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Editor: Harley Hammerman
St. Louis, Missouri

Volume 0


The Concept of Self Deception
in the Plays of Eugene O'Neill

Melissa Leigh Winn
Wellesley College


Throughout Eugene O’Neill’s career, his opinion on the topic of self deception seems to have changed from condemning the life-lie, to a sort of sad understanding of it and perhaps even endorsement of having such dreams.  From the early work, one can surmise that O’Neill had definite opinions on the sorts of people who have these pipe dreams, as he calls them repeatedly in The Iceman Cometh.  They are dreamers, they are do-nothings, they are the dregs of society.  They lack the motivation necessary to succeed in the real world, and by choosing to exist in their world of dreams, their actual lives become static.  But, as O’Neill matures as a person and writer, he sees the pipe dream as a sort of shelter that the people who have them take refuge in. For these deluded characters, the pipe dream serves as their last link with life, even though it is not a link with reality.

O’Neill created some of his characters as people who held a notion of themselves that was untrue or lived a life that was inconsistent with their true nature.  They consistently lied to themselves and wanted to believe that their “pipe dreams” were attainable whenever they wanted them.  In virtually all of O’Neill’s plays there is at least one character who clearly makes a choice to believe a pipe dream about their situation or life rather than face a reality that is more harsh.  After accepting this, the question that remains is whether or not the characters are more able to maintain sanity and happiness more through adhering to these hopeless pipe dreams, or by contrast are they better off once they let go of their pipe dreams and decide to live in reality.

In the Great God Brown William Brown chooses to live his life wearing the mask of another, and consequently living the life of the other in addition to his own.  In this instance the desire is for Brown to live this double life as Dion, the husband of the woman with whom he is in love.  This, even with the strain of living two separate lives, initially makes him happy.  He believes that playing the part of this other man is a small price to pay for him to be with the woman he loves.  This is his deception; that he can become another person, while still holding on to his former life.  Instead, the balancing of the two personas drives him to madness and eventually death.  It is put best when Cybel comes to Billy Brown’s side after the authorities shoot him.  She tells him as she takes off the mask of Dion that he has so long been hiding behind, “You can’t take this to bed with you.  You’ve got to go to sleep alone.”(i)  This is perhaps the most poignant expression of Eugene O’Neill’s concept of self deception in this play.  No matter what people want to believe about their life, their life lies, they leave this world just as they came into it: without any masks protecting who they were from the world.  This would lead one to think that the only time there is true confrontation of who one really is, would be in death.

In this instance it is clear that Brown is not happier and more sane while he is pretending to be someone and something he is not.  But, the question also arises as to whether or not his insanity is caused by trying to be someone who he is not, or is it instead caused by his attempt to keep both personalities alive at the same time.  In other words would he have been fine if he had discarded the Brown identity and completely assumed the Dion identity.  Either way he had to die alone; no masks, and no lies.

In The Iceman Cometh the lines between pipe dream and reality are quite clear-cut in that everyone has one pipe dream that they hold on to for dear life as they drown their troubles in liquor, and put off finding out the inevitability that their dream is in fact only a dream and can not become a reality.  The one character who seems outside the pipe dreams is Larry, who recognizes that everyone else is hanging on to dreams that will never be.  He describes his comrades as having:

“a touching credulity concerning tomorrows.  It’ll be a great day for them, tomorrow – the Feast of All Fools, with brass bands playing.  Their ships will come in, loaded to the gunwales with cancelled regrets and promises fulfilled and clean slates and new leases… What is the matter if the truth is that their favoring breeze has the stink of nickel whiskey on its breath, and their sea is a growler of lager and ale, and their ships are long since looted and scuttled and sunk on the bottom?  To hell with the truth! As the history of the world proves, the truth has no bearing on anything.”(ii)

Reading this it would seem that since he can so accurately see the futility of everyone else’s pipe dream that he himself must be exempt from having some such dream, but we find out that he too has a life lie.  He believes that he has lost his belief in “the movement” and now he is just waiting to die.  His reality is that he still believes in the movement, but he left because he could not have the woman he loved, and although he is afraid to live, he is even more afraid to die.

Hickey is introduced to us, the reader/ audience as one who is just like them.  He is one of the near-lifeless bar-dwellers without a care or responsibility in the world.  He is a traveling salesman, and always had an aversion to putting down roots and settling down.  Hickey does not arrive at the bar until it is well established that although the inhabitants of the bar make no effort to leave or change, they are largely disappointed in their lives.  But, oddly when Hickey arrives he is nothing like they have set him up to be.  He comes in with charisma and a mission.  He has something to do and not a lot of time to do it.  It is not clear what his mission is, but he is so glib and charming one wonders if he is genuinely out to help them or really to hurt them.  He sets himself up as the savior come to redeem their broken lives, but he has the power of persuasion of a salesman that makes one think that he is trying to sell them something they really do not need.

The First of the Disillusioned: Beyond the Horizon

Bogard argues that “Despite the critical carping at technical problems, Beyond the Horizon made O’Neill an important American dramatist.”(iii) This claim is easily supported because he received the Pulitzer Prize for drama with this play in June 1920, the year of its production.  At this point in O’Neill’s life, he had learned that his mother was a morphine addict when in 1903 she tried to throw herself into the Thames River during a withdrawal-produced fit.  He had attended Princeton for a year, but been suspended when after a year of frequenting bars and brothels, he ended up in “poor scholastic standing.”  In 1912, O’Neill made a life-altering move; he attempted suicide with an overdose of sleeping pills while at “Jimmy the Priest’s.”  He has been diagnosed with Tuberculosis that same year and is admitted into the state sanatorium.  All of these events play a huge part in O’Neill’s life and comprise the problems that keep coming up again and again in his writing.  At this early stage, in 1918, with all of these events still fresh in his mind, he advocates a live lived in reality because living outside of reality, as with his mother’s drug addiction, for example, he sees as destructive.  And with this in mind he writes Beyond the Horizon.

There is a realism in this play that is not as vividly present in the plays that precede it.  I believe that this realism lies in the author’s relationship with Robert Mayo, the lead character of the play.  O’Neill identifies with the lead character in the play, Robert Mayo in that he also felt the draw of the sea.  O’Neill actually does go to sea to travel the oceans.  Robert Mayo is instead denied the opportunity to take to the sea.  He becomes someone who is dissatisfied with his life, and since going to sea has been his one true goal, when he loses that hope of going, it signifies the death of his spirit.  The results are much the same in any of O’Neill’s plays when the character has lost his dream.  “After the death of spirit, the man plunges towards physical death,”(iv) Robert decides to not go to sea because he has discovered that Ruth, the woman whom he loves, loves him in return.  He was set to on the ship with his Uncle Dick, but once he found out that she loved him, he announces that he “can’t go tomorrow with Uncle Dick – or at any future time, either.”(v)  He makes this decision fully aware of what he is doing, but at the same time, by giving up his lifelong dream of going to see he is setting up a situation in which he will resent Ruth, the woman who he loves for condemning him to the life of a farmer that he never wanted.

His wife Ruth is harboring a life lie too.  She is in love with Robert’s brother Andrew, and her pipe dream is that there is still something there between them.  She does not take into account that she is married to his brother.  Ruth “found out (she)’d made a mistake about Rob soon after we married.”(vi)  She realized that she did not love Rob, but she thought that when their daughter was born it would help the relationship but “it didn’t happen that way.  And I couldn’t’ bear with his blundering and book-reading – and I grew to hate him, almost.”(vii)  She carries this pipe dream which for her is that she should be able to be with the man she really loves, Andrew.  Her living the lie of being in a marriage with one man, while in love with another drives her husband to destruction.  He gave up his dream to go to the sea for the love of her, and she does not even love him in return.

His brother Andrew, who was the one meant to be the farmer, instead is the one to go off to sea.  When Andrew returns to home he comes back with such stories of the typhoons and the elements that it reawakens the old desire that he always had to travel instead of being on the farm.  The one character who does not live in a dream is Andrew.  He takes the reality of what his life is good-naturedly.  He lives in reality, and is therefore spared the intense suffering that his brother and his sister-in-law go through.  He seems to live a happy life, even though he had wanted to stay at home and be a farmer, he took the opportunity to go to sea and did not look back.  He does not live with regrets and with thoughts of what his life would be like if he had made different decisions.

Robert lives in the world of regret, and since he has lost his dream of going to sea, and he has lost the love of the woman whom he loves, he does not have anything to live for, and subsequently takes his final journey “beyond the horizon” to a place where he can live out his dreams, and where he is not in love with someone who doesn’t love him in return.  This discontent with his situation and refusal to do anything about it puts him in much the same situation that any of O’Neill’s characters with a pipe dream are in.  He escapes to a world of reading about adventures on boats, and therefore withdraws more and more from his wife.

Because Ruth refuses to live fully in her reality without the regrets of having married the wrong man, she is miserable with Robert, with her child, and with her whole general existence.  If she could have accepted her reality and lived fully in it, appreciating it for what it was, she would have been much happier.

In this early play, the having of a delusion or pipe dream is destructive to the characters themselves and the people around them.  They are made miserable by their delusions and are left in the end hopeless and unhappy.  This is evidenced in the cases of Ruth and Robert, and emphasized by the fact that Andrew, who lives his life in reality, is so contented.  Woollcott of the New York Times saw the character of Robert as “chained to a task for which he is not fitted, withheld from a task for which he was born… at the end he crawls out of the farmhouse to die in the open road, his last glance straining at the horizon beyond which he has never ventured, his last words pronouncing a message of warning from one who had not lived in harmony with what he was.”(viii)  Beyond the Horizon was O’Neill’s first major statement on the theme of self-deception, pipe dreams, and life-lies that would come up again and again throughout his career.  In this work it comes through loud and clear, with no ambiguity, that O’Neill did not approve of pipe dreams and conversely believed that it was better to live in reality and in conjunction with one’s own nature.  What O’Neill advocates here is a way of living that mirrors the statement to thine own self be true.

At this early point in O’Neill’s career, he believed that “one must engage in the quest to find the ultimate meaning of life, to discover the mysterious behind-life force that lies just beyond the horizon.”(ix) In this way O’Neill started out believing that it was not the dream that sustained people, but was in fact the pursuit of a goal.  As he gets further into his playwriting career he begins to believe that just having a dream that can survive through time is more important than having a dream that is attainable or the pursuit of the dream.  This shift is characteristic of the transition from his earlier works to his later ones.

Off With the Masks: The Great God Brown

The beginning of 1925, the time that he was writing The Great God Brown, marks roughly the middle of O’Neill’s career.  He had already won a Pulitzer Prize for playwriting, and seen many of his productions produced on Broadway.  He had been generally disappointed in the productions, and very few of the actors’ performances lived up to the expectations he had for them when he wrote the plays.  He has gotten into the psychological studies of Neitzsche and Freud, and with this starts looking at what the human spirit needs to survive.  This in-depth look into human psychology coupled with the period of heavy drinking that he was embarking on, must have led him to the idea that people need a way to escape their reality.  He came up with the idea of using tangible masks in his plays to serve as psychological props.  This is how his characters function; they hide behind the masks, not only from themselves, but from others too.

