The importance of Eugene O'Neill to the history of drama in the United States is without question. The 1992 Cambridge Guide to Theatre describes O'Neill as both, "the first U.S. playwright of major talent" and "universally regarded as America's finest" (736). Laurence Olivier, former actor and director of England's the Old Vic and National Theatre companies, calls O'Neill "the father figure of modern American drama [whose] shadow touches all the modern American playwrights" and "a colossus of twentieth-century drama" (240). Critic Robert Brustein suggests, "it is doubtful if, without him [O'Neill], there would have been an American drama at all" (359). These comments and countless others written during and following O'Neill's life, four Pulitzer Prizes and one Nobel Prize, numerous full length critical analyses, biographies as well as countless journal articles, dissertations and theses all attest to the importance of Eugene O'Neill to the history of American theatre.
This dissertation will examine three selected full length O'Neill plays: The Fountain, Marco Millions, and Days Without End, in light of contemporary approaches to Friedrich Nietzsche's Thus Spake Zarathustra, a work which was highly influential in the formulation of O'Neill's personal and artistic philosophy.
The importance of Thus Spake Zarathustra to the personal philosophy of O'Neill is well documented. In 1927, at the age of 40, O'Neill wrote to Benjamin de Casseres, "Zarathustra...has influenced me more than any book I've ever read. I ran into it...when I was eighteen and I've always possessed a copy since then and every year or so I reread it and am never disappointed..." (Letters 245-246). In a New York Sun interview in 1928, Eugene O'Neill was asked, "'Who is your literary idol?'. 'The answer to that is in one word--Nietzsche,'" replied the playwright (Estrin 31). In 1936 as he accepted his Nobel Prize for Literature, O'Neill paid homage to both Strindberg and Nietzsche as his inspirations. "For me, he [Strindberg] remains, as Nietzsche remains, in his sphere, the master, still more modern than any of us, still our leader" (Sheaffer Artist 463). These statements by O'Neill suggest that the playwright was intrigued and influenced by Nietzsche's philosophy.
According to Louis Sheaffer, author of a significant two volume O'Neill biography, O'Neill's initial reading of Zarathustra "broke over him like roman candles and pinwheels that, instead of flaring out, remained flaming" (Playwright 122). Nietzsche's doctrine as presented in Zarathustra became for the young O'Neill a religion. Sheaffer states, "As the pious find comfort and guidance in the Bible, O'Neill used to turn to Zarathustra" (Playwright 123). Robert Brustein, commenting on the "religious-philosophical" aspects of O'Neill's plays, wrote that "[O'Neill's] religious ideas are almost all culled from Thus Spake Zarathustra" (329). Despite the playwright's acknowledgment that Zarathustra was a major influence on his work, analysis of O'Neill's work with regard to its affinity to Nietzsche's masterwork is almost nonexistent. Rather, it is Nietzsche's earlier work, The Birth of Tragedy, through which most Nietzschean analysis of O'Neill has traditionally been accomplished.
It is not surprising that scholars and critics have turned to Birth of Tragedy rather than Thus Spake Zarathustra when analyzing O'Neill's work. In 1926, Will Durant reported in his The Story of Philosophy that The Birth of Tragedy out of the Spirit of Music was Nietzsche's "first, and his only complete, book" (Durant 305). Thus, in O'Neill's time, Thus Spake Zarathustra, was not considered a serious philosophical text. This attitude toward Nietzsche's Zarathustra seems to have continued until very recently. Laurence Lampert stated in 1986 that "his [Nietzsche's] book [Zarathustra] had baffled even the most intelligent of the few readers it had attracted" at the time it was published and "a full century later Nietzsche's book remains dark and hidden and ridiculous to everyone" (1). Kathleen Marie Higgins suggested that the emotional response which Zarathustra elicits from its readers has kept it "a work apart from the rest of the Western philosophical canon" (xi). She continued to state that "Zarathustra is treated as an exception, perhaps even a philosophical embarrassment, even more distant from the mainstream of philosophical texts than Nietzsche's other outrageous works" (xi). If such claims by two contemporary Nietzsche scholars are true, it is little wonder that O'Neill scholars have turned to the more accessible, more traditional Birth of Tragedy to provide a Nietzschean framework for the examination of O'Neill's plays.
Edwin Engle's approach to Nietzschean aspects in O'Neill's work in The Haunted Heros of Eugene O'Neill illustrates one method in which past analyses have avoided direct analysis through Zarathustra. Engle established a Nietzsche/O'Neill connection through O'Neill's stated affinity to Thus Spake Zarathustra in much the same manner as this study has done. Engle then quickly moved from his point of departure to the Apollonian/Dionysian dichotomy which is the fundamental basis of Nietzsche's The Birth of Tragedy by citing Barrett Clark's 1926 report that O'Neill carried a copy of this text while attending rehearsals for The Great God Brown (77). In doing so, Engle seems to blur the lines between Nietzsche's philosophy as developed in Thus Spake Zarathustra and Nietzsche's analysis of tragedy as discussed in The Birth of Tragedy. Thus, Engle describes Lazarus in O'Neill's Lazarus Laughed as "The Dionysian Superman," whose "major prophet is Zarathustra" (179). While there is no question that O'Neill was familiar with and influenced by The Birth of Tragedy, Engle seems to suggest that the Dionysus character from The Birth of Tragedy and the Superman as described in Zarathustra are interchangeable. By treating both Nietzschean works as one part of a greater philosophy, Engle is able to provide a Nietzschean analysis without providing an analysis of Zarathustra.
This method was also utilized by Travis Bogard in Contour in Time. In Bogard's analysis of Desire Under the Elms, Bogard begins by suggesting that Nietzsche's philosophy was highly influential to O'Neill. Like Engle, Bogard cited Thus Spake Zarathustra as O'Neill's earliest influence (215). Bogard then discussed Dionysian ecstasy which clearly steers his line of analysis toward The Birth of Tragedy (215-218).
