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Eugene O'Neill, through his innumerable artifacts, voices the existential anxiety,

permeating the American scenario of his times. In fact as America's leading playwright

O'Neill through his power - exuding dramas, is both the spokesman of the predicament

and also its antidote seeker and pathfinder. This dissertation Myth, Psychology and

Reality: An In-depth Study of Eugene O'Neill's Plays, is an earnest attempt to focus on

the repeated patterns and motifs that constitute the huge corpus of O'Neill works. Myth-

Psychology Syndrome becomes the modus operandi for the writer to comprehend the

mind-boggling issues plaguing the human environment.

Myth-Psychology-Reality constitutes the oeuvre of O'Neill's enormous literary

outputs. They form the substance, and also constitute=e the yardstick, by which the

interlocking and at times the overlapping provinces are judged. Myth includes

Psychology that culminates in Reality. Psychology narrows down the apparent hiatus

between Myth and Reality. Reality, on its part, establishes the link between Psychology

and Myth. But the Epiphany arrived at is built upon the premise, the three different

disciplines are not contradictory but complementary. In fact, they mutually prune as well

as explain each other. The differences issue from the behavioural patterns of the major

characters. The environment they belong to, in turn, conditions their attitudes. O'Neill,

taking recourse to well-known myths and employing the apparatus of psychology, has

undertaken the challenging task of both analyzing the mindset of his major protagonists

and in turn decipher important truths that will go a long way towards explaining the

turbulent human situation.

O'Neill's literary outputs affirm the multi-dimensional perspectives voiced with

persistency by the writer. Oscar Cargill points out this salient feature of the dramatist

with his remark:

The plays of Eugene O'Neill it seems touch something fundamental in

those who expose themselves to their effect. They touch down to

frightening depths; they step on private, social, religious philosophical

toes. ( O 'Neill and His Plays 198)

The plays are a testament of his faith, an act which has been aptly summed up by

Bhaghwat Goyal as 'his commitment of life' {The Strategy of Survival 3). It is the artist's

act of faith against nihilism, transforming doubt into acceptance and despair into

meliorism. A dedicated dramatist, O'Neill throughout his career, was embarked on a

quest, to decode life's unsolved puzzles and haunting mystic perplexities. As Joseph

Wood Krutch has pointed out: "O'Neill's life has been largely the story of his

innumerable plays, all written with passionate and absorbing faith in the importance of

the task the author has set for himself {Nine Plays of Eugene O 'Neill XIII).

Like his haunted and hounded heroes, Orin in Mourning Becomes Electra, Brutus

Jones in 77?^ Emperor Jones and Larry Slade in The Iceman Cometh, the playwright

considered his mission, lay in discovering man's primary role in the pattern of existence.

Joseph Wood Krutch has outlined O'Neill's desperate need thus: " may sense

behind the mask of his brooding face and dark smouldering eyes the volcano of his

temperament" {Nine Plays of Eugene O 'Neill XIV).

Perpetually on a hunting mission, the dramatist and his characters refram from

being mere onlookers. They participate fervently in the sphere of religion, metaphysics.
psychology and fantasy, towards getting a cue, regarding the functioning of what keeps

alive the human habitat and its related environs. Virtually petrified by the awful spectre

of human suffering on one hand, and human damnation on the other, O'Neill took refuge

in myths and also adopted a mythical framework to render his message acceptable to a

polymorphic audience.

In order to comprehend the link between Myth and Psychology providing

incursions into Reality, it is absolutely vital to delve into the nature of Myth. Myth,

though considered in the past to be a fabrication, has always been assigned a privileged

place in literature in terms of its contexts, statements, beliefs and writing. Eric Gould

substantiates the value of myth with his view: "Myth is now so encyclopedic a term that

it means everything or nothing" {Mythical Intentions in Modern Literature 5).

The term myth meaning 'plot' is Greek in origin, and needs to be differentiated

from logos implying tale or story. Myth is hence a technical term meaning plot, which

according to Aristotle is the most important feature of a tragedy. Myth also has the

connotation of looking at experience which is a kind of perspective. But as Richard

Chase points out: "myth is also a kind of literature and has within it the aesthetic creation

of human imagination" {Quest for Myth 73).

Again, though some critics view myth to be a story, it is an inadequate

approach; for simply from being an interesting narrative, it has locked within it the

deepest convictions of people and their beliefs. Hence it is right to view myth of the

earlier times as an inheritance, ensuring its worth and survival, resting on the unflinching

thrust laid on its inexhaustible possibilities.

As Gerald Laure says:

Myth is fundamental, the dramatic expression of our deepest instinctual

life and our primary awareness of man, in the universe capable of

many configurations upon which all particular opinions depend. {Ancient

Myth and Modern Man 2)

Hence Myth of the earlier times came to be regarded as an inheritance, ensuring

its worth and its survival, resting on the unflinching thrust laid on its inexhaustible

possibilities. So to get a clearer perspective of myth and to gauge its role in social groups,

social scientists have proposed a three-pronged approach. They claim it to be a design

and extension of society created to ensure social solidarity, resulting in integration of

groups. Emily Darkeim's belief in this theory is echoed by Day. S. Martin: "Myth gives

identity to social groups and binds together the members of a community ...within the

myth are the fundamental structures and organizations of a society" {The Many Meanings

of Myth 249).

Anthropologists, who have been taken in by its functional aspects, look upon

myth to be a vital characteristic of civilization, drawing attention to its potential to uphold

faith and promote moral wisdom, providing unlimited satisfaction to all individuals.

Similarly, Philip Wheelwright accords credit to myth's ability to yoke people together in

their innumerable social and spiritual undertakings and thereby inculcate a wholeness of

living, convinced by the moral rightness of what is right and what is wrong.

The ritual basis for Myth has been reiterated by both anthropologists and classical

scholars which include Sir James Frazer with his inexhaustible master piece. The Golden

Bough (1890-1915) and Jane Harrison's Themis (1912). Other literary stalwarts include
F.M. Conford, Gilbert Murray and Andrew Lang who have focused on the ritual conflicts

running as an undercurrent in Greek classics.