In The Great God Brown it is clear which characters hide from their reality.  In the beginning Dion, the artistic, flighty husband of Margaret, believes that he can take off the mask that he has been wearing around Margaret, the woman he loves.  He believes that he no longer needs the mask to protect him anymore, that Margaret “protects me! Her arms are softly around me!  She is warmly around me! She is my skin!  She is my armor!”(x)  (Vol 2 p.481)  At this point he feels that he has enough strength to cast off his mask and face reality with Margaret.  (He glances at his mask triumphantly – in tones of deliverance) You are outgrown! I am beyond you!”(xi) (Vol 2 p.481) O’Neill clearly believes that the masks and self-deception is a weakness that perhaps a person can find the strength to grow out of.  Dion finds that he is not recognized by Margaret without his mask, in fact she doesn’t know him at all.  In despair he puts his mask on again, painfully aware of the fact that he will never truly be free of it.  He then tells Margaret that “You love me!  You know you do!  Say it!  Tell me!  I want to hear!  I want to feel!  I want to know!  I want to want!  To want you as you want me!”(xii)  This is a desperate plea coming from him, and it shows that he is avoiding the reality that Margaret really does not know him at all.  She could not recognize him, but still he wants to hear that she loves him, whoever she sees him as.  He would rather live in the deception that he is loved, even though the question comes up can he really be loved if she does not even know who he truly is?  His real self revealed frightens her, and he promises her that, “I’ll never let you see again.”(xiii) referring to his unmasked self.

This undesired bond that he forges with the mask makes him an unhappy mal adjusted human being.  When we see him in Act one, Scene one, the physical description of him shows a different person from who he was in the prologue.

His real face has aged greatly, grown more strained and tortured, but at the same time, in some queer way, more selfless and ascetic, more fixed in its resolute withdrawal from life.  The mask, too, has changed.  It is older, more defiant and mocking, its sneer more forced and bitter, its pan quality becoming Mephistophelean. It has already begun to show the ravages of dissipation.(xiv)

Choosing not to live in reality has made him a bitter human being.  In the works where the characters wear masks, O’Neill carefully has the masks mimic the mental states of the characters themselves.  As Dion’s self-deception becomes more and more complete, he becomes bitter and angry from the experience.  In this instance O’Neill is definitely taking the stand that living in a world of deception, separated from reality, is not a healthy thing. It has left Dion distorted and angry.

Dion is ultimately destroyed by the strain that wearing his mask of deception has put on him.  He dies at the feet of Brown who then takes his mask and begins to assume his life.  Brown tells Margaret that “Dion,” who is now no more than brown hidden behind his mask, has sworn off liqueur and will reform his life to make himself worthy of her love.  Margaret, in her own desperation to believe that life will be better, believes him, and with the Dion mask in front of his face does not even notice that it is Brown and not her husband behind it.  She is so happy to see that there is a positive change in his demeanor that she does not even question why there is such a transformation or what could have brought it about.   In her won half realization she says to Brown, believing it is her husband Dion, “Why, Dion, something has happened.  It’s like a miracle!  Even your voice is changed! It actually sounds younger, do you know it?”(xv)  This desire for a positive change in her life makes it that although she can see the difference in her husband, will not allow herself to delve much deeper to find the cause for the change.  At the end, when both Dion and Brown are dead, she is left with her children, and when alone, she sits with the mask of Dion.  She is happy and has a “rapt smile” because she still has the only part of Dion that she ever really know or recognized or loved: his mask.

Brown is a more complicated case because he chooses to live his dream with the intent to trick Margaret into showing him the love that is meant for Dion.  He describes his situation as “Paradise by proxy! Love by mistaken identity!… But it is paradise!  I do love!”(xvi)  For him it is worth it to lead his double life because it is the only way he can have her love.  He is tortured by the knowledge that it is still Dion that she loves, not him.  He is just wearing the mask of Dion, he is not actually Dion, and therefore he does not in actuality have her love.  This toggling between his reality and his dream world leaves him torn and broken by the end.  He is not able to keep a firm grasp on either of his personas, and in a final identity crisis essentially loses his mind and essentially commits suicide.

Throughout The Great God Brown O’Neill treats the characters who either foster their own self-deception or the self-deceptions of others with anger, and rebukes them with the consequences with which he saddles them.  Both Dion and Brown must suffer death because of their deceptions.  Margaret on the other hand is depicted as pitiful.  The question crosses my mind as to how she could be so oblivious.  She is clearly blissfully happy in her ignorance of what the actual circumstances are, and makes little to no effort to try to understand.  She is left alive, and really no worse off than she was with either Dion or Brown because she still has the Dion mask, which is all she ever knew anyway.

A Touch of the Poet & on to More Stately Mansions

In January of 1935, O’Neill embarked on what would be almost an epic set of plays called The Cycle Plays, if it had ever reached completion.  It was to be a cycle of seven plays examining the lives of one family through the generations of the Harford family.  While he worked on this he suffered episodes of nervousness and depression.  He managed to get out a rough draft of A Touch of the Poet despite his ailments both physical and mental.  Because of all of his ailments including neuritis, stomach pains, prostate problems, depression and extreme nervousness, O’Neill put down The Cycle plays after creating a finished draft of A Touch of the Poet, and a rough draft of More Stately Mansions.  It is at this time when he has abandoned The Cycle, that he is compelled to write The Iceman Cometh and Long Day’s Journey into Night, the plays that would be his masterpieces.

In A Touch of the Poet and More Stately Mansions, the characters are subject to various levels of delusions with various effects on themselves and to the other characters.  Cornelius Melody, or Con as he is most often called, is the husband of Nora Melody and father of Sara.

Con is probably the one with the most obvious pipe dream.  He believes that he is in fact an aristocrat, born of noble blood, and is better than his Irish peasant wife, Nora.  Con’s father “made up his mind he’d bring Con up a true gentleman, so he packed him off to Dublin to school, and after that to the College with sloos of money to prove himself the equal of any gentleman's son.”(xvii)  He joined the British army where he rose to the rank of Major.  He is a good soldier and fights gloriously and memorably at Talavera, a memorable battle in the war between France and Spain, but in the end is forced to resign in disgrace for his weakness for women.  “He got caught by a Spanish noble making love to his wife just after the battle of Salamanca,  and there was a duel and Con killed him.”(xviii)  In this way his lack of fidelity to his wife Nora, and the obviousness of his philandering shows that he is not apt to take responsibility for his actions.  Virginia Floyd describes the self-deceived Con as trying “To maintain his illusion of being a true aristocrat, Con dresses in ‘old, expensive, finely tailored clothes of the style worn by English aristocracy.’ He overplays his role of polished gentleman, ‘which has become more real than his real self to him.’”(xix)  Con considers it “beneath his dignity to work, (and) has forced his wife and daughter to assume responsibility for supporting the family.”(xx)

Con pursues his illusion of being a gentleman even to the point of enslaving his wife and daughter to financially support his delusions.  He buys a thoroughbred mare “to project the image of a gentleman.  Because of his extravagances, his wife, Nora, becomes a drudge as she tries to pay creditors and keep the inn operating.”(xxi) In this way Con’s pipe dream that he is aristocracy, is a destructive one that hurts and oppresses his daughter and his wife.  In this way, one would think that if he were to wake up and realize that his aristocracy is no more than a pipe dream he would be better off himself, as would his whole family.

Sara, his daughter, is the one who most bitterly resents his dreams and what they do to his family, especially his poor treatment of her mother.  When Con decides that the Harfords are a worthy family “by Yankee standards”(xxii) and that he would not object to the marriage of Simon and Sara. Sara, realizing that Simon’s upper crust family would never allow the marriage of their son to a girl of Irish peasant stock, confronts her father on the absurdity of his assumption.  Sara sneers at her father and with disdain says tells her father that he lives in “a fairy tale where only dreams are real… you can’t tell anymore what’s dead and a lie and what’s the living truth.”(xxiii)  Sara especially wants her father to live in reality.  In disgust she tells him that “All I pray to God is that someday when you’re admiring yourself in the mirror something will make you see at last what you really are!”(xxiv)  He does in fact get this dose of reality when he is humiliated and humbled by his experience at the Harford house when he goes to confront Simon’s father for his disrespectful treatment of him and his family in refusing the marriage and trying to buy their compliance in letting the issue of the two children being together drop.  It is there where Harford has his servants beat Con, without even lowering himself to meet with him.

In this humiliation his pipe dream is killed.  At this point Con kills his thoroughbred mare and that death is representative of his pipe dream and consequently his spirit.  For Con, Deborah Harford represents all of the gentlemanly airs that he had put on, and when she witnesses the disgrace of him being beaten, this is the destruction of all of his life’s illusions.  “From this point to the end of the play, Con is referred to as having died… He had intended to kill himself after shooting the mare, the living reminder ‘av all his lyin’ boasts and dreams,’ but, as he says, her death finished him. So he didn’t bother to shoot himself ‘because it’d be a mad thing to waste a good bullet on a corpse.’”(xxv)  In this way Con is much like the characters in The Iceman Cometh, which has a much more developed example of people experiencing a death of spirit once their pipe dream is dead.  Floyd observes that “The dream is shattered, the poet destroyed, and only the Irish peasant remains.”(xxvi)  There is left only the empty shell of the man, without the life and spirit that there once was.

The question must now be asked, is he better off before with his pipe dream, or is he better once he has resigned himself to play the part of the Irish peasant that life has assigned him.  According to the reactions of the other characters, it is safe to say that he was better off with his pipe dream.  Sara, who was the person who was most desperate for the transformation towards reality, once she sees what facing reality does to him, “stops him and pleads with great passion for (his former personality to) return calling on his pride, begging his forgiveness.”(xxvii)  But for Con, there is no happy ending; the pipe dream is dead, and he is consequently spiritually dead.  Melody seems to be torn when he hears Sara’s appeal, in some way hoping to go back to the arrogant dream-based character of his past, but realizes that he has “no character left in which to hide and defend himself. He cries wildly and despairingly as if he saw his last hope of escape suddenly cut off. ‘Sara! For the love of God, stop- let me go!’”(xxviii) He then makes his final exit from the play and in that “His final exit is his last escape, as he takes refuge in the role of shebeen-keeper and waits for the death that will follow within four years.”(xxix)  Without the illusion to hold onto, all that is left is indeed the wait for death.  This is once again a close parallel to the later work The Iceman Cometh where after they are forced to confront reality, they become lifeless, just waiting for death.

Deborah is a character whose life-illusions we learn more about in More Stately Mansions, the next play in the sequence.  Bogard observes that “it becomes clear that her reclusiveness is a retreat very like the illusions by which Melody has lived.”(xxx)  This immediately draws a kinship between Deborah and Con Melody in that they find their reality unsatisfactory, and have a need to create an alternate reality or an alternate character.  For Melody, it is his arrogance and aristocratic airs that is part of his character that he fabricated, but for Deborah, it is almost is if she has created an entire alternate reality.

She retreats into her garden which is where she always goes for comfort and security.  Even as far back as A Touch of the Poet, when she is “frightened by her (initial) contact with the Melodys and the threat they represent, Deborah longs to return to her enclosed garden which symbolizes her repressed, joyless Yankee society and to ‘listen indifferently again while the footsteps of life pass and recede along the street beyond the high wall.’”(xxxi)  Even in the physical description of the garden, there is an element of reclusion from reality and society.  The garden itself is described as “enclosed by an eight-foot-high wall.  In the center of the garden is Deborah’s octagonal summer-house which has three steps leading up to the front door.”(xxxii)  The walls are extraordinarily high, too high for anyone to see over them or intrude upon her little world. For some reason to me the octagon is a foreboding shape.  It is the shape of the stop sign, which is a signal to keep out and allow Deborah to be left alone.  The octagon with high walls also reminds me of a tower shape, where isolation and seclusion are somehow implied as in the time that she imagines herself as a character in the 18th century, where towers were a place where a person could be locked away and secluded.  The front door is even raised up three steps, another hinting at inaccessibility.  Both the garden and the summerhouse are symbols of disconnection with the outside world.