Egil Törnqvist in A Drama of Souls and "Nietzsche and O'Neill: A Study in Affinity" both published in 1968 approaches the O'Neill/Nietzsche connection in an entirely different manner from Engle. While admitting Nietzsche's influence on O'Neill, Törnqvist wrote "it is more meaningful to see the similarity in their ideas as a manifestation of a basic spiritual affinity" (12). The basis of this affinity is for Törnqvist "a long and well established tradition, Greek tragedy" (Souls 12). Thus, Törnqvist like Engle uses The Birth of Tragedy as a common denominator between Nietzsche and O'Neill. "To recreate the Greek spirit in modern life was the goal he [O'Neill] set for himself both as a playwright and as a man" (13). By focusing on affinity rather than influence, Törnqvist allowed himself the opportunity to focus on those aspects of Nietzschean philosophy which best suited his own approach to the plays of O'Neill, while still utilizing O'Neill's acknowledged passion for Thus Spake Zarathustra as a foundation for his approach. While Törnqvist discussed the Nietzschean concept of eternal recurrence which is most fully discussed in Zarathustra, the major Nietzschean topic which he discussed concerns Nietzsche's definition of tragedy and O'Neill's attempts to realize that vision ("Affinity" 107, 115, Soul 11). By focusing his analysis on tragedy, Törnqvist avoids analysis of Zarathustra.
A third method which is used to analyze O'Neill's work with regard to Zarathustra is to find specific parallel images employed by both men in their work. Bogard selectively used this method in his analysis of Mourning Becomes Electra by comparing Adam and Lavinia's dream of refuge on a South Sea island to the image of the Blessed Isles in the second book of Zarathustra (351). An even clearer use of this method of analysis is found in Samuel A. Weiss' article "O'Neill, Nietzsche and Cows." In this analysis, Weiss compares the animal imagery evoked in O'Neill's Desire Under the Elms and in Zarathustra. Just as Ephraim Cabot finds solace and peace in his barnyard animals, Zarathustra refers to the peace and happiness of animals (Weiss 497). These parallels cited by Bogard and Weiss clearly connect O'Neill's work with Zarathustra in an anecdotal manner, but do little to comprehensively associate O'Neill's work with the philosophy.
In examining the three major points discussed above, the influence of Thus Spake Zarathustra on the personal philosophy of O'Neill, the lack of scholarly interpretations of Thus Spake Zarathustra by philosophy scholars and the tendency of O'Neill scholars to use The Birth of Tragedy when analyzing O'Neill's work, it is clear that the body of analytical work concerning Nietzschean interpretations is incomplete. An explanation for this lack may be due to a fundamental difference in the metaphysical approaches of O'Neill and Nietzsche with regard to O'Neill's drama and Nietzsche's Thus Spake Zarathustra. While O'Neill's plays examined the world from a modernist stance, Thus Spake Zarathustra has been regarded by recent philosophy scholars and literary critics as a foundation for postmodern thought. Before explicating these claims, it would be useful to define exactly what is meant by a modernist and postmodernist attitudes as they pertain to Nietzsche and O'Neill.
Modernism refers to an artistic movement which developed in the early decades of the twentieth century (Sarup 130). It was a diverse movement which seems to defy precise definition by virtue of its many facets. In their Introduction to Critical Essays on American Modernism, Hoffman and Murphy warned, "Although the term 'modernism' has been current for most of this century, it still evokes disparate images for those who use it" (1). Kathleen Higgins stated in her article "Nietzsche and Postmodern Subjectivity," that "different disciplines, with distinct respective views of modernism, start with very different assumptions" (191). Clearly one must tread carefully when attempting to narrow the definition of a diverse movement such as modernism. However, the general attitude from which many of the modernists approached their art can be identified.
Many scholars have agreed to at least two general criteria which are common to the metaphysical stance of modernists. H. Porter Abbot identified "exceptional fidelity to the spirit of opposition" as "one of the deep structures of modernism" (74). Hoffman and Murphy concurred with Abbot's conclusion when they stated that modernism "suggests a relationship with the present and the new...[and]implies a break with the past" (8). Thus, opposition to the status quo can be seen as a fundamental tenet of the modernist movement. It is this spirit of opposition which leads Robert Brustein to title his examination of modern playwrights, The Theatre of Revolt, a volume which proposes that the spirit of opposition or revolt "runs through the majority of modern plays" (vii).
In his conclusion to The Theatre of Revolt, Brustein asserted that the modernists were unified in their spirit of opposition to the status quo. At the same time, these playwrights were "inclined to disagree about what they are for" (415). This statement distinctly implies that each of these modernists were also for something. Brustein referred to this implication when he wrote, "Revolt is not simply an energy but also a body of ideas, a system of values" (415). Thus, the second characteristic of the modernist stance is the existence of some sort of absolute truth. Todd Gitlin described the major schism between modernism and realism as one of continuity. In realism "individuals portrayed were clearly placed in society and history" (35). In modernism this social framework was rejected in favor of "the unity of the work" (35). The implication of this statement is that within the modernist model there is a unified structure which attempts to replace the traditional view of reality with its own particular view. Gitlin summed up the modernist attitude with the statement, "modernism was, whatever its subversions, a series of declarations of faith" (36). Gitlin seems to be in agreement with the writing of Baudrillard who "writes about a [modern] world constructed out of models or simulacra which have no referent or ground in any reality except their own" (Sarup 163). This kind of inquiry can also be seen in Lyotard's examination of modern society which "anchor the discourses of truth and justice in the great historical and scientific narratives" (Sarup 144). In The Postmodern Condition, Lyotard succinctly summed up the modernist attitude when he wrote, "Modernity cannot exist without a shattering of belief and without discovery of the 'lack of reality' of reality, together with the invention of other realities" (77). Each of these statements suggests that the modernist stance is one which opposes one vision of truth and attempts to replaces it with another. Thus, in addition to the spirit of opposition, the modernist movement can be said to affirm the belief that there is some sort of unified order to the Universe. This unity whether it is understood or not suggests a belief in absolute truth.