Jane Harrison firmly believes that: "first was the action, then came the word" (The

Many Meanings of Myth 11). Some Sociologists are, however, indifferent to which

preceded the other, for they are convinced of the ideology that myth and ritual replicate

each other; for, while the first exists on the conceptual front, the other functions on the

level of action. Northrop Frye, another leading pathfinder and solution seeker, drives

home the proximity between the two: "The verbal imitation of ritual is myth" {New

Directions from Old 117).

Ritualism has, however taken a backseat, with recent social scientists,

campaigning in favour of structuralism and its key role in myth study. The structuralism

trio -Vladimir Propp, Dmitry Segal and B Malinowski believe myth is the reservoir of

man's philosophic and speculative life, for it provides the clue to the understanding of

mankind's mindset. To Claude Levi-Strauss, the principle of parallelism operates in

mythic plots at the global context. Again Levi Strauss points out:

Myth is language to be known; myth substance does not lie in its style, its

original music or its syntax but in the story it tells. It is language

functioning especially on a high level where meaning succeeds practically

at taking off from the linguistic ground on which it keeps on rolling. [The

Structural Study of Myth, a Symposium 52-53)

Functionalism harps on the differences between cultures, Structuralism, however,

underlines its similarities and differences. Psychology, a behavioural science confirms its

inter-connection and dependence on myth. Where Psychology inclines to be

experimental and diagnostic in intentions, myth tends to be speculative and has a

philosophical bent of mind and texture.

R.W. Zaslow's explication of the mythical terrain and its impact on human

psychology throws light on their relationship:

Myths are traditional stories, usually originating in the timeless past of

primitive, pre-rational, pre-scientific societies that in turn reflect serious

concerns in the human consciousness such as the creations of the universe

life death, rebirth cycle with reference to the supernatural heroes.

{Encyclopedia of Psychology 415)

Sigmund Freud, founder of Depth psychology has postulated the theory that

myths serve as wish fulfillment of humanity. "It is extremely probable that myths are

distorted fantasies of whole nation, the secular dreams of youthful humanity" {Creative

Writers and Day Dreaming 41).

Just as dreams reflect the unconscious desires and anxieties of the individual, so

are myths projections of people's hopes, values, fears and aspirations. Joseph Campbell

establishes the inevitable link between the two:

Mythology in other words, is psychology misread as biography, history

and cosmology. The modem psychologist can translate it back to its

proper denotations and thus rescue it for a rich and eloquent document of

the profoundest depths of human character. {The Hero with a Thousand

Faces 256)

Psycho-analysts may not agree with interpretations of specific cases and

problems, but beyond questioning their writings are indispensable to myth critics, as the
heroes and deeds of myths continue to survive in modem times. Thomas Mann in his

speech has pointed out how Myth and Psychology illuminate each other: "Its penetration

into the childhood of the individual's soul is at the same time a penetration into the

childhood of mankind, into the primitive and mythical" {Freud and the Future 69).

Leon Edel points out, how writers for decades have used psychology in criticism

as well as in biography. The ideas of psychology come handy towards understanding the

motivations of a writer and the speculation that comes to bear upon symbols in a work.

Willa Gather stresses the inevitable bearing Psychology and Myth have on each other:

How can we deal adequately with Finnegan 's Wake without looking into

Jung and the collective unconscious? What meaning can Eugene O'Neill's

Strange Interlude and Mourning Becomes Electra have if they are

divorced from the popular Freudian misconceptions of the 1920's. {Psycho

Analysis and American Fiction 204)

The dramatist Eugene O'Neill conceded that he was also influenced by Nietzsche

and Carl Jung. As brought out by Louis Sheaffer:

Zaruthushtra had influenced me more than any other book, I've read. I ran

into it when I was 18 and I've also possessed a copy and since then and

every year I re-read it and am never disappointed which is more than I can

say of any other book. {Son and Playwright 123)

Nietzsche's views on myth, dream and art anticipate the findings of Freud.

Nietzsche argues that in dreams, man repeats the experience of earlier humanity and that

there is a close connection between dreams and mystery plays, both being therapeutic in

nature. He is a firm believer in the notion, that tragedy and for that matter all art is

grounded in myth. He was courageous enough to uphold the view tragedy is Dionysian

and grounded it in the natural and instinctual impulses which reach their culmination in

intoxication, revelry and exuberance. He accords a role to Apollo in tragedy and its

genesis - but allots a higher status to Dionysus the God of wine and music which is

affirmed in The Birth of Tragedy:

It is either under the influence of the narcotic draught which is witnessed

in the songs of all primitive men and people or with the potent coming of

spring penetrating all nature with joy that these Dionysian elements

awake, which intensify, cause the subjective to vanish into complete self

forgetfulness. Under the charm of the Dionysian not only is the union

between man and man affirmed, but nature which has become estranged

hostile or subjugated, celebrates once more the reconciliation with her

tragic son, man. The work of art was thus capable of being both dream-

like and ecstatic, finally paving way for the oneness with the primordial


{Ritual and Pathos 6)

Nietzsche did not merely idealize myth but also spoke expansively on the function

of the artist whose role is to be a fearless critic of the times. Stephen Dedalus in A

Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man is the archetypal artist ready to hurt his mother's

feelings, desert the church and homeland to be a fearless diagnostian, cherishing virtues

like honesty and courage. The playwright must have been deeply stimulated by Carl

Jung's Psychology of the Unconscious:_

Jung, unlike Freud, was convinced that man's yearning was not rooted in

satisfying physical needs, or towards fulfilling emotional necessities, but in a longing for

a life of meaning and purpose. Like Jung, O'Neill was a mystic and assumed man's

problems stem from the collective unconscious to emerge as psychological truth. This

unconsciousness is independent and autonomous of man. However, his overlooking of

the unconscious or suppressing of this powerful force can prove catastrophic.

Megalomaniacs, and egoists puffed up by their hubris are guilty of this transgression

when they covet godhead.

Favouring the opposite course and being meek and subservient is equally

calamitous. O'Neill's conception of life in which opposites need to be reconciled,

reached its explosive climax at Gaylord Sanitorium. Dr. Weissman points out how

O'Neill's enforced inactivity as a result of tuberculosis prevented and protected him from

reaching aharchically to the opposite drives. His emotion channelised in the right

direction helped him to express them as tragic myth in his art.