In Deborah’s daydreams which she allows herself to fall into while in her garden, “she envisions herself as ‘a noble adventuress of Louis’ Court.’ Her walled garden becomes ‘the garden of Versailles,’ its ‘summer-house a Temple of Love the King has built as an assignation place where he keeps passionate trysts with (her), his mistress, greedy for lust and power.”(xxxiii)  She is discontented with her life and uses her garden and her daydreams as an escape from reality.  For her, the daydream is intrinsically linked to the garden and the summer-house.  The relationship between her daydreams and reality become such a dichotomy that it evolves into a relationship between reality and madness.

For Deborah, the choice between reality and illusion is made, and made fully.  She chooses illusion and madness completely, abandoning any links she once had with reality and becoming completely submerged in her life where she is mistress to the king.  The physical manifestation of her transition into insanity is choosing to go into the summer-house.  After making this passage into her world of illusion, while Sara is looking on, “Deborah comes out of the summer-house and addresses Sara as an ‘Irish kitchen maid,’ asking her what she is doing on the palace grounds… Sara, playing the dutiful servant finds it impossible to determine if Deborah is merely pretending or truly mad.”(xxxiv)  The idea that she could be pretending is absurd since the crossing-over into this world is intense and complete.

When the question is asked of Deborah as to whether or not she is better off in her created world of illusion or if she would have been better in her world of reality, the answer is clearly that she is better off having chosen her illusory world. It is clear that Deborah is not happy in the reality that is her life.  She is constantly struggling with Sara for the attention and love of her son.  She did not love her husband (who although at this point is dead still represents the reality of a life with a loveless marriage) and reveled in the idea of being a power-wielding mistress.  Once she has made that leap, she finally has what she wanted out of life.  She now sees everything as how she would have it be.  When Sara sees her transformation, she observes “She’s really gone forever in her dream! But – Tell me this, are you happy now? Ah, --My Lady?”  Deborah replies to Sara, who to her is the Irish kitchen maid, “You are impertinent.  But I forgive it, because I am happy.  And I wish you may be happy with your lover, too.”(xxxv)  This is, by her own testament, someone saying that with their pipe dreams that they are truly happy.  Deborah also for the first time wishes Sara happiness with her lover.  It is true that she does not at this time make the connection that the lover is actually Sara’s husband and Deborah’s son, but still it must be taken into account that she is happier and more benevolent when she has abandoned reality in favor of her illusory life.

The Iceman Cometh: A Seasoned Playwright Tackles Reality

O’Neill wrote The Iceman Cometh in 1939, near the end of his career.  At this point, the country is at war, and with his increasingly poor health, he is finding it difficult to write.  He has a tremor in his hand, as well as a variety of other illnesses that keep him from writing.  The fact that the country is at war has given everything that he wrote in this time period a somber feeling.  He fears that the country will understand all too well at the end of the war what it is to be a broken man, with only pipe dreams to hold on to.

In The Iceman Cometh O’Neill most dramatically illustrates the change in his view of reality from the beginning of his career to the end of it.  The general conclusion that is reached by this play is that people need to have a pipe dream or a life-lie to hold on to keep happy and sane.  The Iceman Cometh is O’Neill’s definitive statement on the subject of pipe dreams, and one of the latest of his works.  “O’Neill increasingly believed that man can endure life only through self-delusion, that when the dream dies, so does the dreamer, either spiritually or in reality.”(xxxvi)  This sympathy for the pipe dreamers causes people to have a different reaction to the play than one would expect.  To think of a group of men who are failures in almost every way and exist only through the dreams that they will obviously never fulfill would lead one to believe that there is no happy ending for this play, but to the contrary, “many readers and especially viewers of the play get the impression that for some reason it is not as pessimistic as its stated conclusions would indicate.”(xxxvii)  It is true that although is not a typical happy ending where people fulfill their dreams, but they are allowed to return to a state where they are happy, or at least content.  This leaves the reader or viewer happy that there is a place for these people who could not handle the harshness of reality; that they can retreat into their dreams again; that there is some way for them to continue living.  This is all we can ask for them, and it is sufficient considering the circumstances.  Larry Slade states it best when he observes “the beautiful calm in the atmosphere.  That’s because it’s the last harbor.  No one here has to worry about where they are going next because there is no farther then can go.”(xxxviii)  They have the security of being at rock-bottom, but as we are soon shown, having a dream is not rock-bottom, and once that dream is gone, there is nothing left afterwards except death.

In most of his plays the action revolves around some sort of goal or quest, but besides the desire of Hickey to convert everyone to reality, it is “painless purgatory… peace alone is the central human need.  And it is being satisfied for most of the derelicts from the opening curtain.”  This calm is attributed to “the aid of the pipe dream and the bottle.  Deprived of these, men begin to die. But once they are reconciled to death, it, too, brings peace.” (xxxix)  This theory is that the pipe dream when coupled with alcohol is really all that each pipe dreamer needs.  The other option is making a peace with death.  All of the characters either must either regain their pipe dreams or face death.

Another aspect that should be taken into account is that at its core, it is really a story about friendship.  “Among the drifters in Hope’s saloon there exists a spirit of camaraderie that is immensely engaging” and seems to make this drama “despite its bleak message about a mans need for pipe dreams and its harrowing story about Hickey… a drama of considerable warmth and humor.”(xl)  This is a truly amazing statement regarding the drifters of Hope’s saloon.  It is important that there exists such a camaraderie amongst them because that makes it possible for them to use each other, as they do, to give life to one another’s pipe dream, and at the same time have others there to buy into their own particular pipe dream.  It seems that each of them regards the pipe dreams of the others as rather silly and they can recognize the futility in it, but they support the delusions of their friends, because in this way they are simultaneously giving their own pipe dreams credibility to themselves.  They use each other’s dreams in a way to rationalize that if their friend who is also at this level can believe this and think it realistic, then my dream is not so farfetched either.  They are described by Sheaffer as “like drunks leaning against one another in order to remain on their feet, (professing) belief in the others’ self-delusions.”(xli) They are using each other to remain on their feet, in a mental sense, and by the same token they are able to support their own pipe dreams this way by giving credibility to the idea that anything is possible; even plausible.

At the same time as each dreamer uses the others pipe dreams to sustain their own pipe dream, “each man mocks the dreams of the others as insubstantial and illusory, but the mockery is a defensive irony, an essential element of the self-identification the individual’s dreams provide.”(xlii)  This mocking is half done in jest so that they do not truly have to face the fact that their dream is equally unattainable as the dream that they mock within their friend.

The setting of The Iceman Coemth is entirely in “a squalid barroom in lower Manhattan and concerned with a raftload of social outcasts, desperate souls who are saved from the reefs by a tide of whiskey and self-delusion.”(xliii)  This description accurately reflects the dark option-less existence that that the people contained within have.  Most importantly though, the action never takes us out of the barroom.  The closest we ever come to leaving the bar is through Rocky’s account of Harry briefly stepping out of the bar.  We are trapped in the bar, as are the residents, where they stagnate and have no linear motion.

O’Neill comes to The Iceman Cometh with an understanding of the human condition that is not present in his earlier plays where he advocates living in accordance with reality.  O’Neill writes in a letter to Lawrence Langer in August 1940 that, “there are moments in it that suddenly strip the secret soul of a man stark naked, not in cruelty or moral superiority, but with an understanding compassion which sees him as a victim of the ironies of life and of himself.  Those moments are for me the depth of tragedy, with nothing more that can possibly be said.”(xliv)  At this stripping of the secret soul of a man, O’Neill recognizes that still there is the pipe dream.  It is an essential component of the human spirit.  O’Neill wrote The Iceman Cometh “with a charity that was beyond pity and more like love of those whose souls stir in shadows.”(xlv)

The action of the surrounding world perhaps caused O’Neill’s compassion for the dreamers, and made him sympathize with those who seek refuge from reality.  O’Neill had been working on the Cycle plays, a series starting with A Touch of the Poet that was to chronicle the life of a family over three generations, and this occupied him through June, 1939, where at this point The Iceman Cometh took over his creative resources.  “The dreams that in the Cycle led a man toward action, out and into open warfare with his world, now changed, lost their power and became a form of memory as men turned weakly toward past illusions and huddled from the world.”(xlvi)  Outside World War II was being fought, and atrocities against fellow human beings perpetrated by Hitler was horrifying people the world-over.  O’Neill wrote in a letter to Lagner a true representation of the feelings that would cause him to seek a world apart from reality.  He wrote on the war “The whole business from 1918 to now has been so criminally, hoggishly stupid.  That is what sticks in one’s gorge, that man can never learn but must always be the same old God damned greedy, murderous, suicidal ass! I foresee a world in which any lover of liberty will continue to live with reluctance and be relieved to die.”(xlvii)  This disgust with the world around him led him directly to Harry Hope’s saloon where the dreams of yesterday and tomorrow reign.

O’Neill withheld The Iceman Cometh from production because “A New York audience could neither see nor hear it’s meaning.  The pity and tragedy of defensive pipe dreams would be deemed downright unpatriotic… but after the war is over, I am afraid… that American audiences will understand a lot of The Iceman Cometh only too well.”(xlviii)  This assertion came from O’Neill’s belief that “in bomb shelters, men do not behave very differently, perhaps from the way they behave in The Iceman Cometh.(xlix)  O’Neill himself already too well understood the desire to escape an unpleasant reality, such as war, and anticipated that the rest of America would soon feel the same.

Raleigh observes about O’Neill’s career, that “the ambiguities of truth and illusion, reality and appearance, were one of O’Neill’s major concerns; and its paradoxes appear again and again, often in different ways, in his plays as a whole from beginning to end.”(l)  Even though these themes recur again and again, his opinion of them changes as does his opinion on the world as a whole.  At the point of production of The Iceman Cometh, O’Neill wrote to Lagner that “we must live in that pipe dream – or die- (as I believe I’ve said in this play).  Love remains (one in a while); friendship remains (and that is rare, too). The rest is ashes in the Wind!  We have friendship, so what the hell.”(li)  This was not only a belief concerning the downtrodden in Harry Hope’s saloon, but a general belief for all of humanity.  The statement he makes in The Iceman Cometh is that without a doubt, man needs the sanctuary of pipe dreams to escape from reality.

Lazarus Laughed: Heralding the Messiah

In order to really understand the purpose of Hickey in The Iceman Cometh, and what is at the core of his psyche, we must first look at Lazarus from Lazarus Laughed.  Lazarus is the first messiah figure that we see, and O’Neill uses his character as a rough draft for Hickey, who will serve as messiah in The Iceman Cometh.  Lazarus, in Lazarus Laughed is a messianic figure who rises from the dead.  Lazarus is characterized as “an exile on earth, longing to possess eternal ecstasy once more but resigned to sharing the vision with his fellow man.”(lii) O’Neill does not to a good job in communicating exactly what Lazarus’s message is.  He is said to be a messiah figure, but when it comes to his actual preaching to the people, he seems to only be able to convert those who are not quite sane, or shortly after do in fact go insane.

From what I can tell, the message of Lazarus is that “Death is dead.” What this means is that Lazarus, after being dead for three days before being resurrected by Christ, did in fact go to an afterlife.  Because of this, he preaches that death is nothing to be afraid of, and is instead something to be looked forward to and embraced.

It is clear that Lazarus does not want to be on earth, but would rather be in the afterlife that he had enjoyed for three days.  His messianic mission is to convert people to death, much like Hickey’s mission is in The Iceman Cometh.  Lazarus literally is trying to convert people do death, while Hickey is only indirectly and unknowingly doing so, by killing their pipe dreams, thus sentencing them to a sort of death in life.