O'Neill philosophically placed himself in the midst of the modernist movement in a letter to critic George Jean Nathan in 1932:
In this statement, O'Neill clearly indicated his own vision of a changing world view and the responsibilities of the artist to reflect that world and to attempt to provide meaning. For O'Neill, the place of the individual within the scope of some universal system was the artist's domain. He wrote, "I am interested only in the relation between man and God" (Cargill 115). Marvin Carlson wrote of O'Neill's concern in Theories of the Theatre and their relation to the European modernist movement, "In focusing upon such questions he [O'Neill] indeed echoed the concerns of many of the German expressionists and symbolists" (362). O'Neill's quest to find an absolute truth to replace the death of the Old God was described by Robert Brustein as, "seeking some new orthodoxy to which to attach his remaining oceanic feelings" (329). Travis Bogard suggested in his introduction to Contour in Time that O'Neill's career as a playwright was motivated by "his need to find a pattern of explanation by which his life could be understood" (xii). This need to find a pattern of life, an absolute truth to justify existence, demonstrates that O'Neill's artistic perspective is in line with the modernist movement as a whole.
Because O'Neill has always been associated with the modernist movement, the body of O'Neill's work has traditionally been examined in terms of its oppositional characteristics. Yet critics have differed widely as to what exactly O'Neill's work is opposed. Doris Alexander asserted in "Eugene O'Neill as Social Critic" that "O'Neill is a critic of American society and society as a whole" (Cargill 390). Arthur and Barbara Gelb personalized O'Neill's opposition suggesting that it was aimed at his family when they wrote, "O'Neill was trying to tell an unsuspecting world the truth about his heritage...to prove that 'the sins of the father are to be laid upon the children'" (4). In "The Black Irishman," Croswell Bowen depicted O'Neill as "an Irishmen who has lost his Faith and who spends his life searching for the meaning of life," clearly placing the nature of O'Neill's opposition in the realm of religious inquiry (Cargill 64-5). While these critical approaches as well as others serve to explain O'Neill's creative impetus, they fail to imply or even suggest a philosophical structure from which to view O'Neill's work.
This study will look at selected works of O'Neill in a new way. Rather than analyze these works in terms of their oppositional characteristics, this study will examine these plays in terms of philosophical movement which reaches beyond the confines of modernism toward an ideal first presented by Nietzsche in Thus Spake Zarathustra which has come to be known as postmodernism.
Postmodernism, according to Lyotard, "is undoubtedly a part of the modern" (77). While maintaining the skepticism of the modernists toward the traditional metaphysical structure, the postmodernists reject "the idea that philosophy can restore unity to learning and develop universally valid knowledge for humanity" (Sarup 130). To restate the postmodern approach, postmodernists deny that any metaphysical structure can be found to replace the structures which the modernists oppose. Rather, the postmodern attitude emphasizes "the jubilation which result[s] from the invention of new rules of the game" (Lyotard 80).
This attitude was described by Jacques Derrida in "Structure, Sign and Play in the Discourse of the Human Sciences." Derrida postulated that all knowledge is organized through structures which limit meaning, making communication possible (83). At the center of each metaphysical structure is a central referent for which "the permutation or the transformation is forbidden" (84). The immobility of this central referent provides "a reassuring certitude" of the structure as a whole, regardless of the substitutions or transformations which occur within the totality of the structure itself. Derrida sees the history of metaphysics as a series of substitutions for this central referent (84). Individual metaphysical structures remain internally logical only as long as the central referent upon which they are based remain unquestioned (84).
A postmodern stance can be seen as one result of a condition in which "the center could not be thought in the form of a present-being" (84). While Derrida is not able to provide an exact time when this decentering occurred in Western metaphysics, the first indication of this occurrence cited by Derrida is "Nietzsche's critique of metaphysics" (85). Derrida in short suggests that Friedrich Nietzsche's work can be regarded as a departure point for postmodern thought.
Jean-François Lyotard's approach to postmodernism has similarities to that of Derrida. Like Derrida, Lyotard sees postmodernism as the result of the questioning of assumptions previously held to be fact. Rather than focus on the metaphysical as does Derrida, Lyotard's area of inquiry is at least in part the sociological. Lyotard sees postmodernism as a result of the "breaking up of the grand Narratives" (15). Sarup defines the term grand narrative as "the legitimating myths of the modern age" (132). These narratives act as legitimizing agents which provide meaning and provide a common vision of truth for a given society. Like Derrida, Lyotard attempts to reveal the subjectivity within the accepted myth. He wrote in The Postmodern Condition that "the only role positive knowledge can play is to inform the practical subject about the reality within which the execution is to be inscribed" (36). Like the final referent for Derrida, the grand narrative limits possibilities while hiding behind the guise of absolute truth.
Clayton Koelb suggested that "the production of postmodernity (as a philosophical concept, that is, and not necessarily as a historical phenomenon) begins with Nietzsche" (4). In the same article, Koelb tied Nietzsche's work with that of contemporary postmodernists by stating, "few would argue with the proposition that Nietzsche initiated many of the basic ideas which stand behind the broad concept of postmodernism as expounded by Lyotard and others" (5). Ernst Behler suggested that "Derrida highlights Nietzsche's turn toward infinite interpretation, or the affirmation of a view of the world as play, and shows how the style in which such thinking manifests itself must be plural" (vii). Christopher Norris in Deconstruction: Theory and Practice suggested an even closer tie between Nietzsche's philosophy and that of Derrida when he wrote, "He [Nietzsche] anticipates the style and strategy of Derrida's writing to a point where the two seem often engaged in a kind of reciprocal exchange" (57). Thus, the fundamental ideas of such postmodern thinkers as Lyotard and Derrida are influenced by Nietzsche's writings almost one hundred years earlier.
If Nietzschean philosophy can be seen as an antecedent to contemporary postmodern thought, Thus Spake Zarathustra can be seen as Nietzsche's only volume which affords the reader complete entrance into that thought (Lampert 5). Harold Alderman wrote in his 1977 analysis of Thus Spake Zarathustra, "within the rich and complex structure of Thus Spoke Zarathustra [are] a number of thematic constants which characterize the very activity of philosophical thinking and which are the distinguishing elements of Nietzsche's thought" (2). According to Laurence Lampert the seven books which follow Zarathustra "each in its own way [is] a preface to Zarathustra" (5). In Nietzsche's Zarathustra, Kathleen Marie Higgins extended Lampert's argument to Nietzsche's works which preceded Zarathustra by asserting, "I locate it [Zarathustra] in the context of the thought experiments that Nietzsche had conducted previously" (xvcii). Specifically, Higgins grounds aspects of Zarathustra within the major themes of The Birth of Tragedy and Daybreak. Nietzsche, himself, proclaims in Ecce Homo:
As evidenced by the contemporary scholarship of Alderman, Lampert and Higgins, Zarathustra is re-emerging as Nietzsche's most important philosophical work which more than any other explicates Nietzsche's philosophical stance.