The plays are thus a consistent chronological record of O'Neill's anguish and

torment to establish one's true identity amidst opposite self images, with the real conflict

taking place in the mind of his protagonists. O'Neill's dialectical sensibility hovering

between irony and faith, instinct and spirit caused him to spin a tragic web that spurred

him to experiment in a daring manner new strategies, adventuring with new identities and

concepts, never repeating any previous expedient. His endeavours, to express the

quandary and predicament find echo in the observation of the Neo-Freudians-Karen

Homey and Eric Fromm. While Freud viewed man to be at the behest of animal drives.

Neo-Freudians looked upon him as a respectable human being, capable of formulating his

own theory invested with the capacity to formulate his own destiny.

There is a co-relation between what the psychoanalyst expressed and what

O'Neill demonstrated in his dramas. In fact it was seven years later that Homey came

out with her Neurosis and Human Growth - the struggle towards self- realization. There

is astonishing correspondence between these two in the description of neurotic types and

patterns of human behaviour.

Dr. Homey views the intra-psychic struggle with self as the central conflict of all

neurosis, issuing from unconscious self-hatred. To counter this aversion, the character

holds on to an idealized image as a solution.

Dr.Homey interprets this strategy to: "parallel the striving for the infinite

Neurosis and Human growth" (54). Paralleling this move is the neurotic's need to direct

his energies against his abhorred self. Remedy is to be found in tracing the source of this

aversion and to over-ride and to accept the repugnant self.

Dr.Homey outlines three aspects of self: the actual or empirical self - all

inclusive, the idealized, the innermost self which man prizes, caused by the self-hatred to

disown what he is and become what he wants to be Doris Falk explains the motive. "His

concem with this relationship and to this self image is a kind of pride .... His pride

inflated or wounded is neurotic for it is concerned not with real qualities or capabilities

but with phantoms projected by his own mind" {Tempering of Eugene O'Neill 55).

The neurotic pride may lead him to success, but he may collapse or topple when

he comprehends the truth. The most vital is the real self which is not conceptualized but

felt as an unseen presence. According to Homey it is that alive, unique personal centre of

Human beings "the only part that can and wants to grow"

It is the self from which the neurotic has become estranged, alienated by his self

hatred and has descended in pursuit of false self images or masks. The Herculean

Struggle to assert itself against the whole pride system is what Homey terms to be the

central neurotic conflict. This is a tangible proof of searching for the real identity among

the assumed and cultivated roles which in reality contributes to the conflict or struggle.

Another concept, worth looking into, towards understanding the Myth -

Psychology Syndrome, is O'Neill's reliance on the Archetype - a primordial symbol

which in tum, functions as the yardstick or role model towards testing and identifying the

character under scrutiny. Archetype is derived from the Greek word "archi - implying

'beginning' and 'types' a stamp denoting the primordial form - the origin of a series of


The literary theory of the archetype can be traced, to the comparative theory of

Anthropology, issuing from J.G. Frazer's The Golden Bough and the depth psychology of

Carl Jung. Frazer recognized the elemental part of myths and ritual that recur in legends

and ceremonies of various cultures. Some motifs or themes recur in myths of diverse

cultures, belonging, to different time or place. But these recurrent images have very

often a common meaning and elicit almost similar if not identical responses and serve the

same functions.

Frazer's spotlight is on: "the archetype of crucifixion and resurrection such as the

killing of a divine king" {The Golden Bough 255). Corollary to the rite of sacrifice is the

"scapegoat" archetype. The rites of sacrifice and purification may strike one as

inherently primitive. But their vestiges exist in the modern civilization as well. The

vicarious satisfaction people experience while hounding blacks and the persecution of

Jews, the sense of bonhomie one feels on the onset of New Year, Easter celebration the

festivities attached to Deepavali - a ritual recalling Narahasura's death in the Hindu

mythology and spring cleaning repeated yearly often get transformed to mean archetypal


In William Righter's opinion: "Jungian Psychology and its archetypal insights

have fared better as a literary device for literary analysis" {Myth and Literature 17).

Jung's contribution to the literary work of art is in his theory of racial memory and

archetypes. Unlike his mentor Freud, Jung recognizes two layers of the unconscious.

One is the personal unconscious. To Jung: "this is more or less superficial layer of

unconscious encompassed, repressed or forgotten material from the specific life

experience of the individual" {Archetypes of the Unconscious 205).

The collective unconscious is the deeper layer of impersonal or transpersonal

unconscious. In contrast to the personal psyche it has contents and modes of behaviour

that are more or less the same everywhere and in all individuals. It is in other words

more or less identical in all men and this constitutes the common psychic substrata of a

super personal nature which is present in every one of us {Archetypes of the Unconscious


Archetype is a Jungian term for the inherited pattern of events and characters in

the collective unconscious. It is a permanent imprint that all share. But filtered through

the personal unconscious, this archetype in dreams and myths take the form of persons

and actions experienced by the individual in dreams and myths. This is what, links

psychology and myth. Archetype is hence unconscious, when perceived taking a form

that is personal and individualistic. Archetypal images in recognizable shapes that figure

in myths, dreams, art and literature are all pervasive images that have existed from time


Myths are the medium through which archetypes manifest themselves and

articulate themselves to the human mind. There is an inter relation between myth and

psychology, between the general and the personal Archetype - an image, a model, and

event, A story comes out alive to bear testimony to the working mind conditioned by

stress and necessity. The psychic behaviour gives life and vitality and validity to the

archetype so that it becomes an archetypal symbol. As Freud says, "dreams are

personalized myths and myths are personalized dreams" {Archetypes of the Unconscious


As Jung's archetypal images undergo a sea-change, they grow towards maturity

resulting in 'Individuation'. The shadow Persona Anima is thus a part of psychology

and literary criticism. Individuation is a psychological growth; in fact a self recognition -

an Epiphany. This maturity warrants the necessity of both the fancied and hated self with

their merger paving way for the well balanced individual. Neuroses, on the other hand, is

an abysmal failure since it fails to accept the shadow - persona - anima trio.

The Shadow is the darker phase of one's personality, the inferior and less

admired facet of the personality one wishes to suppress. Jung substantiates his argument

in his Psychological Reflections by likening Shadow to the invisible that man cannot

disguise. Shakespeare's lago, Goethe's Mephistopheles, and Milton's Satan are examples

of these hated archetypes.