Lazarus is constantly telling people to laugh, and I believe that this is to mock the seriousness and solemnity surrounding death, that he wishes to dispel.  Lazarus’s followers decide to meet their death with a smile.  It is explained by Crassus, a Roman general, that “They did not wait for our attack.  They charged upon us, laughing! They tore our swords away from us, laughing and we laughed with them! They stabbed themselves, dancing as though it were a festival! They died, laughing, in one another’s arms!”(liii)  Now, one must reason that even if death is dead, and Lazarus is right, a follower would have to have lost his sanity to be dancing and laughing as they stab themselves with the Roman soldiers’ swords.  The followers do not seem like the average ordinary person who has been rationally and logically converted to a different way of thinking, but instead they seem like half-witted, completely crazed people, who have gone past what they were called to, which was lose the fear of death, but instead embrace it and hasten it’s arrival with all the excitement of a vulgar, Carnivalesque celebration.  This is going above and beyond what Lazarus, as a responsible messiah, would have called for.

Hickey, when he sees that his message is not being received well and is in fact leading to the absolute lack of will to live and despair, creates an out for them to continue living by.  He allows them to believe that he is crazy, so that they can take down his credibility in their own minds, thus enabling them to disregard the results of his great project.  Lazarus on the other hand, does not see the destruction that his message has brought about.  He sees the people joyously killing themselves, but does not seem to care.  He is instead proud of the fact that he has converted so many, and so many so completely.  He has little to no regard for the welfare of his followers.  It does not seem that he cares for them at all in the helpful and nurturing way that Hickey cares for his bar-dwelling friends and would-be converts.

Crassus, the Roman guard in Lazarus Laughed, after witnessing their mass suicides goes on to explain that the fight was taken out of the guards to see the people behave like this.  He tells Caligula that “We laughed, too, with joy because it seemed it was not they who died, but death itself they killed!… We left our swords with them!  What virtue in killing when there is no death? Your foe laughs.  The joke is on you… Now we want peace to laugh in – to laugh at war!”(liv)  In this way the message of Lazarus is received and has a positive result.  If Lazarus in the beginning was recalled to life to bring about more peace and understanding, then in this passage he has converted a few people, at least Crassus to this apathy towards fighting and war.

We are never specifically told why Lazarus is recalled to life by Christ, but it is clear that he has a mission.  Since we do not know what his mission is, we must say that Lazarus is a muddy messiah at best.  O’Neill, in a more developed messiah in Hickey has a message that becomes ever-more clear as the play progresses, and a play for converting his friends to what he believes to be freedom.  It is also clear that Hickey is undertaking the task of converting his friends out of love and concern for them.  We do not ever get the same sense of concern and love for his followers from Lazarus.

Lazarus Laughed presents a much less satisfying messiah figure than The Iceman Cometh.  In the transition between these two plays Eugene O’Neill makes the evolution from a messiah who does not have a clear mission and method to reach it to Hickey who is very adept at convincing his followers to his way of thinking.  The level of understanding of the followers is much deeper in The Iceman Cometh than in the precursor, Lazarus Laughed.  In Lazarus Laughed, his followers seem to be out of their minds when they choose to follow him.  It is not as if they make a rational decision to follow him brought about by logical argument or use of reason on the part of Lazarus.  Hickey on the other hand is very persuasive, like the salesman he is, and is able to persuade the bar-dwellers to try his way of thinking through the use of long, agonized, but well wrought arguments.  It is as if the followers have a better notion of what they are buying into, even though in reality they do not know the full extent of what they are getting themselves into when they agree to lose their pipe dreams.

It seems that Lazarus is the messiah prototype that Hickey is then a refined version of.  On the points that Lazarus was muddled, Hickey emerges with a clarity both frightening and breathtaking at the same time.  Hickey is the quintessential salesman, with unmatched charisma and persuasive power.  He has the power to convince his followers while still allowing them to retain their humanity, a point at which Lazarus fails, if he ever tried.

Hickey as Messiah

“In a letter to Macgowan, O’Neill offered some insight into the character of Theodore Hickman, the protagonist of The Iceman Cometh: ‘What you wonder about Hickey: No, I never knew him, He is the most imaginary character in the play. Of course I knew many salesmen in my time who were periodical drunks, but Hickey is not any of them.  He is all of them, and none of them.’” (lv)  Hickey encompasses such a broad range of people, but one thing remains common: he is a salesman, trying to sell to his audience.  The typical view of salesmen is that they are trying to sell people what they do not really need.  When it comes to Hickey and his message of salvation, it is unclear as to whether his type of enlightenment is needed by the inhabitants of the bar.  It is obvious that the “enlightenment” is not wanted by the bar crowd.  It takes long, grueling individual persuasive arguments for Hickey to convince each person to attempt to fulfill his pipe dream.  Hickey knows that they will inevitably fail, and therefore by making them try, he is pushing them towards a crushing failure.  But still he believes that facing this reality fraught with failure is better than living in a fantasy world with a pipe dream.

Lazarus Laughed also has a messianic figure.  The similarities start with each one preaching their message of salvation to their small microcosm.  Hickey is described as a “false god, a fraudelent savior, for he wanted to bring peace to his friends, but instead brought them despair and the smell of death.”(lvi) He is a messiah who instead of leading them to salvation comes close to bringing them to their destruction.  They undergo a death of spirit after the loss of their pipe dreams that Hickey must be held responsible for.  “In each play, the recipients of the message prove resistant to it, and when it is forced upon them, prove incapable of acting in accord with it. In each the messiah is set free to follow his own path to martyrdom by the murder of his wife.”(lvii)  Willie Oban, in a somewhat cryptic insight into Hickey, says “Would that Hickey or Death would come.”(lviii) It is meant to be an outcry for something, anything, different to break up the monotony of their day and their lives.  But using the two figures of Hickey and death as sort of interchangeable options brings home the fact that the pipe dream is somewhat life-sustaining, and without that illusion life becomes as dreary as death.

O’Neill wanted to make it clear to his audience that what Hickey was doing for his friends in liberating them form their pipe dreams was not something that was a humane act.  To make this clear, he created a first act where almost no action occurs.  He explains this in a letter to Macgowan, an editor who urged him to condense Act 1 for the sake of time and the lack of forward movement.  O’Neill explained that there was a need to establish “the complete picture of the group as it now is in the first part – the atmosphere of the place, the humor and friendship and human warmth and deep inner contentment at the bottom.” Without this “You would not feel the same sympathy and understanding for them or be so moved by what Hickey does to them.”(lix)  By saying this he is immediately setting up a scenario where people are happy and they are being acted upon in an unkind way, or at the very least in a way that is detrimental to them.  What Hickey believes that he is doing in his crusade to the bar-crowd is selling salvation which he believes is the destruction of the pipe dream.  In his role as messiah, Hickey “points out the dishonesty of the characters’ dreams, asserting that they poison people’s lives.  It is Hickey himself who carries the poison of reality that brings death to their dreams.”(lx)  Floyd does not refer to this enlightenment as the cure or elixir of salvation, but instead she refers to it as poison because, in essence, that is what it is.  This poison, although it would not kill the pipe dreamers, kills their spirit and their will to live.  The point that O’Neill drives home with this is that reality is a poison, and dreams are the link with life for these hopeless pipe dreamers.

Lazarus’s message is somewhat akin to Hickey’s in that he believes that people would be better off and happier if they could “see life as illusory, give over the dreams that haunt them like ghosts in the dark and acknowledge with clear eyes that they are part of life itself and can ask no higher good.”(lxi)  While Hickey also implores the inhabitants to give over the dreams that haunt them, he is asking them to give up their link with life.  Their pipe dream is what gives them purpose in life, and although it is illusory, it propels any feeling of self-worth that they can muster.  “Their dreams hold at least an illusion of life’s essence: movement in purposive action.”(lxii)  This is a basic truth about humanity, and when the dreamers give over the illusion that their lives have some sort of purpose, they are thrown into the depths of despair.  Hickey is surprised by this, because he actually believes that if a person is to face his life in complete honesty, all pipe dreams abandoned, he will feel renewed in this truth.

Hickey at first does not understand the deflated people that his friends have become.  In his mind they are free and should be grateful to him for liberating them.  He asks “Don’t you know you’re free now to be yourselves without having to feel remorse or guilt, or lie to yourselves about reforming tomorrow?  Can’t you see there is not tomorrow now? You’re rid of it forever! You’ve killed it! You don’t have to care a damn about anything anymore!”(lxiii)  This is precisely what is so terrible about losing the pipe dream; there is no tomorrow left, at least not one worth living for, and not caring about anything does not make one free, it just makes one hopeless.  But Hickey, ever the messiah, trying to lead them to his truth thinks that this does of reality should make it so they’ve “finally got the game of life licked, don’t you see that?”(lxiv)  But they have not won at the game of life, they have merely gotten closer to giving up, and in the game of life, giving up, and not playing is never considered winning.

In order to force his friends to face his pipe dreams, Hickey has had to use them to turn on each other so that they will be motivated by pride if nothing else to prove each other wrong when they express their doubt that they can actually fulfill their dream.  Hickey tells his friends that although he has had to use them to goad one another, he had to do it to free them from the guilt and remorse that make them “hide behind lousy pipe dreams about tomorrow… And I promise you, by the time this day is over I’ll have every one of you feeling the same way.”(lxv)  He has convinced each of them that this will be the day when they take up the pipe dreams and try to make them come true.  He is urging them to go after them and attain them.  But Hickey knows that they will not attain them.  Rocky, the Italian-American stereotypical bartender, when Harry faces his fear of venturing outside the bar and facing the world again after upwards of twenty years, predicts that Harry will turn back.  Hickey, in a tone that has more eagerness and anticipation than sympathy, informs him that “by tonight they’ll all be here again.  You dumbbell, that’s the whole point.”(lxvi)  This does not seem like a very understanding or merciful messiah.  He is not sending them out into the world to conquer the stagnation of their lives, but he is instead sending them out to meet their impending failure.  He knows that failure is eminent, and he is sounding the death knell for their precious dreams.

This hopelessness that letting go of their pipe dreams entails leaves them only waiting for death now that Hickey (their Messiah) has come and delivered his message.  So in this way Hickey is the messiah of death.  He comes to sever their ties to their pipe dreams, but in the process severs their ties with life.  When Hickey lets go of one pipe dream, that he will mend his ways and be a good deserving husband for poor Evelyn, he takes on another one, that he by killing her did the only humane thing he could, and that he did it purely out of love.  The members of Harry Hope’s bar do not want to adopt new pipe dreams; they have lost all hope, and would just like to have their old pipe dreams back so that they can get back to living as they used to.  In a way they hate him for what he has done in making them face reality.  When Hickey suggests that he must have been insane when he felt any sort of ill-will for Evelyn, Harry Hope asks eagerly, “and you’ve been crazy ever since?  Everything you’ve said and done here---.“  He wants to believe that their experiments leading them to lose their dreams do not really “count” because, after all, Hickey was just crazy.  Hickey sees what Harry is trying to do and starts to call him on it.  He says, “I see what you’re driving at, but I can’t let you get away with ---“ but then in a compassionate moment, where he realizes what their lives would be like without their dreams, he adds, “Yes, Harry, of course, I’ve been out of my mind ever since!  All the time I’ve been here! You saw I was insane, didn’t you?”(lxvii)  This gives the dreamers a way out and a way to keep believing their pipe dreams.

Hickey as Committed Pipe Dreamer

Hickey has deluded himself into thinking that he is the one person in Harry’s bar who has freed himself from his pipe dream.  He honestly believes that he has rid himself of the “damned lying pipe dream that’d been making me miserable.”(lxviii)  But Hickey has not in fact rid himself of anything; he has just traded one pipe dream in for another.

Initially Hickey’s pipe dream was that he could become someone who was worthy of his wife’s love and forgiveness.  Hickey would repeatedly go out and cheat on his wife, drink himself to oblivion and behave like a louse, and each time he would come back to her, once even with a sexually transmitted disease from one of “tarts” he had been with, and always looking like “something they threw out of the (detoxification) ward at Bellevue along with the garbage, something that ought to be dead and isn’t.”(lxix) Evelyn’s pipe dream, which is that her husband did not mean to be unfaithful, and that each time was the last, and that he would reform, is intrinsically tied into Hickey’s initial pipe dream.  His initial pipe dream is that he will become this virtuous husband, that each time will in fact be the last, but most importantly, he had deceived himself into believing that he actually wanted to reform.