Since postmodernism and O'Neill share this important philosophical text as a major influence, a contemporary Nietzschean approach in light of postmodern interpretations to Thus Spake Zarathustra would significantly add to the body of critical work focusing on the plays of Eugene O'Neill.
This dissertation will examine three plays by Eugene O'Neill in light of postmodern interpretations of Nietzsche's Thus Spake Zarathustra.
While the influence of Zarathustra on the personal philosophy of O'Neill is well known, possible influence of Nietzsche's masterwork on the work of the playwright has never been fully explored. Moreover, recent postmodern interpretations of Nietzsche's philosophy as explicated in Zarathustra provide a definitive framework for such an examination. It is this contemporary framework which makes this study different from others.
Perspectivism is a Nietzschean term coined in book three section four of The Will to Power. This perspectivism argues that any attempts to create a unified metaphysical code for existence is doomed to fail because "no particular point of view is privileged in the sense that it affords those who occupy it a better picture of the world as it realy is than all the others" "Nehamas 49). Lampert described Nietzschean perspectivism as an argument "that all attempts to become aware of what is fundamentally the case fixes what is flowing and makes the unlike like" (Lampert 1993 346). In other words, Nietzsche argues that human desire to live within an organized environment has resulted in the creation of the perception of unity where only plurality exists. Perspectivism is an acceptance and appreciation of this plurality. This term can be seen in opposition to absolutism which bases its concept of existence on a perceived fixed condition which is, in turn based on unprovable assumptions. For example, Nietzsche's critique of Christian morality attacks the Christian moral structure for deferring metaphysical meaning in this world in favor of a true world called Heaven which justifies present suffering. Nietzsche does this by questioning the assumptions upon which the absolute truth of Christian morality is based. With regard to this idea Nietzsche wrote, "Truth is the kind of error without which a certain species of life could not live" (Power 272). Perspectivism refers to a rejection of truth as absolute and defines truth as pluralistic and subjective.
While perspectivism proposes that no one viewpoint can define truth for all people in all times, it differs from relativism which "holds that any view is as good as any other" (Nehamas 72). Nietzschean perspectivism places primary importance on truth created by an individual which holds true for that individual at its time of inception. Thus, truth only holds validity for its creator and only until such truth is replaced by another found to be more true. The acceptance that one's truth fluctuates and the notion all truth is based on false assumptions, does not propose that all visions of truth are equally valid. Zarathustra clearly places his own vision of truth higher than that of his disciples. Yet Zarathustra encourages them not to follow his path but to discover and explore their own for "in the end one experienceth only oneself" (Zarathustra 167). In this manner, Nietzsche proposes perspectivism as a manner in which the individual organizes the world while maintaining a will to truth. The discovery of perspectivism as truth allows the individual to live in the present by continually struggling toward higher truths and to overcome nihilism by finding personal meaning within this struggle.
Nihilism refers to the devaluation of values to the point that life is not perceived as meaningful. Nietzsche described the meaning of nihilism in The Will to Power as "That the highest values devaluate themselves...'why?' finds no answer" (Power 9). The conditions in which nihilism exist and humanity's ability to overcome nihilism are central to Nietzsche's thought. Nietzsche believed "[Christian] morality was the great antidote against practical and theoretical nihilism (Power 10). While Christian morality held nihilism at bay for a time, Christianity's doctrine of living present life in anticipation of a future existence "imposed all the false values upon this world, thus robbing this [world] of whatever value, autonomy, and power it originally possessed" (Stambaugh, 124).
Ironically, both supporters and opponents of Nietzsche are able to claim, from their own perspective, that the other's perspective is a at the root of nihilism. For Nietzsche, nihilism is the hidden condition of the absolutist perspective which is revealed when the basic assumptions of one's absolutist philosophy are questioned. The struggle to overcome this nihilism is, according to Nietzsche, an important step toward the affirmation of a perspectivist metaphysic. Thus, Nietzsche believed that an individual's struggle toward perspectivism would include a period of nihilism as the individual sheds the assumptions of the absolutist structure, but would eventually free the individual from a far more subtle form of nihilism which is rooted in the deep structure of all absolutist systems.
Eternal recurrence is the culminating teaching of Nietzsche's philosophy (Lampert 258). Nietzsche called eternal recurrence "the highest formula of affirmation that can ever be attained" (Ecce Homo 892). Simply stated, eternal recurrence proclaims that each moment of existence replays in time for all eternity. Lampert asserted that it is the "affirmation [of eternal return] that lets beings be what they are" (255). The concept of eternal recurrence has great import to the overall philosophy of Nietzsche in that it provides meaning for individual action within the subjective perspectivist metaphysical framework.
This study is justified for two reasons. The first concerns the scope of Nietzschean analysis of O'Neill's work. While most critical studies of O'Neill's work acknowledge the importance of Thus Spake Zarathustra to O'Neill's personal and dramatic philosophy, most emphasize The Birth of Tragedy rather than Zarathustra. While Birth of Tragedy undeniably influenced O'Neill, who called it, "the most stimulating book on drama ever written" (Sheaffer 1973 174), Zarathustra offers an alternative to the Apollonian/Dionysian dichotomy which is the traditional approach to O'Neill's dialectic. This emphasis on The Birth of Tragedy in the analysis of O'Neill is understandable. Unlike Zarathustra, The Birth of Tragedy specifically concerns itself with dramatic criticism. Moreover, The Birth of Tragedy, until recently, has been much more accessible than Zarathustra. The emerging importance of Zarathustra in the scope of contemporary thought, however, suggests that a reassessment of O'Neill's work in light of these new approaches to Zarathustra may prove highly valuable in discovering a contemporary approach to O'Neill's drama.
Secondly, the autobiographical nature of O'Neill's plays and the philosophical consistency of his work seems to have grounded much of the body of O'Neill criticism within a biographical frame of reference. This situation has some justification. Travis Bogard has identified autobiographical elements in half of O'Neill's extant works (Contour xii). Biographical and source studies with regard to O'Neill's work have contributed immeasurably to understanding the playwright's work.
