Menu Bar


Character Analysis
by Margaret Loftus Ranald

TYRONE, James. Husband of Mary Cavan Tyrone; father of James ["Jamie"] Tyrone, Jr., and Edmund Tyrone. James looks at first ten years younger than his sixty-five years. A former romantic actor, he is still very handsome with a good profile and light-brown eyes, though his gray hair is thin with a bald spot at the center, and his face is beginning to go. He has retained a good carriage and graceful movement, together with a fine resonant voice, and his manner is slightly stagey, as befits his former profession. At bottom he is "a simple, unpretentious man" from Irish peasant stock who has risen from abject poverty, the memory of which has made him frugal.


His father had deserted the family when James was ten years old, and he had to go to work in a machine shop. As he tells his son, Edmund, in the play, he worked on his education by reading Shakespeare and trained his voice out of its natural brogue. But then after a promising career as a leading man, he bought a play which had in it a matinee-idol starring role, a part he repeated for the rest of his acting life. His regret is that he was so afraid of being poor that he settled for an easy financial success instead of artistic fulfillment. He does not get along with Jamie, whom he sees as a ne'er-do-well, a drunk, and a whore-monger. He has more sympathy with Edmund, his more literary-minded son. His wife has become a morphine addict, and while James still loves her, he is tortured by what she has become and by her incessant accusations of his responsibility for her situation. The particulars of James Tyrone's life closely parallel those of James O'Neill, the father of Eugene O'Neill, who appears in this play as Edmund.


On the whole, the character of James Tyrone is portrayed in a sympathetic light, particularly in Act IV when James tells his son of his regret about choosing economic security over art. And again O'Neill seems to imply that a wife caused the loss of artistic fulfillment, a frequent theme throughout the canon, from Bread and Butter through Beyond the Horizon, All God's Chillun Got Wings, and beyond. James also understands to some extent the yearnings of his son and has enough flexibility to respect and appreciate Edmund's talent, even if he disapproves of his tastes in literature. In this portrait O'Neill seems to come to terms with the memory of his own father, treating him with tolerance and understanding.


TYRONE, Mary Cavan. Wife of James Tyrone; mother of James ("Jamie") Tyrone, Jr., and Edmund Tyrone. She is fifty-four, "a trifle plump" but with a thin face dominated by large, beautiful, long-lashed dark brown eyes. At the beginning of the play, she has been home at the Tyrone summer house for the past two months after having undergone a "cure" for her morphine addiction. The action of the play chronicles her regression, her return to addiction, and her reliving of the past. She was a convent-girl student when she first met James Tyrone backstage after a performance and fell instantly in love with him, marrying him and travelling with him during his lucrative road tours playing his starring role which made him money but did not give him artistic fulfillment. During the years, Mary came to feel very lonely, partly because her convent friends no longer found her acceptable after her marriage with an actor and also because James Tyrone seemed to prefer the company of the bar room to that of his family.


She tells of living in "second-rate hotels" and regrets that she has never had a proper home, except the cheap little cottage they occupy during the summer. She continually berates James for his meanness and blames him for her addiction, claiming that he had obtained a cheap doctor to look after her when Edmund was born. In order to relieve her pain, the doctor had prescribed morphine, and inadvertently Mary became addicted. Throughout the play Mary recalls the happy times of her life—as a promising piano student at the convent and as a young woman who believed that she had a religious vocation but gave it all up when she married James Tyrone. The portrait of Mary is based on that of O'Neill's own mother, Ella Quinlan O'Neill, who did, however, manage to cure herself of her addiction largely as the result of a strong religious faith and the use of prayer. In Long Day's Journey, Mary Tyrone continually regrets the loss of her religious faith, and the conclusion of the play offers no hope for the recovery.


Mary Tyrone speaks bitterly against both her sons. Jamie is an object of her antagonism because he had visited his younger brother when he himself had measles and the baby died as a result. Then she berates Edmund for having been the cause of her addiction, believing that she should have never had him. To be sure, she does not fully believe these allegations, but she is so far gone with morphine that she says more than she means. Geraldine Fitzgerald suggests that she is trying to "unbear" Edmund.


O'Neill does not draw her character with as much sympathy as that of her husband, James Tyrone, perhaps because O'Neill was not prepared to forgive his own mother for the trouble she had caused him. There is no scene of mutual communication and understanding to parallel the one between Edmund and his father. Mary Tyrone seems to be a totally lost cause, a character living in a fog which shuts out reality, one who finds existence only in the past. Nonetheless, she does remember James and their early life together as a relationship of love. Throughout the play she is portrayed as a tortured creature unable to muster sufficient willpower to break herself of her drug habit. O'Neill manages to convey the terror and total denial of the addict superbly, but while the portrait shows some understanding, and even sympathy, it remains at bottom somewhat hostile. Mary is not weak but shrewdly manipulative, managing to set her three men against each other in order to avoid confronting herself with what she has become. Again, too, the failure of a wife to serve her husband's artistic ambitions has meant that the husband, in this case, James Tyrone, has been forced to forgo his dream.