When he “confronts” his pipe dream, this is what he confronts.  He realizes that “He longed, not for his home where Evelyn ‘kept everything so spotless and clean,’ but for Harry Hope’s saloon, where it is ‘peaceful… sitting around with the old gang, getting drunk, and forgetting love, joking and laughing and swapping lies.’” (lxx)  In short, he wanted to be free of the guilt that he felt associated with just being who he naturally is and following his true vicious instincts.  As far as him confronting his pipe dream about his wife, he realizes that he would have been better matched with any common gutter tramp he “could be himself with without being ashamed – someone he could tell a dirty joke to and she’d laugh.”(lxxi)  He confronts the reality that Evelyn is not what he is looking for in a wife.  She is ideal and perfect and pristine, but she is not a real companion for him.

Once he has confronted this pipe dream, what he does, he does to bring an end to both his dream and Evelyn’s.  He shoots her in her sleep so that she can finally find peace.  He believes that in doing this he is finally able to free her from ever having to let love win over disgust for him and her having to forgive him again.  At the same time he frees himself from needing to be forgiven and feeling guilty.  So for the first time he does not feel guilty and in need of forgiveness and this freedom is the kind of freedom that he is trying to bring to the other pipe dreamers.

What Hickey does not realize is that he is still holding onto a pipe dream of his own.  He is trying to believe that what he did to remedy his self-deception, the murder of his wife, was the best option; best for both of them.  He is holding onto the belief that he killed his wife out of love, and compassion for her.  He feels he did the humane thing by rescuing her from her pipe dream which was that each time Hickey philandered that it would be the last time, that he was really a good man who loved her and would not cheat on her except for the stress of his job.  Each time he cheated he would go to her for forgiveness, and each time she would give it to him and her faith that it would not happen again was still unshaken no matter how many times it did happen.  For him, “the only possible way to give her peace and free her from the misery of loving”(lxxii) him was to kill her, and even with that, he knew that she would forgive him, just as she had forgiven him for everything.

As Hickey comes to his last scene, he realizes that it is time to tell his friends everything, but he “ends up confessing more than he thought was there to confess… he builds up slowly to the story of how he came to kill his wife out of love.”(lxxiii)  He acknowledges that he came to hate her constant belief in him and her forgiveness, but he soon realizes that his hatred for her pipe dreams soon led him to hate “her for making (him) hate (himself) so much.”(lxxiv) Manheim comes to the conclusion that “He killed her because he hated her, pure and simple.”(lxxv)  I do not believe that it was this simple, but that he in fact only came to hate the goodness in her that made him confront the flaws in himself.

Hickey is forced to question his own motives though when he realizes that when he kills her he was thinking “Well, you know what you can do with your pipe dream now, you damned bitch!”(lxxvi)  For the first time this shocks him into the thought that perhaps he did not kill her for the purely selfless reasons that he had once believed.  That thought crosses his mind that it was not for her own good that he rid her of this pipe dream, but out of his own guilt and anger over never being the type of man that he should have been to her.  With this his whole plan with its selfless goal, to deliver them from their pipe dreams, is rocked to its foundation.  With this realization that there was some hostility towards his wife, and he did not kill her purely out of love as he once thought, he thinks that “If I did (say that) I’d gone insane! Why, I loved Evelyn better than anything in life”(lxxvii)  He starts to believe that perhaps his approach to reality is not the only logical solution; and it is possibly even insane.

In realizing this, he has in fact finally come to confront his pipe dreams, and abandon them.  He realizes that it is not an easy thing to let go of.  Once he is forced to give up on the notion that he killed her solely out of love for her, he has reached ground zero, and he is finally stripped of pipe dreams.  At this moment, he is a broken man.  He, like the rest of them without their pipe dreams, is just waiting for death.  He expects that the punishment for his crime of murder will be the electric chair, and I think that there is something in him that is looking forward to it.  Death will be his absolution, as well as all he is left with after “Hickey or death” has triumphed.  And, in the climax of his speech on freedom and reality, it is only then that he realizes the full weight of his message of embracing reality.

Larry Slade and Don Parritt, Don Parritt and Hickey:
Brothers Behind the Masks

From the beginning of the play, Larry Slade, Don Parritt and Hickey are all set up as characters a little bit different from the other characters.  Larry starts the play as the only one of the people not asleep.  He is awake and staring straight ahead.  This immediately sets him up as the one amongst them who is aware of the reality of the situation.  Hickey and Larry are the ones who recognize most accurately that everyone in Harry Hope’s bar is living a delusion.  While Hickey tries to change it, Larry’s attitude is why do that when it is all these men have left in life.  Larry right from the start has a monologue where he points out that the men who are in Harry’s saloon are there because they have virtually nothing else in their lives; nothing except a pervasive pipe dream.

O’Neill returns to Harry’s saloon, a place much like “Jimmy the Priest’s” the barroom where he spent much of his youth, but this time he is there “not as one who had recently passed from adolescence into manhood, but as a desolate man of sixty – as Larry Slade.”(lxxviii)  Larry Slade believes that his isn’t one to “fall for no pipe dream” He is instead convinced that his pipe dreams, which from what is hinted at but never stated seem to be dreams of faith and love, “are all dead and buried.” In his mind, his peace comes from looking ahead to “the comforting fact that death is a fine long sleep (and he is) tired and it can’t come too soon.”(lxxix)  He, like Hickey, believes that he has no pipe dream, but as Hickey does in the end, he realizes that he has been harboring a pipe dream long after he thought he was through with them.  His pipe dream is that he is not afraid to die.  He thinks that he is just eagerly waiting death, wanting to believe that it is just a fine long sleep.  This is his pipe dream in a nutshell; that he is not afraid to die.  By act III he has come to the realization that although he is “afraid to live”, he is “even more afraid to die.” Larry confronts Hickey when there is no one else left for him to convert, asking him “And now it’s my turn, I suppose?  What is it I’m to do to achieve this blessed peace of yours?” And Hickey just tells him that all he has to do is stop lying to himself, and “(He laughs with a sneering vindictive self loathing staring inward at himself with contempt and hatred.)” as he starts to realize that the reality is that he prays to God to “let me still clutch greedily to my yellow heart this sweet treasure, this jewel beyond price, the dirty, stinking bit of withered old flesh which is my beautiful little life!”(lxxx)  He says this in an effort to disprove what Hickey is trying to say, in a way mocking anyone who could possibly believe that he really feels that way.  While he is trying to prove him wrong, he actually proves his point for him.  He is afraid of death and would rather go on living even though he claims that there is nothing in life for him to hold onto anymore since he gave up love and “the movement.”

Larry and Hickey are both aware of the situation of those around him.  They both realize that the people in Harry Hope’s saloon are living in a pipe dream, but the way that they deal with it is quite different.  Hickey feels that Larry is showing them “the wrong kind of pity” in allowing them to exist happily in elusion of reality.  Unlike Hickey, though, Larry realizes that at heart, all of these men have accepted their failure.  They choose to keep their pipe dreams and support the pipe dreams of those around them to keep their last links with life.  Larry allows them to keep that, where Hickey seeks to confront them with reality and no longer allow them to hide in pipe dreams.  Larry gently reminds his friends of how their stories diverge from reality, but he spares them the humiliation that Hickey is determined to make them live through which is living out the hopelessness of their pipe dreams.  “Larry knows he need not elicit these all-out statements and gestures of despair because the men know all too well how true and inevitable they are.”(lxxxi)

Larry and Parritt have an established relationship that starts before the play begins.  Parritt’s mother is the woman whom Larry loved, and she is also the leader of the movement to which Larry has committed himself.  Larry has since left the movement and taken up residence in Harry’s bar, where Parritt comes to look for him.  It is unclear at first what Parritt’s reason for wanting to talk to Larry is, but as the play progresses, we begin to see that he is there to try to use Larry to justify and rationalize the end to the movement and the imprisonment of his mother.  By the end when he knows that he cannot rationalize his actions, he comes to Larry finally for absolution.

The similarities get more intense when we get to the relationship between Parritt and Hickey.  Right from the first time they meet, Hickey knows that there is something that links the two of them and sets them apart from the other people in the bar.  Hickey at first is said to regard him with puzzled interest, and remarks “Haven’t we met before some place,” all the while calling him brother. But then when he realizes that he does not actually know him, he says “But still I know damned well I recognized something about you. We’re members of the same lodge -- in some way.”(lxxxii)  Parritt is made uneasy by this observation and says that Hickey is nuts, but still does not like the way Hickey can size him up so easily.

Parritt’s story can be loosely paralleled to Hickey’s in that at one point Parritt loved and revered his mother, but wanted to be loved and approved of in return. Because of her involvement in the movement, her attention, love, and approval are withheld.  Hickey at one point certainly loved his wife, and although he was loved in return by Evelyn, because of his own self loathing for his actions in being a bad husband to her, he is not allowed to accept that love from her.  So, in a way, Parritt’s betrayal of his mother and Hickeys murder of his wife are punishments for the love that they never felt from their respective victims.  In this way they have each tried to seem themselves at the protagonists in their stories; Hickey freed Evelyn from her pipe dream, and Parritt patriotically turned in his mother’s anarchist movement, and at the same time both of them freed themselves from their lives without love.  But it is hard to see a murderer and a snitch as anything but the antagonist roles that they take on in our society.

Even though their crimes are arguably both unforgivable, there is an essential difference in the way that we receive both characters.  In O’Neill’s stage direction concerning Parritt, he is described as “unpleasant” and having “a shifting defiance and ingratiating in his light blue eyes and an irritating aggressiveness in his manner.”  Right from his introduction, he is set up as someone not trustworthy and not even likable.  Even Hickey who recognizes that there is a certain brotherhood between them, ends up disgusted with him.  With repulsion he tells Larry, “I wish you’d get rid of that bastard, Larry.  I can’t have him pretending there’s something in common between him and me. It’s what’s in your heart that counts.  There was love in my heart, not hate”(lxxxiii) as there was in Parritt’s heart when he betrayed his mother.  Hickey on the other hand, even with his crime of murder, and his tireless efforts to smother their pipe dreams thus severing their link with life, is always portrayed as someone who is intrinsically likable.  He has a charm and charisma that make it difficult if not impossible for people not to want to follow him.

Despite the fact that they seem to be such opposites in personality, Parritt and Hickey share an essential similarity between them in that they both progress through one pipe dream to another pipe dream and then finally to reality.  Hickey believes at first that he has freed himself from his pipe dream and has come to convert his friends to the freedom that he now enjoys.  In reality he is still living in a pipe dream in which he has convinced himself that he killed his wife solely out of love and compassion for her to free her from her pipe dream.  Parritt too goes through this same kind of intermediate pipe dream when he tells himself and Larry that he sold out his mother for patriotic reasons.  He says that it was his duty to his country to turn in his mother anarchist.  He then moves on to another pipe dream, which he again tries to convince himself and Larry of.  He afterward claims that he only sold her out for money; “just to get a few lousy dollars to blow on a whore.  No other reason, honest! There couldn’t possibly be any other reason.”(lxxxiv)  Parritt goes on at different points in the play about how his mother was not much of a mother to him, and how he was always second, if not further down the line, to the movement.  But when he makes this second pipe dream confession, he tells Larry that he still loves her, and that he never expected that she would be amongst the ones caught.