Doris Alexander pointed out, however, that this kind of inquiry is not sufficient for a complete understanding of a playwright's work. She wrote, "even in the best of them [source studies] an immensity of unknowns, an abyss, cuts between the source and the work of literature supposedly derived from it" (Struggle 1). With regard to the state of O'Neill scholarship specifically, Norman Berlin in Eugene O'Neill, stated, "Some of this criticism is absorbingly interesting and perceptive. Much of it, however, by taking us too close to the man O'Neill, takes us away from the play as both artifact and performance" (xi). Even more recently, Joel Pfister wrote, "Biographical approaches to O'Neill often assume the guise not only of pop psychological case studies, but of guessing games whose object is to identify the four O'Neills who have been recast in various disguises as O'Neill's characters" (17).
This study acknowledges the importance of a biographical approach to the analysis of O'Neill's work. At the same time, however, this study will focus on the literature itself, rather than on the perceived intention of the playwright. By shifting focus from playwright and sources to the work itself, this study will make use of contemporary literary theories which were unavailable in O'Neill's time. In this manner, meanings which are significant to contemporary concerns and sensibilities within the selected plays may be revealed.
The methodological approach this study will take will be critical and analytical. The first step will involve developing a philosophical framework, based on contemporary interpretations of Nietzsche's Thus Spake Zarathustra, through which three of O'Neill's plays, The Fountain, Marco Millions, and Days Without End can be critically examined. This framework will focus on contemporary approaches to Nietzschean concept of perspectivism. In addition, three concepts which inform Nietzschean perspectivism and which have often been associated with O'Neill will be examined. These are: 1. nihilism, 2. eternal recurrence, and 3. love and marriage. Perspectivism is the Nietzschean idea which is most closely associated with postmodern thought and is for Nietzsche a goal toward which the individual must strive in order to gain spiritual and metaphysical freedom. Nihilism, the perception that life has no meaning, represents a major obstacle toward gaining a perspectivist attitude while at the same time is necessary to freeing one's self from absolutism. Eternal recurrence is Nietzsche's method of viewing the universe while maintaining a perspectivist attitude. Love and marriage represent a powerful emotional condition which Nietzsche believed was often used by individuals to provide a sense of metaphysical security and thereby creating a false sense of metaphysical meaning. These subjects were chosen for this study because of their importance to Nietzsche's vision as stated in Thus Spake Zarathustra and because of their importance to the plays which will be examined.
Following the development of a workable framework for examining O'Neill's plays from a contemporary Nietzschean metaphysic, each of the plays will be analyzed individually. First, the play will be examined in the context of O'Neill's body of work. Next, a summary of the dramatic action of the play will be presented. Following this summary, a critical history will be presented to demonstrate how the play has been traditionally interpreted. Finally, the play will be examined from a contemporary Nietzschean perspective.
Material for the examination of traditional critical approaches will be obtained from several comprehensive analyses of O'Neill's work, journal articles, and correspondence from the playwright. The material for formulating a contemporary Nietzschean approach to O'Neill's work will be gathered from scholarly texts and articles which provide philosophical and critical insight into Nietzsche's place within the context of contemporary thought.
The purpose of this dissertation is to examine selected O'Neill works in a contemporary Nietzschean context. As such, this study will not address the playwright's intent. Rather, this study will attempt to extend aspects of Nietzschean philosophy which have in the past been identified as present in the playwrights work and reinterpret these plays in light of contemporary approaches to this philosophy.
The Fountain, Marco Millions and Days Without End were chosen because these plays have been traditionally evaluated, at least in part, through a Nietzschean approach. Thus, these plays will provide clear points of comparison between traditional and postmodern Nietzschean analyses. Moreover, these plays are rarely produced and do not carry with them long production or complicated critical histories which might obscure the main arguments presented in this dissertation. The fact that these plays have been traditionally held to be three of O'Neill's worst literary efforts provides the opportunity to reevaluate these works and demonstrate their strength when interpreted in light of contemporary Nietzschean approaches.
The overall body of critical, theoretical and historical work concerning O'Neill is, as one might imagine, extensive. This review of literature will focus specifically on works which reflect wholly or in part a Nietzschean approach to O'Neill's work. This dissertation recognizes that such a limitation excludes many excellent approaches to O'Neill that are not germane to the subject at hand. Moreover, this review will not examine criticisms of specific plays except for the purposes of identifying trends in O'Neill criticism. Literary and production criticism of The Fountain, Marco Millions and Days Without End will be examined at length in the appropriate chapter. These omissions are in the interest of clarity.
In the period between O'Neill's earliest productions and 1934, the bulk of O'Neill criticism is contained in theatre reviews and articles with two notable exceptions: Barrett Clark's, Eugene O'Neill published in 1926 and Sophus Keith Winther's Eugene O'Neill: A Critical Study published in 1934. The second major period of O'Neill critical study begins in the early 1950s shortly before the publication of Long Day's Journey into Night and extends to the present. It is in this latter period in which the bulk of critical study is published, several biographies are written and O'Neill's private correspondence and unpublished plays are made readily available to the public. This review will first examine the book length studies of O'Neill in chronological order. Next, the significant articles will be examined, many of which can be found in anthologies which span all or part of O'Neill's career.
The first extensive critical connection made between O'Neill and Nietzsche occurs in Winther's critical analysis. While Clark had previously alluded to Nietzsche's influence on O'Neill, Winther fully explores this influence and explicates O'Neill's personal philosophy as defined by his drama. Winther focuses on aspects of O'Neill's philosophy illustrating these ideas as they emerge in the breadth of O'Neill's work rather than providing an individual philosophical context for each play. This method allows the reader to focus on O'Neill's overall philosophical approach. A close connection between O'Neill's ideas and those of Nietzsche emerges.
In summing up O'Neill's philosophy, Winther writes, "O'Neill believes that man's hope lies in his being willing to face life as it is, accepting its limitations and, on the foundations of these very shortcomings, erecting a new world free from the tyranny of romantic dogmatism" (3-4). Winther's statement suggests that O'Neill's world view was particularly Nietzschean for this is also an important lesson which is taught by Zarathustra. Even Winther's chapter headings suggest the affinity and influence of Nietzsche's philosophy as presented in Thus Spake Zarathustra. Titles such as "The Pagan Way of Life," "The Relativity of Good and Evil," "Determinism, Fatalism and Free Will," and "This Sickness of Today" strongly suggest the type of subject matter with which Nietzsche headed his volumes of aphorisms.
