Long Day’s Journey into Night

Read Long Day’s Journey into Night by Eugene O’Neill

–or–

You can read my analysis of Kurt Eisen’s article,

The Spare Room: Long Day’s Journey into Night

Kurt Eisen claims that because Eugene O’Neill drives his Long Day’s Journey into Night with interrelationship as opposed to relationship, a definitive transition is made from the melodramatic self-other antithesis to scenes of “continual construction and dissolution of identity for each individual and for the family as a whole” (87). Long Day’s Journey into Night centers on two crises; Mary’s recent relapse with her addiction to morphine and the revelation of Edmund’s tuberculosis. Eisen’s article asserts that O’Neill accomplishes a more novelistic characterization by exhibiting his characters through their conflicting perspectives of past events and their various confessions. The ways that each character sees and reacts to the two crises of the drama are the means by how O’Neill reveals their character, and the article claims that the characters do not strictly function according to melodramatic standards and values. 

The article states that melodramatic characters “depend on familiar types” (86); in fact, the melodrama is reliant upon characters functioning according to specific primary roles. With melodrama, one sees “the mother”, “the father”, “the son”, and “the servant”; and this is namely because each character is defined according to his or her relationship to the protagonist. O’Neill is able to drive his characterizations through interrelationship because he does not set a protagonist; there is no one defined character in Long Day’s Journey into Night relative to which the other characters are defined. The article maintains that O’Neill’s characters are revealed through how they react to each other and the two driving crises, and also by descriptions and accounts of other characters. However, it’s not so much that O’Neill has consciously decided to use interrelationships in his drama, as the article suggests, which makes the drama less melodramatic; it’s the fact that the drama lacks a protagonist, and therefore cannot strictly function as a melodrama, because relationship cannot exist without something to which be relative.

The article claims that a transition exists from the “melodramatic self-other antithesis into a more complex intersubjectivity” (88) as a result of the interrelationships among the Tyrones. Not only does the drama lack a protagonist, but there is “no real center to family life at all” (89). The Tyrone family portrays “alternating love and faithlessness”; counterintuitively, though, this serves to bind them together as a family because “of the shared absence at the center of their fate”. Eisen’s article also claims melodramatic values are further morphed by the fact that Mary’s addictions to morphine–which illuminate her failings as a mother–serve as the basis for the Tyrones. The opportunity for the “melodramatic self-other” to occur is eliminated because of what functions as the foundation for the Tyrone family. This, however, does not mean that Mary serves as the center of the family life. Her failings may be the “cornerstone of the Tyrone household” as the article suggests, in “her desire for a home, along with the Tyrone men’s simultaneous feelings of a sincere love and equal despair that she will ever escape her addiction” (88). But one must take into account the presence of the second crisis, that of Edmund’s tuberculosis. Because there exists as dire a second crisis–Edmund’s diagnosis–a single and unified concern cannot drive the family dynamic. This is not only counter-melodramatic, but it also reveals the levels to which layered dependency occurs as a result of interrelationships.

The construction and dissolution of identity for each individual in the family–to which the article calls upon as the cause of complex intersubjectivity–is generated around the fact that each character’s idealized past is challenged by another character’s more objective version of that past. Each character serves, “intentionally or not, as victim or villain” (94) towards every other character. The concept of an “evil” and “good” character is foundational to the melodrama; that each character does not serve as only good or only evil, but functions as both in some relation, is what seals them as counter-melodramatic characters. Because there does not exist a protagonist on which to base undeniable perception, the more objective version of one character’s past does not supersede that character’s idealized version. The article claims that the idealized version of the past works as a driving force in character behavior, as it claims for Mary: “[Tyrone’s] version desanctifies Mary’s father, yet her ideal remains the more pertinent reality since it determines her own attitudes and behavior, which in turn governs the attitudes and behaviors of the Tyrone men” (93). While the article makes a clear case that the idealized version is not undermined in the drama, it is equally evident that the objective version is not undercut as well. Tyrone’s objective version of Mary’s past functions to also drive his attitudes and behaviors. As he says to Edmund in Act Four, “You’d think the only happy days she’s ever known were in her father’s home, or at the Convent, praying and playing the piano. Jealous resentment in his bitterness”. The construction and dissolution of identity relies not merely on each character’s idealized past but also upon each character’s more objective versions of every other character’s past.

The lack of a protagonist leads to the presence of interrelationships. The nature of interrelationships leads to the production of layered dependency. Self-dependence, the “melodramatic self-other” therefore must yield to interdependence and a “more complex intersubjectivity”. The article maintains that O’Neill does not limit his characters to melodramatic values and standards, but instead explores complex identity; this depth is more distinguishing of the novel character. The presence of two centering crises inhibits a unifying family dynamic and functions to allow layered interactions and reactions among characters.


Eisen, Kurt. “The Spare Room: Long Day’s Journey into Night.” The Inner Strength of Opposites: O’Neill’s Novelistic Drama and the Melodramatic Imagination. (1994): 124-153, 209-213. Print.