At the end when they have finally come to grips with their own respective realities, all they are left with is death.  Parritt has committed the unforgivable sin, and even confesses that he feels that he is “much guiltier than (Hickey)is. You know what I did is a much worse murder.  Because (Hickey’s wife) is dead and yet (Parritt’s mother) has to live.”(lxxxv)  He finally discards his last pipe dream and tells Larry, “I may as well confess Larry.  There’s no use lying any more. You know anyway.  I didn’t give a damn about the money. It was because I hated her.” Right after this enlightening moment Hickey himself has an enlightening moment; he realizes that instead of having “love in (his) heart, not hate,” he in fact did hate Evelyn.  He hated Evelyn’s pipe dreams and he hated her for making him hate himself.  His constant disappointment in his actions, as reflected in her eyes, made him hate himself, in addition to cutting himself off from the love that she felt for him.

Hickey and Parritt both end up in the same situation.  They have to confront death to be freed from the crimes they have committed.  Parritt is condemned to his suicide by Larry who urges him to “get the hell out of life… go up-” meaning jump from the fire escape of Harry Hope’s.  Hickey is put under arrest by the police for the murder of his wife.  He will face trial, and by his own words, he hopes for the chair.  Larry, solidifying his brotherhood with Hickey and Parritt, is also Hickey’s convert to death.  He says with “intense bitter sincerity,” “May that day (that he dies) come soon.  Be God, I ‘m the only real convert to death Hickey made here.  From the bottom of my coward’s heart I mean that now!”(lxxxvi)

So Hickey, the messiah of death, has made three real converts to whom he has brought the message of death, excluding his own wife to whom he was the actual herald of death.  Hickey, the iceman, and death are all synonymous.  Their brotherhood stems from their actual and final confrontation of reality, and extends to the result that it has brought death to them all.

Long Day’s Journey into Night: Where the Author Meets Himself

One of the last plays that O’Neill wrote was Long Day’s Journey into Night.  At this point in his life mid-1939, O’Neill was old and had been plagued by illness of all sorts.  In the months and years preceding his sitting down to write Long Day’s Journey into Night he developed a painful neuritis in his arm, suffered from melancholia, low blood pressure and anxiety, not to mention the tremor in his hands that had been present since childhood becoming more prominent.  With so many noteworthy plays already in O’Neill’s repertoire, and knowing that with the sensitive personal nature of the play he was about to write, it would have been easy for him to decide not to write the play.  But nevertheless, Long Day’s Journey into Night hammered its way out of O’Neill’s brain as the play that he had to write.  He was driven to write it as if by setting it on paper he could make peace with his family issues that had tormented him endlessly throughout his life.

Although touches of autobiography show up in most of O’Neill’s earlier works, they are usually masked behind characters that do not truly represent the people in O’Neill’s life who the characteristic correspond to.  At this point in his life he was ready to draw a portrait of his entire family at once, as opposed to the masked representations of them that bit by bit worked itself into his earlier plays.  Raleigh observes that “In Strange Interlude when Darrell meets Marsden and speculates why a man of Marsden’s intelligence and talent does not go deeper into the problems of human existence in his novels, he concludes that Marsden is ‘afraid he’ll meet himself somewhere.’”(lxxxvii)  I feel that this is why O’Neill did not approach his past so directly until late in his life because he was afraid he would meet himself somewhere.  At the end of his life, he was prepared to confront his ghosts, although the process was not an easy one for him at all.

His wife Carlotta, since she was his companion and trusted executor of his estate, observed and noted the changes in him as he wrote Long Day’s Journey into Night.  The night he decided that he had to write Long Day’s Journey into Night, he came to Carlotta upset and nervous, and as Carlotta herself recorded, “This night he told me he was going to write a play about his family.  It was a thing that haunted him.  He was bedeviled into writing it…. He had to get it out of his system, he had to forgive whatever it was that caused this tragedy between himself and his mother and father.”  His deep need to write this was as much for his own sanity as for anything else.  He needed to come to his own peace with these figures in his early life, and since they were now all dead, mother, father, and brother, the only way he could resolve the whole thing for himself was to write a play about it.  The play he wrote was a portrait that was at the same time frank yet compassionate.

He expressed a fear that goaded him into writing the play to Carlotta, telling her “I’ve got to write this. I’m afraid someone might find out about us one day and write something vulgar and melodramatic about it, even make a play out of it. But it was never vulgar! Even if my father was miserly, even if my mother used to take drugs whenever things got too much for her, even if my brother spent so much of his time in whorehouses.”  O’Neill wanted to be sure that he could give them a fair portrayal, and not make a tabloid story out of it.

Even though he was almost like a man possessed to write this play, the writing of it exhausted him both physically and emotionally.  Carlotta observed her husband “being tortured every day by his own writing, he would come out of his study at the end of the day gaunt and sometimes weeping.  His eyes would be all red and he looked ten years older than when he went in the morning.”(lxxxviii)  It is important that we look at the exhaustion and anguish that O’Neill goes through in writing this play because it is a testament to how close he was to the material.  It is this very closeness to the material that accounts for the considerable switch in his feelings towards pipe dreams in Long Day’s Journey into Night.  In this play, the sentiment expressed is that “human illusions cannot withstand the monstrous invasions of reality.”(lxxxix)  This is not the direction that O’Neill had been heading in culminating in The Iceman Cometh, where he openly comes to the conclusion that humans need the life sustaining pipe dream.  The characters in his play each seem like they would benefit both themselves and each other if they would take their dose of reality.

Old Demons Working Their Way into Earlier Plays

The issues that finally drove, or bedeviled as his wife put it, into writing Long Days Journey Into Night had been coming through in his characters for quite some time now.  Just as Lazarus serves as a predecessor for Hickey, from the cycle plays Touch of the Poet, and More Stately Mansions, Con is the character who closely resembles James Tyrone, and Deborah is the predecessor for Mary.  Within these characters from the cycle plays, O’Neill really starts to come to terms with his family issues.

The parallels between Con and Tyrone are many.  Both characters are Irish immigrants who in an effort to be accepted as gentlemen makes an effort to eliminate their Irish brogue and anything habitual that would give them away as of peasant origin.  Both men had made poor business decisions in the past, which led them to their miserly or poor state.  Each was proud of the womanizing he did in his youth, Con with whores and woman he met while serving in the army, and Tyrone with actresses that he met while on road tours.  Both drink heavily and both drink so that they do not have to see what their wasted lives have become in contrast to the promise that they once held, and also because they do not want to see what they have created of their wives.  As their careers both held promise, they both destroyed that promise through their respective weaknesses.  Con forfeited his career as an officer because of his affair with a noblewoman in Spain, having given into his weakness for women.  Tyrone likewise forfeited his brilliant career as a prominent Shakespearean actor for the lure of easy money, money and miserliness being his downfall.  This many similarities make Con as close a parallel for the actual James Tyrone as he had ever created in any of his previous character.

When looking at Con Melody, one must look at him through the eyes of his child, as O’Neill looked at his father.  Sara, Con’s daughter, more than anything wished that her father would just face his reality.  Both men find themselves in constant conflict with their children, and are criticized by the children for tormenting their mother and being stingy with their families.  Like Tyrone, Con is stingy with his family, but still pretending that he part of a class to which he does not really belong.  Con holds on to his dreams of aristocracy just as Tyrone holds on to his illusion of being a world-renowned actor.  Sara cries in desperation “Oh father, why can’t you ever be the thing you seem to be?”(xc)  In A Touch of the Poet O’Neill makes his father figure confront his illusions, and the results are disastrous for him.  He becomes a mere shell of the man he used to be.  Gone are his pride and any illusions he had of his status.

O’Neill also draws an initial mother figure in the character of Deborah Harford. In A Touch of the Poet, Deborah has the physical attributes Of O’Neill’s mother Mary.  They both have a “youthful figure, pale face with high cheekbones, thin nose, full lips brown eyes and long lashes” and their hair a “rare shade of reddish-brown.”(xci)  These and other similarities really come into focus as we see the Deborah of More Stately Mansions.  In this play Deborah becomes the real prototype for Mary of Long Day’s Journey into Night.  Physically they are described with the same characteristics; their once reddish brown hair has become white, and they both have enormous almost black eyes.  But the similarities are not so much in the physical, but more in who they both essentially are, and the circumstances of their lives.  They are both in unhappy marriages to alcoholic men, and are left unfulfilled.  Both women are extremely lonely, but it is a self-imposed isolation that they suffer in, Deborah in her daydreams, her hallucinations and near madness and Mary in her morphine addiction.  They both feel the need to retreat to an illusory world to escape the pain that they feel connected with their respective realities.

It seems that both women were carefully crafted from O’Neill’s own mixed perceptions of his mother.  “The two women are given the same dual personalities: the vain, chattering, girlish, harmless nature and the cynical, withdrawn, cruel, destructive self that morbidly rakes over the tragic embers of the past, the wrongs, imagined and actual, she has endured.”(xcii)  This dual perception of his mother has to do with the fact that her morphine addiction was kept secret from him until much later in his life when she tries to kill herself in morphine withdrawal.  Therefore he views his mother both as the vain girlish figure who talks about how she was once beautiful, as well as the mother with an addiction that further tore the family apart.  In light of this she must occupy two very different roles in O’Neill’s life.

The most prominent characteristic is the need that both of them had to find a refuge from reality.  What Mary does with morphine, Deborah does with daydreaming madness.  While it is important that they both need to escape reality, it is even more important that they both finally and seemingly permanently choose their refuge over reality.  Deborah chooses her madness and believes that she is actually the mistress of the king of France, living in the garden of Versailles.  Mary similarly chooses to maintain her morphine addiction, with no sign of permanent quitting in sight.  When they are forced to be in reality, they are miserable, but at the end of each play the characters in choosing embrace their pipe dream have also chosen happiness and contentment.  Sara asks Deborah if she is happy, to which she responds that she is.  Mary similarly in her last moments of the play seems to be in a dream state where she is brought back to happier time, and allowed to exist there for a time, thanks to the morphine.  The pipe dream equals safety and happiness for them, and is their ultimate choice at the end of each of the plays.

James Tyrone and His Dose of Reality

James Tyrone of Long Day’s Journey into Night most accurately represents James O’Neill, Eugene’s father.  James Tyrone, the patriarch in Long Day’s Journey into Night, is a graceful and elegant stage actor, who at one point had a promising career.  He is of Irish peasant descent, but has worked hard to eradicate any traces of a brogue so that he might fit into cultured society, and be considered a gentleman.

Tyrone has given up his career as a lauded Shakespearean actor because of the lure of easy money.  He had found a role in which he was popular, and consequently he stayed in the role in which he was playing to a sold out show every night.  Because of this, no matter what his real range is, he is pigeonholed into the role he played for so long.  Since it was lucrative, he sacrificed the rest of his career for money.  The first of his pipe dreams is that if he had not sold out for money he would have been one of the top actors in the country.  Since there is no way he could redo history, this is a safe pipe dream to have, as it can not be proven wrong.  Thus he is forever left with this shelter that if one decision had been different, he could be something that he as of now is not.