More importantly, the O'Neill philosophy as described by Winther emphasizes O'Neill's concern with the Nietzschean concept of affirmation. "O'Neill's tragedies are related to the philosophy of Nietzsche in that they are an affirmation of life; they deal with life for the sake of living and not for the sake of eternity" (222). Like Nietzsche, O'Neill according to Winther "hated the Puritans and their negative philosophy" (52). This approach suggests that O'Neill follows Nietzsche in attempting to assert the positivism of his own philosophy, while demonstrating the negativity of dogmatic belief. According to Winther, models of morality which served to define virtue in the past have, in the hands of O'Neill, become empty. This moral critique echoes that of Nietzsche's critique of Christian ethics. Thus, Winther draws some very important and specific parallels between O'Neill's work and Nietzsche's.
Another interesting aspect of Eugene O'Neill: A Critical Study is that because its primary concern is philosophical, it draws from Thus Spake Zarathustra as itsprimary Nietzschean source. Later analyses more concerned with dramatic structure and demonstrable influence tend to ignore Zarathustra in favor of The Birth of Tragedy. Winther's analysis is limited to ideas and world views demonstrated by O'Neill's plays. Winther clearly wishes to emphasize the spiritual affinity between the playwright and the philosopher rather than an artistic affinity with regard to tragic form.
According to Sheaffer, O'Neill was impressed by Winther's book. O'Neill called it, "...a searching critical analysis, finely conceived and soundly carried out" (1973 456). Winther successfully analyzed O'Neill's philosophy in Nietzschean terms and conclusively established philosophical connections between the two writers.
If Winther succeeded in drawing a solid philosophical connection between O'Neill and Nietzsche, the connection is drawn in only the most general terms. While Winther was undoubtedly extremely familiar with Thus Spake Zarathustra, scholarship in the 1930s lacked awareness of the full weight implied by Nietzsche's critique of modernity in Zarathustra. Winther's analysis of O'Neill in Nietzschean terms lacks detail with regard to O'Neill's specific works and fails to draw evidence from the text of Zarathustra, which the present study intends to do. In addition, this dissertation has the advantage of much recent scholarship specifically aimed at analyzing Zarathustra and the work of theorists and philosophers who have used Nietzschean perspectivism as developed in Zarathustra to develop new metaphysical approaches.
In 1934, O'Neill began a twelve year hiatus from public theatre. In 1946, The Iceman Cometh premiered, but the initial production was not successful. In 1947, A Moon for the Misbegotten closed before it opened in New York. In 1953, O'Neill died. This event seemed to become an occasion for "critical evaluations and revaluations of the work of America's most eminent dramatist" (Cargill 1). The American premiere of Long Day's Journey into Night in 1956 seemed to rekindle O'Neill's popularity and with it came an increasing critical scrutiny of the entire body of his work.
The first major critical post-war study of O'Neill's body of work was Edwin A. Engel's The Haunted Heros of Eugene O'Neill published in 1953. Engle's work demonstrates two major trends in O'Neill criticism which continue to the present time. He focused much of his critical analysis on biographical aspects of O'Neill's plays; further, with regard to Nietzsche, Engel explicates O'Neill using the Dionysian/Apollonian duality which is found in The Birth of Tragedy. The Nietzschean influence of O'Neill is, for the most part, subsumed by the biographical aspects of Engel's analysis.
In 1956, Esther A. Olson completed a doctoral thesis which perhaps more than any other volume to date analyses specifically Nietzschean elements in the plays of Eugene O'Neill. Olson carefully examines over thirty of O'Neill's plays through Long Day's Journey into Night, which was published but not yet produced. Olson examines these plays in light of the Nietzschean attitudes toward nihilism, Christianity, materialism and marriage and with regard to Nietzschean concepts of will to power, the superman and eternal recurrence. The result is an impressive critical analysis of O'Neill spanning over 600 pages of text and citing text from most of Nietzsche's major works. While this dissertation remains unpublished, it may be the most complete exploration of Nietzschean elements in O'Neill and of the influence of Nietzsche on O'Neill.
Olson's study differs from the present examination of Nietzschean elements in O'Neill in scope and perspective. Olson's work attempts to examine most of O'Neill's work through a framework developed through of all of Nietzsche's work. This massive attempt results often in inconsistencies as Olson strives to find complete unity of philosophy throughout Nietzsche's career.
This is most evident in Olson's section titled "Women and Marriage" (64-74). In attempting to discover Nietzsche's attitude toward women, Olson finds "Nietzsche's remarks about women and marriage seem to reveal antithetical positions" (74). From this Olson concludes that Nietzsche believed that there are two types of women "the beast of prey or the higher type of humanity" (74). This kind of assumption seems to contradict Nietzsche's overall perspectivist approach to metaphysics. Thus, because Olson attempts to resolve all internal conflicts within Nietzsche's philosophy, a philosophy which accepts plurality and inconsistency as the natural state of existence, she reveals a modernist attitude which rejects inconsistency in favor of unification and order. This study will use Thus Spake Zarathustra as a framework for Nietzschean discourse, utilizing other volumes only as they explicate Zarathustra. Such an approach may prove to be more manageable and concise.
The last few years of the 1950s saw at least two major biographies of Eugene O'Neill. The first of these was written by Agnes Boulton, O'Neill's second wife, titled Part of a Long Story published in 1958. The second was The Curse of the Misbegotten written in 1959 by Croswell Bowen with the help of O'Neill's son, Shane. In 1960, Arthur and Barbara Gelb published the first comprehensive biography of O'Neill's life. The Gelbs' book demonstrated the effectiveness of a biographical approach to the plays of the great playwright.