TYRONE, James, Jr. (Jamie). Son of James Tyrone,  and Mary Cavan Tyrone; brother of Edmund Tyrone.  He is thirty-three, good looking with brown hair and eyes, about five feet seven, but lacking the graceful carriage and the vitality of his actor father. He already shows the signs of dissipation, and his face is beginning to go, but he retains a certain "humorous irresponsible Irish charm," despite the fact that his aquiline nose and "habitual expressions of cynicism" give "his countenance a Mephistophelian cast."


Jamie is deeply wounded because he has very early discovered his mother's addiction to morphine, and he blames her current state on his father's miserliness in obtaining a cheap hotel doctor to attend her at his brother's birth. He has tried acting with his father but was unable to succeed, partly because he lacked talent and partly because he was too often drunk. Throughout the play the two snipe at each other, but they do have something of a common understanding in their hope that Mary Tyrone will recover.


The relationship between Jamie and his brother, Edmund, is important here. Jamie has initiated his brother into the world of bars and prostitutes, partly, he admits, out of a desire to ruin him as he himself is ruined, because he resents the fact that Edmund's birth began Mary Tyrone's problems. Nonetheless he loves his twenty-three-year-old brother, fighting for his rights when James Tyrone, Sr., clearly thinks Edmund is doomed to an early death from consumption. Jamie tells both his father and Edmund not to accept a cheap sanitorium, and then late in the evening of that Long Day's Journey into Night, Jamie reveals his affection for Edmund, as well as his bitter disappointment in his mother, an emotion he masks in the cruelly cynical epithets and comments he uses. He considers Mary Tyrone completely lost, while Edmund still believes that she can be saved from herself.


TYRONE, Edmund. Younger son of James Tyrone and Mary Cavan Tyrone; brother of James ["Jamie"] Tyrone, Jr. Edmund is twenty-three with large dark eyes in a long Irish face, sunken cheeks, and is very underweight. He discovers in the course of the play that he has consumption and must be sent to a sanitorium. True to form, James Tyrone tries to send him to the cheapest sanitorium possible, the state farm, but when his son protests, he suggests another place at seven dollars a week but where one gets ten times the value. The character of Edmund Tyrone is really that of Eugene O'Neill himself, with his wandering the world as a sailor, his drunkenness, and living in low dives—even his attempted suicide at "Jimmy-the-Priest's." Like Edmund, O'Neill contracted consumption in 1912 (the year of this play) and after a brief stay at the state farm was sent to the Gaylord farm where he was cured. Also like Edmund, O'Neill worked on a local newspaper for awhile. In his portrait of himself, however, O'Neill is a trifle editorial in that he omits the tale of his first marriage to Kathleen Jenkins and the birth of his son, Eugene Gladstone O'Neill, Jr.


In the play, Edmund is a sensitive, artistic young man, given to the reading of romantic poetry and philosophy. He and his brother, Jamie, seem to be good, though occasionally bickering, companions with real affection between them. The major change in familial relationships in the play comes in Act IV when Edmund, after hearing his father's account of his life and honest regret for the artistic chance not taken, comes to an understanding of the real tragedy of his life. He settled for money rather than art, and part of the reason for his thwarted ambition is the morphine addiction of his wife, Mary Tyrone.


Edmund's attitude toward her is complex, since she blames him for her addiction. It was to relieve the pain she experienced after his birth that "a cheap hotel quack" gave her the medicine to which she later became addicted. As a result, she seems to waver between love and hatred of him, and Edmund cannot forgive her for this rejection. Throughout the play he tries to break through to her emotionally; in a desperate cry for help he tells her that he has consumption, but she is so far gone that she believes him to be talking about her father and forbids him to mention the disease. There is no scene of mutual communication between Edmund and his mother that compares with the one between Edmund and his father. Edmund feels some sympathy toward his mother, but he cannot forgive her for her weakness. At one point in his characterization of Edmund, O'Neill allows his alter ego a moment of real insight into the author's mind. When James Tyrone suggests that his son has the "makings" of a poet, Edmund says that he can only stammer because he does not have the language to communicate the intensity of his feelings: "Well, it will be faithful realism, at least. Stammering is the native eloquence of us fog people." At this moment father and son reach true understanding, and O'Neill gives a major critical assessment of his own talent and achievement.


CATHLEEN. The second girl in the Tyrone household. She is a clumsy "thick" Irish peasant girl in her twenties. She gets tipsy during the course of the play when she is talking to Mary Tyrone, and she is used as an expository device to indicate the shame that attaches to Mary's addiction to morphine. She is innocently outraged when she recounts the suspicion with which the druggist treated her request for the "prescription" for rheumatism.


© Copyright 1999-2008