The choice of money over artistic integrity is just one manifestation of Tyrone’s intense fear of poverty.  He came from a poverty-stricken background, and lived in fear of ever being poor again; thus he lives his life as a penny-pinching miser who sacrifices the wellbeing of his family because it is too costly.  His sending his wife to an incompetent doctor rather than pay for a more expensive one is one of the leading causes of her addiction to morphine.  His pipe dream is that he did all he could, and sent her to a good doctor.  He is forced to give up his pipe dreams when Edmund (a thinly veiled Eugene) comes down with consumption and needs to be sent to a sanatorium.  His father is determined to send him to Hilltown Sanatorium, a cheaper state run institution.  Tyrone told the doctors treating Edmund that he “couldn’t afford any millionaire’s sanatorium because (he) was land poor.”  Edmund realizes that he cannot reason with his father that he has the land, so he appeals to his sense of gentlemanly pride.  He yells at him “But God Almighty, this last stunt of yours is too much… Not because of the rotten way you’re treating me… But to think that when it’s a question of your son having consumption, you can show yourself up before the whole town as such a stinking old tightwad! … The whole damned town will know! Jesus papa, haven’t you any pride or shame?”(xciii)  Tyrone responds angrily but “his guilty contrition greater than his anger” that Edmund can go “anywhere (he) likes.  I don’t give a damn what it costs.  All I care about is to have you get well.”(xciv)  He is in this moment, driven by pride and guilt, he is made to confront his life-lie, which is that he has to be frugal or else he would be left with nothing.  He realizes that his family is really the only group that he has been so cheap with.  He has flippantly made bad business deals with a man pulling real estate scams, and “all my life since I had anything I’ve thrown money over the bar to buy drinks for everyone in the house, or loaned money to sponges I knew would never pay it back – but of course that was in barrooms, when I was full of whiskey.  I can’t feel that way about it when I’m sober in my home.”  Although he has confronted the fact that he has been cheap with his family, he is still trying to convince himself that when he is at home, and when he is sober, he considers his family a foremost priority.

It is right at this moment that he also realizes that his miserliness has hurt not only his family, but everything in his life, including his career.  He says to Edmund “Maybe life overdid the lesson for me, and made a dollar worth too much, and the time came when that mistake ruined my career as a fine actor.”  But when he is finished remembering his mistake as an actor, he dismisses it all saying, “Well, no matter.  It’s a late day for regrets.”  He confronts his life lie, that his biggest fear is being poor, and realizes that he is really afraid of being a failure, which in his mind he is.  He longs to have mad a different decision with his life, saying angrily, “I’d be willing to have no home but the poorhouse in my old age if I could look back now on having been the fine artist I might have been.”(xcv)  He knows that all his money hoarding and tightwaddedness have not brought him success or even security.  This is his reality, and facing it means that he must also face that he has been neglectful of his family, making it even more clear to him that his wife’s morphine addiction, Jamie’s alcoholism, and Edmund’s suicide attempt, are all things that must at least be partially placed on his shoulders since he has shirked his responsibility as father, husband and provider.

For James Tyrone, confronting his pipe dreams and facing reality means that he must see all he was not.  He cannot face this, so in an effort to assuage his guilt, he makes Eugene’s health his top priority.  He must do this so that he can keep his pipe dream that he does all he can for his family.  With this, he is able to go back to drinking his whiskey and regard his family from a distance.  This is the comfortable life that they slip back into, but they are still each powerless to help one another, and therefore continue in misery, and despair.

Jamie’s Damnation to Reality

Jamie is doomed to never have a protective pipe dream.  He sees himself and those around him for what they are, and is therefor the most miserable of the character.  He is never spared by a flowery pipe dream of things being better than they actually are.  Jamie sees himself as a drunk, a bad brother and a bad son.  He sees his father for the “tightwad” that he is, spending his money on his own whims and not on his family.  He sees his mother as a “hophead” and has very little tolerance for her trouble with addiction to morphine.   His brother he resents, and he attributes his mother’s morphine addiction to him because she was put on morphine because of her pregnancy with him.  Jamie’s lack of shared pipe dream with his family makes him a sort of foul-tempered outcast from the family.

Jamie is the first one to realize when his mother has started using morphine again.  He looks at her and accusingly says, “Oh, for God’s sake, do you think you can fool me, Mama? I’m not blind… Take a look at your eyes in the mirror!”(xcvi)  When his father, Tyrone, accuses him of being insensitive to his mother’s problem and being without pity and decency, Jamie responds by saying “No pity?  I have all the pity on the world for her.  I understand what a hard game to beat she’s up against – which is more than you ever have!… I was merely putting bluntly what we all know and have to live with now again.”(xcvii)  Jamie does not allow himself to have any delusions about the fact that his mother has become a dope addict again, and he also sees how desperately the rest of them are trying to believe that it is not true.

When he calls his mother a “hophead” in front of Edmund, he receives a blow to the face from him.  He then goes on to explain that he “can’t forgive her – yet.  It meant so much (that she beat her addiction).  I’d begun to hope, if she’d beaten the game, I could, too.”(xcviii)

Jamie and his father are in constant conflict, which is brought out more and more as they indulge more and more in the alcoholism they share.  When Jamie finds out that his brother in fact does have consumption, and has to go to the sanatorium, he tells his father, “for God’s sake, pick out a good place and not some cheap dump!… don’t give Hardy (the doctor) your old over-the-hills-to-the-poorhouse song about taxes and mortgages.”(xcix)  He knows that his father is thrifty, to say the least, and tells him outright that in this case he has to let go of that instinct that cheaper is better, and do what is best for his ailing son.  When Edmund confronts him about being cheap, he does it in almost a gentle rebuke, trying to understand him at the same time, listening to his story explaining what made him that way.  Jamie is past all of this and is also past trying to shelter the truth, or even cushion it for him.  He is blunt and to the point and tells him, this time, for your son’s life, you have to not be cheap, and let go of “your Irish bog-trotter idea(s).”  He takes the reality for granted, and comes into conflict to try to change the actions that will follow, but it is hard for the actions to change when his father is still grappling with reality.

With his mother a dope addict, and he and his father constantly arguing, one would think that they only one Jamie would have left to bond with would be Edmund, his brother.  Jamie tells Edmund, while trying to keep him from having a drink because of his health, “maybe no one else gives a damn if you die, but I do.  My kid brother.  I love your guts, Kid.  Everything else is gone. You’re all I’ve got left.”(c)  He would like to think that this is the case, but when he faces the truth, he tells Edmund that he needs to “warn you – against me… I’ve been a rotten bad influence. And worst of it is, I did it on purpose.” This would seem hard to believe when just a little earlier and a little more sober, he was telling him how he is all that’s left of the family now.  He confesses to Edmund that he “did it on purpose to make a bum of you… Never wanted you to succeed and make me look even worse by comparison. Wanted you to fail.  Always jealous of you.  Mama’s baby, Papa’s pet!”  He did not want Edmund’s success to make him feel even worse about himself, so he tried to draw him in to make the same mistakes he did; he “Made (his) mistakes look good.  Made getting drunk romantic.  Made whores fascinating vampires instead of poor, stupid, diseased slobs they really are.  Made fun of work as a suckers game.”  He blames him partially for making him feel so bad about himself, and he even blames him for his mother’s morphine addiction.  He finally with displaced anger tells him “it was your being born that started Mama on dope.  I know that it’s not your fault, but all the same I can’t help hating your guts -!”(ci)  In this Jamie has confronted everything and realized that he really is alone in his family.  Jamie is left completely alone at the end of the play.  Because of his acceptance of reality and his family’s persistent denial of it, he is isolated from all of them, in a fog and misery all his own.  He cannot support their pipe dreams, and he has none for them to support, and therefor their relationship is relatively useless.

Mary and Merciful the Shelter in Pipe Dreams

While Jamie never has a pipe dream to hold onto, Mary never really has a reality that she lives in.  She chooses morphine as her way out of reality on a regular basis, but even before that, when she is not on morphine, she loses herself in her reminiscing of the past.  She tries to avoid the reality, not only of her own life, but of the lives of her children and husband.

Although she blames her husband, at least in part, for the fact that their family and their home have never quite felt right to her, telling him “it was never a home.  You’ve always preferred the Club or a barroom.  And for me it’s always been as lonely as a dirty room in a one-night stand hotel.”  Even with this acknowledgment of the flaws in her family, this truth brings her back to her pipe dream of yesterdays, immediately bringing it back to her life before she met James Tyrone.  She tells him “You forgot I know from experience what a home is like.  I gave one up to marry you – my father’s home.”(cii)  She makes it seem as though her life was ruined because she met Tyrone; before that she had the perfect family, the perfect home, and the perfect religious devotion.  At the same time that she blames Tyrone, she also makes excuses for him, telling her children that he cannot help the way he is, because that is the way he grew up.

She cannot face the realities of her children’s lives.  When she sees Jamie sinking further and further into depression, she takes it too lightly, teasingly asking “Good heavens, how down in the mouth you look, Jamie.  What’s the matter now… Oh I’d forgotten you’ve been working on the front hedge.  That accounts for your sinking into the dumps, doesn’t it?”(ciii)  No matter how much someone hates gardening, it is foolish to attribute his depression to yard work.  She cannot face the fact that Jamie is sinking lower and lower into depression and alcoholism, and for her it is easier to attribute it to something else, however ridiculous it is. In the same way she cannot face the fact that Edmund is sick.  She keeps saying over and over again how it is just a summer cold; nothing to worry about.  She continues to do this even well after he has told her that he has consumption and has to go to this sanatorium.  She is able to maintain these illusions for herself through using morphine.  She uses it to slip into a kind of daydream where she can believe that a depression comes from yard work and consumption is really just a summer cold.

When she thinks about the past, she idealizes it so much that it becomes a place where with the aid of morphine she can retreat and be happy once again.  She talks about her days in the Convent where she went to school with fond remembrance, becoming more and more remote as she does so.  She thinks about how ‘at the Convent I had so many friends.  Girls whose families lived in lovely homes.  I used to visit them and they’d visit me in my father’s home.”(civ)  When she is rebuked for withdrawing so much into the past, she answers Tyrone with a calm “How can I (stop)? The past is the present, isn’t’ it?  It’s the future too.  We all try to lie out of that but life won’t let us.”(cv)  The truth is that for her, the truth really is that the past is the present, and the future too.  There is no way out for her now or in the foreseeable future than to live in he past.

Another aspect of Mary is that she wants to be able to believe that her addiction is someone else’s fault.  She blames the doctors who prescribed it; she blames her husband for sending her to a “cheap quack.”  She blames Edmund for being born and starting her on morphine to begin with, and then later for causing her relapse into addiction because his being sick has caused her great stress.  She keeps telling herself that it is someone else’s fault, when it is really her own.

As she gets further and further into her morphine addiction, she becomes less and less coherent, as her drug induced stupor becomes her retreat from life, and shelter from reality.  She pushes away her family members more and more, physically pushing away Edmund from her embrace saying “No! You must not try to touch me.  You must not try to hold me.  It isn’t right when I am hoping to become a nun.”(cvi)  At this point she has completely lost any sort of touch she had with reality, and has gone off in a dream world.  She finds her old wedding gown in the attic and brings it downstairs reminiscing in the past of how she and Tyrone fell in love and got married, and how happy she was.  She knows something is missing, and realizes that it is her faith in God and religion.  She goes on, saying that she knew god and the Blessed Virgin would “see no harm ever came to me so long as I never lost my faith.”(cvii)  And she slips further and further away to the winter of her senior year, the last time she remembers having that kind of faith.  She remembers that “Then in the spring something happened to me.  Yes, I remember.  I fell in love with James Tyrone and was so happy for a time.”(cviii)  This is the way that Mary copes with her life.  She refuses to face realities, and needs to live in the shelter of her past when life was more what she wanted it to be.  She uses morphine as the agent to regress to a happier time and place, all the while detaching more and more from her current situation and her family members.

Mary sums up her existence in her own words when she looks outside and says “See how hazy it’s getting.  I can hardly see the shore.” Tyrone responds to this saying that we’re in for another night of fog, I’m afraid.”(cix)  Mary is in a place where she can no longer see the shore, meaning that she cannot see anything fixed in her life.  It is like she is floating without being able to see the people in her life or her own reality.  And Tyrone and the rest of the family know that they are in for another night of being separated by a sort of fog, behind which they cannot really see each other, much less understand each other.  It is Mary’s drug induced fog, and it is the fog of denial and life lies that each of them uses to get through life.  They exist in this fog, neither supporting each other, nor even fully able to see one another.