Anima is the soul image, the spirit of human force or vital energy. According to

Jung: "It is the loving thing in man that lives of itself and causes life. Weren't it for the

linking and leaping of soul man would not sway in his greatest passions, idleness"

(Archetypes and the Collective unconscious 26- 27). Jung confers anima a feminine

designation. Helen of Troy, Dante's Beatrice and Milton's Eve are some of the

personifications. The persona is the obverse side of the anima that mediates between the

ego and external world. The persona is the actor's mask, his idealized self, a special

personality that one nurtures and yearns for as antimony to the real self.

Wilfred Guerin in his A Handbook of Critical Approaches, mentions Archetypal

images such as water, sun, colours, circle, serpent, numbers, garden, tree and desert.

Water stands for mystery of creation, rebirth and purification. The sun is symptomatic of

creative energy, law in nature, consciousness, and the passage of time. Blue represents

truth while green stands for fertility.

The Archetypal woman is the Good mother propounding positive aspects of

Earth mother and so is linked to the life principle, protection, fertility and growth. The

Soul Mater or the Sophia figure signifies the Holy mother and stands for spiritual

fulfillment. The terrible mother connotes negative aspects of the earth mother and has in

her terrifying life-denying qualities. The wise old man with his messianic temperament is

illustrative of knowledge, insight and intuition. The Garden connotes paradise and

immortality. Creative motif is fundamental to all myths and every day reality is governed

by her cosmos.

The motif of Return to Paradise which was not possible during the post-Iapserian

phase after the eviction of Adam and Eve is a key archetypal motif in both literature and

myth. Death - Regeneration is witnessed in stories where man moves from Life-in Death

to Life through Death, to attain immortality.

The Hero Archetype gets manifested in quest initiation or scapegoat motif. The

hero motivated by a quest undertakes an arduous journey demanding impossible feats to

be achieved to attain his objective. Initiation motif exhibits the hero surviving

excruciating feats leading to the metamorphoses of the hero.

In the scapegoat motif the hero dies atoning for the sins of the people to restore

the land to fertility. Maud Bodkin in her Introduction to Archetypal Patterns in Poetry

looks upon Archetypes as: "Themes having a particular form or pattern which points

amidst variation from age to age and which corresponds to patterns or configuration of

emotional tendencies in the minds of those who are stirred by the theme" (14).

Maud Baudkin identifies Myth with Literature, looking upon myth as a structural

organizing principle of literary form and defines archetype as a symbol. Since Archetypes

veer around the important problem of human race, a work of literature, deals with the

universal aspects of human existence. The readers perceive the universality created by

artists from primordial memories, and respond to them.

Critics, intrigued by the Archetypal images, have made comprehensive effort to

locate the archetype behind the archetype of archetypes Joseph Campbell in his Hero

with a Thousand Faces calls the term Monomyth. To Campbell the rite de passage is

the formula behind the term - a ritual involving separation - initiation - return (10).

The Quest Myth is the most sought after monomyth with Northorp Frye

according it the status of it being 'the archetypes of all archetypes, citing it as the source

of all literature of all ages which includes the death and rebirth theme, and the motifs of

creation and immortality. The employment of any of these motifs singularly or in unison

in work of arts elucidating general traits may bring out archetypal patterns or archetypal

designs. Pre-figurations like the use of Archetypes is a literary device employed by

writers and is found to be religious in origin.

During St. Augustine's period Pre-figuration came to be used instead of the

term "figure" and since then the term has been secularized and adapted to suit many

contents. As pointed out by John White:

When used in the secular sense, the idea of pre-figuration loses its

original prophetic connotation. In the literary context, Homer's Odyssey

can hardly be interpreted as a joyous or foreboding prophecy that Joyce's

Ulysses was to come. {Mythology in the Modern Novel 12)

John White's conviction of myths as literary pre-figurations has accomplished

what Jung's theory of archetypal images has done. It is efficacious in studying works

ingrained with mythological motifs, and can give a forewarning of the plot and can offer

an abridged system of symbolic critique on the problems, incidents and dispositions of

the modem times. John White continues: "The ideal reader can still be expected to be

familiar with most pre-figurations beforehand just as the novelist himself was when he

wrote... reinterpret them over and over and adapt them to contemporary experiences and

problems" (Past and Present 400). Literary pre-figurations are essential pre-requisites

towards comparing the present with the past with mythic personalities serving as

archetypes and role-models of human behaviour. The protean malleability of the classic

myths has afforded innumerable opportunities for fresh interpretations. Eugene O'Neill's

Mourning Becomes Electro has striking parallels and astonishing differences with

Sophocles\Oedipus Rex.

Reality in everyday usage means simply everything that exists. In its broadest

sense, reality includes everything that is observable, palpable and understandable, by

science, philosophy or any system of analysis. In western philosophy, there are levels of

gradation regarding reality's conception. They are known as phenomenological reality,

truth, fact and axiom. Eastern religions like Hinduism and Buddhism have different

explications of reality, such as Dharma, Samsara and Maya. Psychologically, reality is

what a person believes to be true. It may be a factor, an event rooted in individual

perception. At times it is a belief that is cultivated at the cost of truth. It might be based

on misconception, erroneous belief that is the outcome of phantasms.

Myth, on the other hand, is the ideal state of things rooted in tradition and culture

Psychology is behavioural pattern that tries to conform to the mythical pattern, but tends

to deviate. The straying away from the ideal is either due to the cultural attitudes of the

times or the psychological make-up of the characters themselves. Myth and Psychology

in the process do not turn out to be antithetical. The lacuna between the two is filled by


Reality for O'Neill was sparked off by his own storm tossed life, his sensitive

temperament and the pressures around him to voice them as artistic performances through

his dramas. American literature devoid of living antiquity was also in dire need to

formulate the nation's experience through art as performances. The puritans

recommended hard work but forbade theatrical performances. But when the Americans

finally became conscious of their identity, an American theatre began to evolve, with the

initial purpose being to entertain. The advent of Eugene O'Neill on the American

scenario, can be best described as both timely and fortunate. An aesthetic rebel, O'Neill's

decision lay in re-orienting and re-invigorating the American theatre. It was providential

he could team up with venturesome associates Olivia Coolidge points out O'Neill's

indebtedness to this group:

"The Provinceton Group Players gave him years of encouragement

which he otherwise might not have received. It gave him the atmosphere

in which he could work saving him from the abyss which awaited him".

