deal with their problems such as alcoholism, drug addiction and life threatening disease through the course of the day well into the night in a repeating cycle. Each character has their own flaw; however Mary Tyrone is the most tragic hero in the play. Once she used to be an innocent girl wanting to be a nun or pianist, but ends up in an unhappy marriage along with a morphine addiction which has created a downfall in her character by making her lose touch with reality.
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Mary is the central character in the play as the men in the play revolve around her. Her husband James Tyrone, and her two sons, James and Edmund are presented in the beginning of the play as a happy family enjoying breakfast in their summer house on a sunny morning. While it may seem as every family’s dream, the house and the family members are all living in an illusion, especially Mary. At the breakfast table, she is portrayed as a traditional housewife “She is dressed simplyâ€¦she has the simple, unaffected charm of a shy covenant-girl youthfulness she has never lost-an innate worldly innocence”( O’Neill 13). As she may seem as the source of the Tyrone family where everyone acts very happy and is cautious of their actions around her because of the fear of her returning morphine addiction. In the beginning of the first Act there is a ray of hope from the family as they believe that Mary has beat her morphine addiction, but is the addiction truly over?
As the play progresses past the morning, we find out the reasons behind her drug addiction. Overall, Edmund, her youngest son receives the blame for the addiction. The birth of Edmund after her second son died has caused Mary great physical and emotional pain. Instead of getting professional help and dealing with the loss of her child that was infected by measles, the cheap doctor, that her husband found, simply prescribed morphine without realizing the extent of Mary’s pain. “I knew I’d proved by the way I’d left Eugene that I wasn’t worthy to have another baby, and that God would punish me if I did” Physical pain and guilt ridden conscious has driven Mary solely to depend on morphine as her way of dealing with the constant guilt she feels about the loss of her son, Eugene.
Mary has left rehab in hopes of a better life with no more morphine to depend on, however as she returns home, it is back to the vicious cycle as things don’t really change in her life and she relapses. Her youngest son is ill with tuberculosis, the same disease that her father died from. Her only comfort in all this is morphine and to keep telling herself that it is only “a summer cold.” Denial is a big part of Mary’s life along with loneliness. She has had a very lonely life, as she always traveled with her acting husband and never having a substantial home. After the scandal that involved a mistress and her husband, all of Mary’s friends” either pitied [her] or cut [her] dead” (88). Since she had no friends, and constantly spent nights alone in cheap hotel rooms, her only escape was the morphine as it lessened the feeling of loneliness even if it was just for a while.
As Mary was growing up, she believed that her household environment was correct, even though her father was an alcoholic. Despite that, she grew up with a vision of having a home, and her current summer home never felt like a home to her. It never provided any comfort, “I’ve never felt it was my home. It was wrong from the start. Everything was done in the cheapest way” (45). It reminded her of the cheap hotels where she spent long and lonely nights waiting for Edmund. Loneliness, her husband’s cheapness, Edmund’s illness, and her loss of faith have caused Mary to seek out her escape from reality, morphine. The moment of engagement was when she went out to town with Cathleen, her servant, to the drugstore to fill her prescription, “it’s a special kind of medicine. I have to take it because there is no other that can stop the pain- all the pain” (106). At this moment it is clear of Mary’s addiction and the fact that she does not plan on seeking out real help, as she would rather turn to the ways that have helped her before.
But what about this previously stated concept of losing faith and how does it pertain to Mary’s life? The play reaches its peak as Mary descends down the stairs with braided her into pigtails and her wedding dress in her arms, remembering her past at the covenant school and Mother Elizabeth, the nun at the school. The braided hair symbolizes Mary wanting to be that innocent, carefree girl that she used to be before James Tyrone. The wedding dress is nothing but a memory of a time when in “the spring something happened to me. Yes, I remember. I fell in love with James Tyrone and was so happy for time”(179). Her faith in marriage has faded as it was nothing like she thought it would turn out. The only thing that Mary believes in is morphine as it has never let her down.
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Mother Elizabeth has been an ideal image in the eyes of Mary, as she often felt a close connection with her and loved “her better than [her] own mother”(178). Mother Elizabeth advised Mary to go out into the real world first before committing herself to the life of a nun. Mary believes that she had the vision from Virgin Mary, Mother of Jesus herself and believes that becoming a nun is her life’s goal. Ironically Mary Tyrone and Virgin Mary both share the same name. In the end, Mary feels like she did not live up to the potential of her name. In the Mothers, she views herself as a bad mother to her two sons.
Mary’s final descent into the past signifies that she wishes her life turned out differently than it did. She has completely lost her strong religious views, as well as faith in the Virgin Mary. Long Day’s Journey into night becomes Long Day’s Journey into the Past, as Mary with the help of morphine slowly moves backwards in to the past. Mary says, “The past is the present isn’t it? It’s the future too” (75). This is the clear statement of how Mary views the world around her and there is no point of return for her. Her life as she used to view it is over, the only comfort in her life is morphine and pretending that in the morning it will be all be alright as her family gathers around for breakfast.
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