The 1968 volume A Drama of Souls by Egil Törnqvist developed the working theory that Nietzsche became an acceptable substitute metaphysic for O'Neill whose faith in his Catholic upbringing had long been shattered. Yet Törnqvist attempted to minimize Nietzsche's influence on O'Neill's work when he wrote, "[O'Neill] was to some extent influenced by Nietzsche's thinking, but it is more meaningful to see the similarity in their ideas as a manifestation of a basic spiritual affinity" (12). Törnqvist attempted to demonstrate in A Drama of Souls the presence of a "super-naturalism" or dualism which provides an organic unity to all of O'Neill's plays. The dualistic nature of Törnqvist's approach demanded the emphasis the Dionysian/Apollonian dichotomy contained in The Birth of Tragedy. Basing his approach on Nietzsche's view of Greek tragedy, Törnqvist proposed that "To recreate the Greek spirit in modern life was the goal he set for himself both as a playwright and a man" (13). This approach to O'Neill helped to further the application of The Birth of Tragedy with regard to the analysis of O'Neill. Törnqvist turns to Zarathustra briefly in his discussion of laughter as symbol in O'Neill, drawing parallels between Nietzschean joy and affirmation and the laughter in Lazarus Laughed. Like his predecessor Engle, Törnqvist offers astute insights into O'Neill's work with regard to form and purpose. And like Engle, Törnqvist fails to draw significant parallels between Thus Spake Zarathustra and O'Neill's work as it explicates O'Neill's philosophy.
In 1972, Travis Bogard published a significant critical analysis called Contour in Time. Bogard's volume carefully traces O'Neill's career play by play in chronological order, drawing on biographical, literary and critical sources which are much more varied than any previous text. Yet Bogard limits his analysis of Nietzschean elements of O'Neill to the more literary and more familiar Birth of Tragedy. Thus Spake Zarathustra is never analyzed as a philosophical text; rather it is used to establish O'Neill's affinity to the philosopher in preparation for analysis using Birth of Tragedy. Like Törnqvist, Bogard compares the character and themes of Zarathustra to that of Lazarus Laughed. A parallel which was first established by Benjamin DeCasseres in a 1929 pamphlet entitled The Superman in America. Thus, Bogard like his predecessors seems to ascribe only the most general connection between O'Neill and Thus Spake Zarathustra.
Norman Berlin's 1982 study of O'Neill titled Eugene O'Neill continued the standard comparison of Zarathustra to O'Neill's Lazarus. In addition, Berlin introduced the Nietzschean idea of eternal recurrence in O'Neill's The Fountain. While Berlin did not dwell on this comparison, it is significant that a Nietzschean idea drawn from Thus Spake Zarathustra is considered in an overall analysis of O'Neill's work. Berlin's use of eternal recurrence seems to demonstrate the growing awareness of Zarathustra as an important philosophical work and is an indication that Berlin believed that such awareness is useful in analyzing O'Neill's work.
Virginia Floyd's 1987 book The Plays of Eugene O'Neill: A New Assessment narrowed the scope of Nietzschean influence on O'Neill even more than previous critics. Floyd briefly mentioned the Apollonian/Dionysian dichotomy as a shared philosophy between Nietzsche and O'Neill (281). Floyd's stated purpose was to re-introduce O'Neill to the general American public and, as such, did not bring any new information to the area of study at hand.
In Eugene O'Neill's Creative Struggle (1992), Doris Alexander brought to bear a couple of Nietzschean concepts as they apply to specific O'Neill work. Alexander suggested that a major theme which runs through Desire Under the Elms is the Nietzschean concept of "striving to create higher values," a theme which runs through Zarathustra (33). While acknowledging the Apollonian/Dionysian dichotomy in The Great God Brown, Alexander also suggested that the idea presented in Zarathustra of the shame humanity feels in loving things of this earth is also a thematic component of the play (71). Thus while she did not focus exclusively on a Nietzschean approach, Alexander demonstrated that Thus Spake Zarathustra is a useful text for examining aspects of O'Neill's plays.
Like the full length studies of O'Neill, criticism found in journals, magazines and newspapers prior to 1934 rarely mentions Zarathustra in specific terms as they relate to the plays of O'Neill. Rather, O'Neill's affinity and admiration for Nietzsche's master work is mentioned and specific analysis is related to The Birth of Tragedy. Major anthologies which contain significant critical analyses of O'Neill's work and production reviews are: O'Neill and his Plays edited by Oscar Cargill et al, published in 1961; The Playwright's Progress: O'Neill and the Critics edited by Jordan A. Miller, published in 1965; Eugene O'Neill: A Collection of Criticism edited by Ernest G. Griffin, published in 1976, Eugene O'Neill's Critics: Voices from Abroad edited by Horst Frenz and Susan Tuck, published in 1984; Conversations with Eugene O'Neill edited by Mark W. Estrin, published in 1990; and Eugene O'Neill's Century edited by Richard F. Moorton, Jr, published in 1991. Few of these articles draw any analysis from Zarathustra with respect to O'Neill's plays. Those which do will be examined below.
In an interesting interview with O'Neill in Oliver Sayler's article in Shadowland in 1922, O'Neill discusses Gordon Craig's ideal theatre artist in Nietzschean terms. O'Neill concludes that a "superman of the theatre...is too rigorous [an] ideal for the finite potential of the present" (22). This is one of the most extensive and enlightening recorded statements concerning O'Neill's understanding of Nietzsche. The conversation suggests O'Neill's working knowledge of Zarathustra, his affinity for the philosopher and his modernist perspective in that he seems to suggest a Darwinian progression toward an ideal.
Benjamin DeCasseres' 1929 pamphlet, "The Superman in America" looks at Americans who could be seen as examples of Nietzsche's superman by virtue of their independent thought and artistic genius (7). Among these American notables, DeCasseres includes O'Neill. DeCasseres also includes a brief statement of the qualities of O'Neill's heroes who demonstrate the qualities of the superman. Collectively it is O'Neill's characters "who have tried to transcend fatality and failed" (26). DeCasseres' section concerning O'Neill is short, but he does draw the parallel between Lazarus and Zarathustra for the first time. While this point is often quoted by subsequent critics, the general affinity of O'Neill's characters to the Nietzschean idea described in Zarathustra did not seem to capture the attention of later writers.
Apparently DeCasseres analysis interested O'Neill, who wrote to DeCasseres concerning his treatment of Lazarus Laughed. "What you say of Lazarus Laughed deeply pleases me--particularly that you found something of Zarathustra in it" (Letters 245). His response to DeCasseres' analysis and the fact that, of all O'Neill's plays, Lazarus Laughed is the only one which is traditionally treated through a Zarathustrian framework suggests that many critics may limit their own perspective of O'Neill's work to O'Neill's stated intent.