{Eugene O'Neill210-211)

Again in his art, he was wary of repeating devices and used designs and forms to

suit the needs of his theme. The need to discover an objective - correlative in art drove

him to cover a whole lot of cultural emotions and experiences.

Books, written by O'Neill's biographers, confirm the poet's life to be the source

of his personal anguish. Critics, have in turn, highlighted the tragic themes, which have a

direct autobiographical bearing. Raghavacharyulu is perhaps right in his assumption:

"Eugene O'Neill, lived the tragedy he wrote" {Eugene O'Neill: A Study 1). Doris Falk in

her sheds further light with her remark: "He attempts at once to express and assuage the

life long torment of a mind in conflict" {Eugene O'Neill and the Tragic Tension 3).

His dramas are oracular in their intention and systematically voice his view, to

design a tragic myth that he came to gradually comprehend. The myths include such

strains as fatal necessity, mistaken choice, self-willed catastrophe and anguished self

knowledge. His works are a chronological record of this torment spelling out in turn, the

direction of his growth as a man and artist. Louis Sheaffer in her book Son and Artist

calls him "a theatre child" bom to an Irish immigrant James O'Neill

His mother, Ellen Quinlan, whom O'Neill adored, was poles apart from her land

hungry outgoing husband. Eugene's birth and the loss of her earlier son Edmund,

transformed her into a drug addict, shattering the dramatist's belief totally. The Glebes

explain the impact:

The baby Eugene seemed to be an offshoot of his mother's guih and

father's frustration. His parent's disillusionment with life and each other

created the supercharged atmosphere that coloured his earliest days and

formed the tragic attitudes that influenced his personality and later

imbibed his plays. {Son and Playwright 15)

O'Neill's love as well as hate for his father is of psychological value and has a

bearing on his use of the Myth Psychology Reality syndrome, as a linking factor

throughout his plays. His early formative years of insecurity and a sense of non

belonging, stemming from his disappointment in his parents, had much to do with his

cosmic anxiety.

James' brotherly influence proved destructive with him introducing Eugene

O'Neill to a world of prostitutes. Jamie, with his Mephistophelian cast of mind, had

virtually stripped him of his innocence, and made him regard sex as a revolt against love.

His life as a seaman, gave him knowledge of the dispossessed world and provided

materials for his plays. He found and discovered hearts in whores who figure as

archetypes in his plays.


The stage became the looking glass, for him to passionately scrutinize the family

members and others he intimately knew during his voyages. He considered them to be the

representatives of humanity. Consequently, his plays became Armegeddons, the scenario

converted into a battlefield, where forces of good and evil, reality and illusion and the

unconscious and conscious wrestle. Joseph Wood Krutch commends the writer: "for his

dramatic effectiveness which has never deserted him" {Nine Plays of Eugene O 'Neill


This reality in his plays is constituted by his personal life, in the form of his

family members, his experiences and the stamp they left on his thinking.

The Second Chapter Myth As Metaphor is an earnest examination of Eugene

O'Neill's classically oriented plays. Mourning Becomes Electrajmd Desire under the

Elms. Highly controversial and thought provoking versions, of the Greek and French

originals, The House of Atreus and The Phaedra Legend, the two American plays

substitute the Greek cultural milieu by a contemporary setting. The plays cease to be a

mere transmutation of the environment. They also embody protagonists, subject to

Puritan strains and Freudian complexes, which in turn colour and determine the

characters' outlook. The dramatist's motive is to explore the impact caused by human

passions, brought into collision with the cultural attitudes of the nineteenth century


In Desire under the Elms, O'Neill has made tremendous efforts to retell the

renowned Phaedra legend. The post figurations, Eben Cabot, Abbie Putnam and Ephraim

Cabot are modelled on their classical counterparts. Abbie Putnam Phaedra's, post-

figuration, with her fierce ambition, strength of mind and decision making capacity,

determines the course of events in the play.

O'Neill taking refuge in the Greek Myth, has tried to launch experiments towards

articulating the sentiments of his age. He has also performed the superb act, of dispensing

with the supematuralism of Greek tragedy by replacing it with determinism to render the

behavioural pattern acceptable. The resultant effect is to render the play Desire under the

Elms, cohere with the rationalistic, and scientific temper of the age. The aim is to

administer justice, according to the deeds of the character.

In his other play Mourning Becomes Electro, O'Neill has deviated from the

classical original, by shifting the focus to Lavinia Mannon, the post figuration of Electra.

O'Neill's purpose in writing the drama lay in revamping the classical myth to highlight

Lavinia's role in perpetrating the tragedies of the family. As a responsible Mannon she

has to compulsorily embrace the Mannon fate and accept the legacy. She atones for the

crimes of her ancestors by entombing herself in the house. As the last Mannon and its

only living member, it is justice that has come full circle and it befits her to mourn.

Despite its elements of originality, rendering it into a nineteenth century product,

it is psychologically tuned, with O'Neill resorting to Freudian theory of incest, Oedipus

complex, and Carl Jungian's use of the unconscious. As per Jung's findings, myths are

manifested through Archetypes and primordial images. Again, O'Neill renders fate

acceptable by exemplifying it in the Father - Mother complexes. The characters are

governed by either of the two parents, with the situations becoming catastrophic. The

behavioural pattern is also expressed through the anima and the animus, which in turn

gets projected through dreams and fantasies. The dramatist has also invested the

characters with the nineteenth century puritanical strains resulting in psychic

peculiarities. The myth of an ideal husband, wife, sister and brother gets exploded for

reality to surface. The Greek concept of religion and morality is rendered personal, with

the characters becoming accountable for their deeds.

The Third Chapter Interplay of Christian Faith and Dionysian Affirmation shows

O'Neill's attempts to suggest remedies for the rudderless humanity. In The Great God

Brown, the solution lies in the integration of split personalities. The other panacea

offered, in Lazarus Laughed is to look for role models and emulate them.

Religion is a universal necessity and a powerful fuelling force, directing and

controlling the human imagination. It is an inevitable aspect and an archetype of the

collective imagination, manifesting itself through rituals and persons. It is present as

power through God and spirits. It is both dynamic and dangerous, manifesting itself

through crusades and heresy hunts. It can also end in creativity, such as the building of

the Taj Mahal. Besides, religion has lead to the creation of myths. The Greek, Hindu,

Islamic, Chinese, and Christian religions are woven around myths. It is also a product of

faith. It has embodied archetypal concepts resulting in religious Archetypes like Christ

and Lord Rama as religious role models.

