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Certainly Exorcism, which he destroyed after its production by the Provincetown on March 26, 1920, was direct autobiography. Judging from the reviews and from accounts of those who saw it, the short play was a dramatization of O’Neill’s suicide attempt in 1912. So far as its narrative can be reconstructed, Exorcism concerned a young man, Ned Malloy, who lives, as O’Neill had, in a waterfront saloon. Alexander Woollcott’s review in the New York Times describes Ned as feeling a revulsion against his life among the city’s refuse, yet as being unwilling to surrender to his family’s demands and make what the reviewer called a “prodigal-son return” to them.12 Even the prospect of going to the west to farm does not please him. To resolve his problems, he takes morphine. He is saved by two of the bums at the flophouse, one a drunk named Jimmy who suggests the hero of O’Neill’s Tomorrow. When he returns to consciousness, he finds his two saviors tediously telling one another the same dreary stories of their lives and futile hopes. Nothing has changed, yet, in the process of death and rebirth, Ned’s relationship with the world around him has subtly altered. O’Neill’s Lazarus, later, will discover in not dissimilar circumstances, that all that has held him to the world has been exorcised by his death and that he is no longer doomed to failure. Ned, the first Lazarus, is released from his bondage and finds strength and will to work in the west. As O’Neill later told the story of his own attempted suicide, the affair became something of a comedy of drunken error.13 Nevertheless, the emotional implications of the play were probably close to those O’Neill felt after he had returned to life. It was not long after the attempted suicide that O’Neill entered the sanatorium and discovered at last the direction his life was to take. His personal experience can legitimately be called a “resurrection,” and judging from accounts of his dramatic treatment of it, O’Neill thought of it in these terms.


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