During O'Neill's career, there seems to have been a lack of attention to the Nietzschean aspects of his work. This can be illustrated in a 1932 review of the published edition of Mourning Becomes Electra. John Corbin's article for The Saturday Review of Literature, "O'Neill and Aeschylus," suggests that "O'Neill claims comparison with the most revered of Greek dramatists" (693). Within this statement, Corbin fails to mention the Nietzschean aspects of O'Neill's approach to tragedy which attempts to recreate tragedy in a modern context rather than attempt to directly imitate classic tragic forms. The article anecdotally illustrates an ignorance of critics at that time concerning Nietzsche's influence on O'Neill.
In his introduction to "The Birth of Tragedy and The Great God Brown, Michael Hinden illustrated the history of Nietzschean analysis with regard to O'Neill's work. He stated in his introduction, "If O'Neill's debt to Zarathustra is well known, the specific influence of The Birth of Tragedy on his plays has not yet been adequately studied" (129). Here, Hinden did not state in which document the specific influence of Zarathustra has been explored with regard to O'Neill's work. While Hinden's overall statement is extremely arguable as it relates to The Birth of Tragedy, the words which Hinden chooses demonstrates both the growing attempt in the early 1970s to examine O'Neill from a Nietzschean perspective and the inadequacy of this examination in terms of Thus Spake Zarathustra.
As the ideas presented in Thus Spake Zarathustra gain wider scrutiny in literary criticism in general, it is inevitable that connections will be drawn between O'Neill and other playwrights whose thinking is influenced by Nietzsche. One example of this is Normand Berlin's 1988 article, "The 'Beckettian' O'Neill." Berlin bases his comparison of Beckett and O'Neill on the nihilism he sees in both. While the comparison between the two playwrights is admirable in its attempt to break from tradition, Berlin perpetuates the notion that O'Neill and Nietzsche believe that life is meaningless. A similar approach is taken by Linda Ben-Zvi in her article "O'Neill and Absurdity." Ben-Zvi illustrates the still common misconception that O'Neill and Nietzsche saw the world in nihilistic terms. While this approach to Nietzsche is undoubtedly a cornerstone of Absurdism and one which connects the various absurdist playwrights, a major aspect of this dissertation will argue that O'Neill's plays deny the nihilism through which they are traditionally viewed.
The Berlin and Ben-Zvi articles demonstrate what may be a new phase of O'Neill criticism: the attempt to break away from a traditional, modernist perspective of O'Neill's work. The intimate biographical nature of O'Neill's plays can be seen as a major obstacle to such study. O'Neill's artistic vision developed in a modern context. This review of literature suggests that critics have approached O'Neill as a modernist and have for the most part failed to examine his works outside of this context. This is not true of other playwrights whose strong vision of the world helped define contemporary sensibility of the playwright's time. Aeschylus and Shakespeare have both been examined and produced in light of contemporary thought. The results of such examinations have often yielded a fresh contemporary reading of plays from another period. I will attempt to subject O'Neill's work to a similar examination in the hope that new meaning and fresh approaches might be used to re-establish the universal qualities within O'Neill's body of work.
Because this study is an examination of O'Neill's work within a particular Nietzschean framework, texts which specifically relate to contemporary approaches to Thus Spake Zarathustra will not be presented in this section. The approaches which are appropriate to this study will be introduced and explicated fully in chapter 2.
Chapter 2 will present postmodern and contemporary analyses of Thus Spake Zarathustra. These approaches will focus on Nietzschean perspectivism as well as the themes of nihilism, eternal recurrence, and love and marriage.
Chapters 3, 4 and 5 will examine Eugene O'Neill's The Fountain, Marco Millions, and Days Without End respectively. Each chapter will explore the historical context in which O'Neill wrote the play. Next, it will provide a summary of the play's dramatic action. It will then examine the traditional critical analysis of the play and, finally, examine the play within the context of Nietzschean approaches discussed in chapter 2.
Eugene O'Neill is considered by many to be America's most significant playwright. Although much has already been written on the life and work of O'Neill, little significant analysis has been accomplished regarding the influence of Nietzsche's Thus Spake Zarathustra on the work of Eugene O'Neill. Recent studies of Nietzsche's master work and recent recognition of Nietzsche's philosophy as significant to contemporary thought, most notably postmodern thought, suggest the possibility that a study of O'Neill's work in light of Nietzsche's Thus Spake Zarathustra might prove significant to discovering new meaning in selected works of O'Neill.In the past, the plays of Eugene O'Neill have been examined in terms of their modernist characteristics. Such approaches stressed the oppositional nature of O'Neill's work by assuming an alternative absolutist goal to replace the status quo. This study will examine the selected plays in terms of the Nietzschean ideal of perspectivism as a spiritual goal. Such an approach adds dramatic force to the plays by providing a tangible philosophical framework through which to view the characters' spiritual growth without suggesting an opposing absolute ideal. In addition, it focuses the dramatic action on the personal struggle of the main characters to overcome nihilism, to develop personal autonomy in the face of the highly emotional need for love, and to accept a perspectivist world view as represented by eternal recurrence. It is with this in mind that this dissertation proposes to examine The Fountain, Marco Millions, and Days Without End in light of contemporary approaches to Nietzsche's Thus Spake Zarathustra.
 This dissertation recognizes a fundamental difference between "Modernity" as "a summary term, referring to that cluster of social, economic and political systems brought into being in the West somewhere around the eighteenth century onwards" and Modernism as referring to "cultural and aesthetic styles" (Sarup 130-31). While referring to distinct aspects of culture, these terms tend to overlap in their fundamental ideological attitudes. While primarily concerned with the artistic movement, occasional reference to modernity will occur when referring to these overlapping ideologies due to this dissertation's concern with modernist metaphysical discourse.
 Derrida offers several examples of central referents which have been used to establish a metaphysical center among these are: transcendentality, consciousness, God and man (84).
 According to Lampert, The Will to Power can be seen as a explication of ideas first introduced in Thus Spake Zarathustra (5).
 Nietzsche did not believe that this was true in all cases. For a full analysis on this subject, see chapter two.
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