As Jung has pointed out, there is a difference, between these exalted leaders and

ordinary men. This, in turn, has lead to psychic peculiarities. O'Neill interested in

analyzing human behaviour, has used the device of the mask to help him explore the

inner conflicts in sensitive individuals like Dion Antony. The net result is the conflict of

souls. In The Great God Brown, O'Neill outlines the war of souls between Dionyseus and

Saint Antony. What is interesting is Dion Anthony is a blend of Dionyseus and Saint


O'Neill has used the mask, as an experimental and psychological device to

portray the inner conflicts and tensions and to project the changes wrought within the

contending characters. It is also a war between the forces of Christianity and Naturalism.

The allusion to Dionyseus and Saint Antony, the introduction of the themes of Death and

Rebirth, and the cyclic repetition of life renders the play philosophically significant.

Lazarus Laughed, quasi religious in temper, is a follow up of The Great God

Brown. It is an O'Neillian effort to find in Lazarus, the Resurrected, - a palliative for the

modem man's materialistic instincts and its shattering blow on creativity.

O'Neill, the philosopher dramatist, to put across his views takes refuge in

Nietzsche's Birth of Tragedy. According to Nietzsche, Dionyseus is the sole protagonist

in Greek tragedies and the others are masks of Dionyseus. The Apollonian consciousness

is a thin layer hiding, the Dionysian. O'Neill re-incarnating the Biblical consciousness in

Lazarus, confers upon him the status of a Nietzchean Superman. This is O'Neill's

substitute for the modem man, who has lost his faith in both God and religion. Lazarus,

on the other hand, affirms faith in life, with his tremendous power and in his fearlessness

for death. He is both a preacher and the practitioner of the Dionysian affirmation. He also

asserts the need to enjoy life, without any inhibition. He is the religious surrogate for the

Twentieth century's man's rootless-ness and his agnosticism.

The Fourth Chapter Psychology as Behavioural Pattern is an in-depth analysis of

O'Neill's The Emperor Jones, The Hairy Ape, Strange Interlude and Dynamo. The

dramatist has taken recourse to psychology, to study the behaviour of the major

characters. The myth surrounding the characters is ripped through, for interesting and

startling peculiarities to surface. The facade is ripped open for the myth of the

personalities to explode.

O'Neill's plays are a continuous philosophical investigation into the riddle of

falsehood at the core of life. The enigma may be caused by the illusions human beings

are victims to. The dramatist employs psychological machinery to focus on the

deceptions human nature is fallible to. The results are unnerving, as the cultivated

fantasies prove to be self-defeating and also self-destructive.

O'Nill, a tireless experimenter, relied on expressionism, to project through

characters, stage devices and symbols-the psychological trauma experience in life. Infact

he is the chief insurgent against worn out dramatic conventions. In O'Neill's psychology

- stringed plays inner reality is communicated through expressionistic techniques.

The Emperor Jones is a singular example of expressionism, rendered functional,

to unmask Brutus Jones. It turns out to be the real expose, of the false idealized self of the

hero, whose success ethic is pivoted around big lies. It is a virtual ethnic transference,

with a Negro aping the white man's code of Imperialism and Capitalism. The

expressionistic symbols are used to pinpoint how contemporary civilization is a loose

fitting mask, a super imposition which finally gets sliced through.

The Hairy Ape, is another O'Neillian venture, handled with artistic mastery about

Yank, a coal stoker. He is also Everyman, a proletariat, a symbol of man, brutalized by

industrial machinery and trapped by his idealized steel-self, which he presumes to be

power. He presents a negative view of the highly evolved mechanized America through

his protagonist.

Strange Interlude depicts a major venture of the American playwright, dispensing

with masks to go in for asides, to depict the thought processes of the characters. The

thoughts, in turn, are related to the central consciousness of Nina Leeds, a father

dominated woman. The entire play depicts her struggle to escape, the gigantic shadow of

this powerful influence. The yearning to be loved is the legacy bequeathed. It is this

passionate hunger for love, from the men related to her, which determines her action and

decides her fate. Her exclusiveness and embattled ego, though undergoing a momentary

self realization of human selfhood, ends up becoming self destructive and life denuding.

Instead of becoming Cybel, a Madonna of peace, she becomes transformed to an

avenging fury demanding restitution for wrongs done.

The search for God is the pivotal motif in Dynamo and Days without End.

Dynamo written and staged after Strange Interlude has its focus of interest in God the

Mother. But she is not Nina, the furious mother on warpath, for acceptance and justice.

She is dynamo, Mother science, the God Mother, epitomized as Electricity.

The play is also a total reversal of the familial pattern of Strange Interlude. The

battle between the two parental halves converge on the son, Reuben Light. The play is

also a bone of contention between the rites of Fundamentalism and Atheism coloured by


The play is a Herculean attempt on the dramatist's part to demonstrate, the

American milieu, permeated by materialism. It also pronounces the death of the old God

and the failure of science to provide the necessary comfort. Dynamo is the Delphian

oracle spelling out through anguish, of what was happening to the American soul. It also

voices, the bewilderment experienced when knowledge is unaccompanied by wisdom.


Ultimately O'Neill's plays according to Raghavacharyulu: "coming to grips with reality

turn out to be a strange interlude an electrical display of God, over which Father and

Mother have equal provenance" (Eugene O 'Neill, A Study 94).

The Fifth Chapter Reality as a Linking Factor is an appraisal of O'Neill's inward

looking dramas, The Iceman Cometh and Long Day's Journey Into Night. His

investigation into the domains of Psychology and Myth had yielded him interesting

revelations. He was now on the same wavelength as Shakespeare's enlightened

protagonist King Lear. He had looked up to Myths to provide him Archetypes and pre-

figurations. Psychology of Freud and Carl Jung had in turn helped him to probe into the

heart of darkness of his characters. In his final plays he has become Eliot's wrinkled

Tiresias, a Delphian oracle, an Oedipus who was en route to taste his peace at Colonus.

The Iceman Cometh and Long Day's Journey Into Night project a dramatist who

is drained of all dreams and stripped of all illusions. Myth and psychology fathomed in

tradition of the past and conditioned by conduct had checkmated truth. He had also

become mature to bid farewell to the Art Theatre rejecting revolutionary ardour and lofty

ideas. The transformation was not sudden. The decision to tap the authentic and personal

details can be gleaned and is evident in Mourning Becomes Electra, Desire under the

Elms and Strange Interlude and Beyond the Horizon. Thus Myth and Symbolism have

resorted to help him to maintain the artistic distance.

However, The Iceman Cometh and Long Day's Journey^ project a dramatist, who

mellowed in wisdom, was prepared to go in for character dramas. In fact, O'Neill was

familiar with the characters, portrayed in his last phase of drama writing. The characters

are no longer fictitious. Sheaffer's well documented book O'Neill: The Son and Artist, is

believed to contain photographic prints of some of the models from real life who figure

as characters in the play.

But he could not, as a zealous writer, keep away from the artist's preoccupation

with existentialism. Existentialism meant a breakdown of all communication, the

reduction of all equations between the individual and environment to nothingness.

O'Neill, Hemingway and Faulkner have asserted in their works, in myriad ways

the value of the penultimate, world of action in a world of liability. In a world permeated

by nihilism, O'Neill's answer was to dig into his own life for real materials and transform

biography into Art as performances.

Both Long Day's Journey into Night and The Iceman Cometh are symbolic

projections of lyric memories springing from the writer's past. The characters instead of

hiding behind a smoke screen, cast off their masks and confess their weaknesses and look

out for a panacea, propelled by feelings of fear, courage and resignation.

His The Iceman Cometh has teen acclaimed to be one of the best plays and a

favourite with the writer. O'Neill is said to have affirmed the fact to D.H.Lawrence at an

interview that he knew for years, the inmates of Harry Hope's Salon who suffer from

inertia and lead a vegetative life experiencing excessive paralysis of the will Hickey, the

long expected, a reminder of Samuel Beckett's Waiting for Godot is believed to be their

saviour. In fact he is the iceman who with his winning smile, brings death into the saloon

and destroys altogether the serenity prevalent there.

There is no action in the play, for it is fuelled around the premise of action and

inertia. O'Neill handles his familiar concept of appearance and reality not as two separate

entities but as two valid realms of truth. As long as their relationships are not disturbed

by controversy, peace prevails. But once their pipe dreams turn out the illusions, their

will to live is put out, Suicides, being packed to the electric chair and murderous passions

spilling out contributes to the reality.

Long Day's Journey Into Night is O'Neill's moving account of his family

members under the pseudonym "Tyrones". Sheila Prasad has rightly accorded it the

status of being: "a mercilessly autobiographical play" {Tradition and Experiment in the

Plays of Eugene O'Neill 142). D.H. Lawrence's comment on his book Sons and Lovers

sheds light on what plays like Long Day's Journey into Night can do to the writers "But

one sheds one's sicknesses in books repeats and presents again one emotion, to be a

master of them" {Tedlock D.H. Lawrence Sons and Lovers 31).

O'Neill was never reluctant to use in his plays materials from his own life. This

aspect is seen in his early play Welded where he brought out aspects of his life with his

second wife Agnes Boulton; In Days without End it is his life with his third wife Carlotta.

In The Iceman Cometh it is his days of youth at the waterfront saloon. Long Day's

Journey Into Night represents, in short, the culminating process of O'Neill dipping into

the past for dramatic material.

The Tyrones stand for O'Neill's father, mother, and brother with the playwright

himself masquerading as his dead brother. Edmund O'Neill does not take recourse to any

plot for his emotionally charged artifact. Frankly and realistically, he presents the

emotional pressures under which he and his near ones lived and which was ultimately

responsible for shaping their destines.


Thus the four characters whose lives are inextricably bound by family ties are at

the same time decidedly individuals. It is not heredity and environment but love that

binds them together. But at the same time love is also the crucial factor in their tragedy.

But for love the four members could have split up. But as in Sartre's No Exit hell

for Tyrones, are the outsiders to the family and not themselves. The inter relationships of

the Tyrones are complex. They are locked to one another through love and hate. They

hurl accusations and refuse to understand each other.

This play which scrupulously maintains the time honoured unities, months and

years of the tragedy, are compressed into a single day. The sad history of the family is

laid bare. Exonerations to a series of confessions. Again as argued by R.H. Raleigh in

O'Neill: The Man and His Works, the play is said to be a impressive cultural document

that as autobiographical play. He points out how the play has attributes which one

associates with an Irish cultural family.

Long Day's Journey Into Night is neither a drama of action nor violence. It is a

simple domestication of tragic emotion and human insight. It is a desperate attempt

towards confronting the truth and transmutes the memories towards lifting the play to the

universal plane. The purpose of the author is to arrive at reality through psychology to

evolve the myth of human life.

The Sixth Chapter Technique as Discovery is a focus on the theatrical expertise of

America's major playwright. O'Neill arrived at the theatre scenario when revolutionary

techniques were being attempted and adapted to bring modernity into the domain.

O'Neill's plays in their multitudinousness mirror in microcosm the different phases of

these strong and creative strivings to give them an identity of their own. O'Neill

conscious of the need of the hour and his contribution towards the dignity of playwriting,

is said to have sought admission in his Professor's woricshop admitting he had no

intention of becoming "a mediocre journeyman playwright". As Sheela Prasad has re-

iterated "he wanted to be an artist or nothing" {Tradition and Experiment in the Plays of

Eugene O'Neill 9).

O'Neill was again fortunate to have found his supporters in the Province town

players and later on at the Theatre Guild. So O'Neill never lacked theatre enthusiasts to

espouse his experiments, to understand him and if need be to treat him with sympathy.

His psychological and symbolic use of stage settings reveal and expose the inner

substance of characters rarely found in pre-0'Neill American drama. He moved in line

with the tradition of Chekov, shifting the stress from the outer realism to the inner regions

of characters. The Jungle background, in The Emperor Jones, the farm setting in Beyond

The Horizon, are symbolic and symptomatic of inner reality, reflecting in turn the

working of the human mind under duress. Isolation is suggested with Jones and Yank, in

The Emperor Jones and The Hairy Ape occupying centre stage but strangely at odds with

the universe around them. Alienation is a modem factor and O'Neill, it is believed, was

the first playwright to highlight it as a theme in order to bring out the consequences of it.

Pradip Kumar Dey is right in complimenting the dramatist for his theatrical

expertise and for applauding him thus "There was no playwright on the American scene

to match the tragic reality artistically dileanated by O'Neill (A Study of His Tragic Vision


O'Neill's use of the sounds, the effect of music in Moon of the Caribees and The

Emperor Jones is Shakespearean and sometimes beyond the English playwright. The

chant in Thirst, and the use of the torn torn in The Emperor Jones, suggest the deep racial

roots of the negroid mind and the need to come to terms with ancestral roots Fog as a

symbol stands for impaired vision and ignorance, the twilight regions in which his major

characters exist and operate. Sometimes characters are not individualized. They

represent schematized modes of experience. Robert Mayo is the poet dreamer in Beyond

The Horizon. Dion is the extension of this character in The Great God Brown Brown in

The Great God Brown is the man of business expressing the American success ethic of

the business tycoons. Yank is a dehumanized being of the highly mechanized age who

pays for his illusions with his life.

O'Neill's ideal theatre was in antimony to his father. James O'Neill's star-studded

commercial pot boiler Monte Christo. O'Neill deliberately opted for a non realistic

imaginative theatre by going in for experiments that were both aesthetic and thematic. In

The Emperor Jones, Jones' flight from the jungle and plunging into the heart of darkness

is a journey into the darkest recesses of the mind. The drum beats correspond with Jones'

heart beats with the protagonist going to pieces. The Witch doctor and Mildred, the

Goddess of steel perform the rites of a exorcism. In the Hairy_Ape, the stokers are

encaged animals, dehumanized stokers that include Yank the protagonist as well.

O'Neill also succeeded in using the Mask Theory to show the division between

individuals, the artist and businessman and also to highlight the schism within each

individual as in The Great God Brown. The musical laughter in ThejLazarus Laughed

both contains and sustains the play's larger affirmative vision. The groups of characters

in the play present different levels of consciousness of the spiritual experience.


In Strange Interlude O'Neill dispenses with the mask theory to go in for asides to

reveal the different thought processes in the mind of the central character Nina Leeds. In

turn they perform the job of relating them to other characters. Dynamo both as a play and

as a symbol is expressive of the Americans' disillusionment with religion and to find an

antidote in a non human scientific force.

In his final plays O'Neill rejects the use of expressionistic devices to go in for

reality. In fact O'Neill conveys an important message through his plays that is a part and

parcel of his tragic vision of life. Truth and Illusion are the two sides of the same coin

and the solution lies in reconciliation with opposite sides of self, and acceptance and

resignation to the comic as well as tragic aspects of life. Hamlet comprehends this

essential fact when he proclaims

"There's a divinity that shapes our end

Rough - hew them how we will"

77?^ complete works of William Shakespeare (815)

The Hamletian enlightenment is what the characters of Eugene O'Neill in his final

group of plays experience and accept. The plays of the dramatist systematically charter

the expansion of their mental horizons signifying Jungian individuation.

Raghavacharyulu's assessment of O'Neill's achievement as a writer is worth

recalling at this juncture: "In his drama we have life coming full circle as it traces the

double pattern of experience passing into art and art flowing back into life again"

{Eugene O'Neill: A Study 198).

Beyond doubt, O'Neill dramatized almost everything fundamentally modem

about the American theatre. Through his restless experimentation, his zealous cultivation

of new and novel concepts, his assertive individualism his aversion and his refusal to go

for the mundane prove his plays are intensely provocative. John Gassner emphasizes this

streak in O'Neill : "His success is that of a restless spirit honest enough to refuse to feel

by rote, and his work is often as provocative as a leading question and as exciting as a

plunge down a waterfall" (Eugene O 'Neill: A Collection of Critical essays 16).

O'Neill definitely dignified the art of play wrighting in America. Winner of the

prestigious Nobel Prize he came to be recognized as the American playwright of

international standing. Sometimes the power and restless temperament outmatched the

skill. But at the same time, his craftsmanship helped him to carry out all major ambitious

projects handled by the western theatre since Aeschylus. The Provincetown players and

the American Theatre guild were composed of the progressive playwrights voicing

Broadway professionalism. O'Neill sparked off a revolt against middle class

complacency and commonplace realism that was a regular feature of the American stage

till his arrival. He also expressed his anathema by rejecting victorian gentility,

puritanical repression, dollar - idolatry and commercial opportunism. Catering to the

demand for depth psychology, outlined by Carl Jung, led him to modernize both content

and form by manifesting subconscious tensions. Raghavacharyulu voices the Ulysses

streak in O'Neill to strive, to seek and not to yield in his Eugene O'Neill: A Study:

"Humanity failed to appreciate the secret of happiness . . . it was time to dump the

human race down the nearest drain and let the arts have a chance" (167).

O'Neill was both worried and perplexed at the dividedness within man and his

war with society, While digging at the sickness within he does not deal with man's

temporal relations, unless they are valid enough to be related to God and Life. It is his

mystic and symbolic approach tliat renders his diagnosis of life a valid commentary on

American culture. He focuses on ambivalence rather than on harmony that lies at the

heart of life.

Consequently O'Neill as well as his creations oscillate between faith and irony,

between cultural commitment and detachment and the spiritual impasse that is the result.

O'Neill tries to tide over the problem by going in for Greek myths, but refashioning and

rendering his Desire under the Elms and Mourning Becomes Electra, contemporary and

modem. His Lavinia Mannons, Dion Browns, Abbie Putnams, Ephraim Cabots may fail

but embrace their fate, heroically though defeated in their struggle for happiness. As

Bogard has perceived, "O'Neill provides an essential purgative action. They discover,

they grow and change. What happens to them is psycho analytic and therapeutic"

{Contour in Time 48). However, the O'Neillian curtain is rung over characters like

Edmund and Larry who withdraw, confess and surrender to the inevitable flow of life.

The Second Chapter "Myth as Metaphor is a refashioning of two Greek Myths by

O'Neill Towards establishing that myth is timeless and universal. As T.S. Eliot has

pointed out: "The use of Myth is simply a way of controlling of ordering, of giving a

shape and significance ... a step towards making the modem world possible for art".

Ulysses order and Myth O'Nill achieves this feet by refashioning the two Greek myths to

cohere with an American puritanical setting.