O’Neill’s Final Word on Pipe Dreams

Edmund says, of his family, and simultaneously of life, “Christ, you have to make allowances in this damned family or go nuts!”  This is Eugene O’Neill’s final statement on pipe dreams.  It is either make allowances, avoid reality, and cushion the truth, or lose your mind.  Generally, we can take Edmund to be the voice of Eugene O’Neill himself, and even if we can’t there is no doubt that he is the grounding center of the story.  He recognizes the flaws in his family members, and he also sees the life lies that they are operating under, but more like Larry Slade of the Iceman than like Hickey, he also recognizes the need for such pipe dreams.

Even though he does things like confront his father on his cheapness, and tries to get his mother to stop using morphine, he does it and then gives up in a sort of acceptance of the way they are.  He realizes that his father has a drinking problem, as does Jamie, but says to Tyrone, “Well what’s wrong with being drunk? It’s what we’re after isn’t it? Let’s not try to kid each other, Papa. Not tonight.  We know what we’re trying to forget. But let’s not talk about it.  It’s no use now.”(cx)  Edmund knows what is going on with his mother, and to deal with it, he figures drunkenness is an acceptable state, at least for tonight, the night that she slipped away from them again.  He does not understand his mother’s addiction, but realizes that “something in her does it deliberately – to get beyond our reach, to be rid of us, to forget we’re alive! It’s as if in spite of loving us she hated us!”(cxi)  He does not understand how she could make the decision, or even want to be so far removed from them as to shut them out in such a deliberate fog.  But there is a compassion and pity that he feels for her, that above all else, he is sorry that she feels like she has to push them away from her.

A definite statement that O’Neill is making in Long Day’s Journey into Night is that people do need their shelters from reality, and they need other people to share in their pipe dream.  He sees the need for escape from reality, even when he knows that sometimes living in reality would make everyone else’s life easier, and he also sees the hell that everyone has gone through, and gone through separately.

In the beginning of his career, with plays like Beyond the Horizon and The Great God Brown, he expressed the belief that you have to live in reality or suffer.  The people who do not live in conjunction with what they are supposed to be invariably are not better off than those who do are.  As his career progresses through the Cycle plays, A Touch of the Poet and More Stately Mansions, he realizes that sometimes people need their pipe dreams and their life lies to keep them from a truth that they do not want to face.  By the time he had written the Iceman Cometh and Long Day’s Journey into Night, he was certain that people need their pipe dream to survive.  As long as a person has a dream, whether it is realistic or not, it can link them with life.  In Long Day’s Journey into Night, there is the definite wish that Mary and Tyrone would face reality a little more because their avoidance of reality is hurting both Edmund and Jamie.  But, despite this, I think there is a sad understanding that Edmund/ Eugene has for why Mary and Tyrone do the things they do.  His closeness to the subject matter would have made it difficult for him to condone the life lies and delusions that the characters function under, as he knows first hand how living with those delusions was for the people around them.  He understands, at the point when he writes Long Day’s Journey into Night all too well how necessary the shared life lie is to happiness and contentment in general.


Bogard, Travis. Contour in Time: The plays of Eugene O’Neill. New York: Oxford University Press. 1988.

Bogard, Travis. “From the Silence of Tao House” Essays About Eugene & Carlotta O’Neill and the Tao House Plays. Danville: The Eugene O’Neill Foundation. 1993.

Cargill, Oscar, N. Bryllion Fagin, and William J. Fisher, eds. O’Neill and His Plays: Four Decades of Criticism. New York: New York University Press. 1961.

Engel, Edwin A. The Haunted Heroes of Eugene O’Neill. Cambridge: Harvard University Press. 1953.

Floyd, Virginia. The Plays of Eugene O’Neill: A New Assessment. New York: Frederick Ungar Publishing Co. 1985.

Manheim, Michael. Eugene O’Neill’s New Language of Kinship. Syracuse: Syracuse University Press. 1982.

Martine, James J. ed. Critical Essays on Eugene O’Neill. Boston: G.K. Hall & Co. 1984.

O’Neill, Eugene. Complete Plays 1913-1920. New York: Literary Classics of the United States. 1988.

O’Neill, Eugene. Complete Plays 1920-1931. New York: Literary Classics of the United States. 1988.

O’Neill, Eugene. Complete Plays 1932-1943. New York: Literary Classics of the United States. 1988.

Pfister, Joel. Staging Depth: Eugene O’Neill and the Politics of Psychological Discourse. Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press. 1995.

Raleigh, John Henry. The Plays of Eugene O’Neill. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press. 1965.

Raleigh, John Henry, ed. Twentieth Century Interpretations of The Iceman Cometh, A Collection of Critical Essays. Englewood Cliffs: Prentice Hall. 1968.

Sheaffer, Louis. O’Neill: Son and Artist. Boston: Little, Brown and Company. 1973.

Sheaffer, Louis. O’Neill: Son and Playwright. New York: AMS Press. 1968.

Shipley, Joseph T. The Art of Eugene O’Neill. Seattle: The Folcroft Press. 1928.

Vena, Gary. O’Neill’s The Iceman Cometh: Reconstructing the Premiere. Ann Arbor: UMI Research Press, 1988.

(i) Eugene O’Neill. The Great God Brown. Act IV Scene ii, Complete Plays 1920-1931 (New York: Literary Classics of the United States. 1988) 531.

(ii) O’Neill. The Iceman Cometh. Act I, Complete Plays 1932-1942 (New York: Literary Classics of the United States. 1988) 569.

(iii) Travis Bogard, Contour in Time: The plays of Eugene O’Neill (New York: Oxford University Press. 1988) 118.

(iv) Bogard, Contour in Time 125.

(v) Eugene O’Neill, Beyond the Horizon. Act I Scene ii Complete Plays 1913-1920 (New York: Literary Classics of the United States. 1988) 590.

(vi) Eugene O’Neill, Beyond the Horizon. Act III Scene i 648.

(vii) Eugene O’Neill, Beyond the Horizon. Act III Scene i 648.

(viii) Woollcott, Alexander. The New York Times. February 4, 1920. Reprinted in Bogard, Contour in Time 117.

(ix) Virginia Floyd, The Plays of Eugene O’Neill: A New Assessment (New York: Frederick Ungar Publishing Co. 1985) 141.

(x) Eugene O’Neill. The Great God Brown. Prologue 481.

(xi) Eugene O’Neill. The Great God Brown. Prologue 481.

(xii) Eugene O’Neill. The Great God Brown. Prologue 482.

(xiii) Eugene O’Neill. The Great God Brown. Prologue 483.

(xiv) Eugene O’Neill. The Great God Brown. Act I Scene I (stage directions) 484.

(xv) Eugene O’Neill. The Great God Brown. Act II Scene iii 512.

(xvi) Eugene O’Neill. The Great God Brown. Act III Scene i 517.

(xvii) Eugene O’Neill, A Touch of the Poet, Act I Scene i Complete Plays 1932-1943 (New York: Literary Classics of the United States. 1988) 185.

(xviii) Eugene O’Neill, A Touch of the Poet. Act I 186.

(xix) Floyd, 442.

(xx) Floyd, 443.

(xxi) Floyd, 446.

(xxii) Eugene O’Neill, A Touch of the Poet. Act I 205.

(xxiii) Eugene O’Neill, A Touch of the Poet. Act I 207.

(xxiv) Eugene O’Neill, A Touch of the Poet. Act III 237.

(xxv) Floyd, 451-452.

(xxvi) Floyd, 455.

(xxvii) Bogard, Contour in Time 398.

(xxviii) Eugene O’Neill, A Touch of the Poet. Act IV Scene i 278-279.

(xxix) Bogard, Contour in Time 398.

(xxx) Bogard, Contour in Time 400.

(xxxi) Floyd, 449.

(xxxii) Floyd, 467.

(xxxiii) Floyd, 462.

(xxxiv) Floyd, 474.

(xxxv) Eugene O’Neill, More Stately Mansions. Act IV Scene ii Complete Plays 1932-1943 (New York: Literary Classics of the United States. 1988) 547.

(xxxvi) Sheaffer.  P.450.

(xxxvii) Manheim. P.131.

(xxxviii) O’Neill, Eugene.

(xxxix) Engel, 280.

(xl) Sheaffer. P.502.

(xli) Sheaffer. P. 490.

(xlii) Bogard, Travis.  From the silence of Tao house. P. 119.

(xliii) Sheaffer. P 489.

(xliv) Bogard, Travis.  From the silence of Tao House. P. 113. 

(xlv) Bogard, Travis.  From the silence of Tao House. P. 122.

(xlvi) Bogard, Travis.  From the silence of Tao House. P. 126.

(xlvii) Bogard, Travis.  From the silence of Tao House. P. 122.

(xlviii) Bogard, Travis.  From the silence of Tao House. P. 122.

(xlix) Bogard, Travis.  From the silence of Tao House. P. 126.

(l) Raleigh. P.161.

(li) Floyd, Virginia.  P. 508.

(lii) Virginia Floyd, The Plays of Eugene O’Neill: A New Assessment (New York” Frederick Ungar Publishing Co., 1985) 323.

(liii) O’Neill. Lazarus Laughed.  Act II Scene ii. 583.

(liv) O’Neill. Lazarus Laughed.  Act II Scene ii 583.

(lv) Gary Vena, O’Neill’s The Iceman Cometh: Reconstructing the Premiere (Ann Arbor: UMI Research Press, 1988) 80.

(lvi) Sheaffer. P.498.

(lvii) Travis Bogard, Contour in Time The Plays of Eugene O’Neill (New York: Oxford University Press, 1988). 418.

(lviii) O’Neill.  The Iceman Cometh. Act I. 586.

(lix) Floyd, Virginia.  P 157.

(lx) Floyd, Virginia. P. 523.

(lxi)Travis Bogard, Contour in Time The Plays of Eugene O’Neill (New York: Oxford University Press, 1988)    419.

(lxii) Travis Bogard, Contour in Time The Plays of Eugene O’Neill (New York: Oxford University Press, 1988)    419.

(lxiii) O’Neill. The Iceman Cometh. Act IV Scene i. 689.

(lxiv) O’Neill. The Iceman Cometh. Act IV. 684.

(lxv) O’Neill, Eugene.

(lxvi) O’Neill, Eugene.

(lxvii) O’Neill. The Iceman Cometh. Act IV. 701-702.

(lxix) O’Neill.

(lxx) Engel.  P. 291.

(lxxi) O’Neill.  The Iceman Cometh. Act IV. 696.

(lxxii) O’Neill. The Iceman Cometh. Act IV. 700.

(lxxiii) Manheim, P. 154.

(lxxiv) O’Neill.

(lxxv) Manheim P. 154.

(lxxvi) O’Neill. The Iceman Cometh. Act IV. 700.

(lxxvii) O’Neill. The Iceman Cometh. Act IV. 701.

(lxxviii) Engel, 282.

(lxxix) O’Neill The Iceman Cometh. Act 1 scene 1, 570.

(lxxx) O’Neill The Iceman Cometh Act III scene 1, 675.

(lxxxi) Manheim, Michael. Critical Essays on Eugene O’Neill.  152.

(lxxxii) O’Neill. The Iceman Cometh Act 1 scene 1 p 612.

(lxxxiii) O’Neill The Iceman Cometh. Act IV scene 1. 691.

(lxxxiv) O’Neill The Iceman Cometh. Act III scene 1. 666.

(lxxxv) O’Neill The Iceman Cometh Act IV scene 1. 704.

(lxxxvi) O’Neill The Iceman Cometh Act IV scene 1. 710.

(lxxxvii) Raleigh. 169.

(lxxxviii) All of the above excerpts from Carlotta have been taken from where they are reprinted in Sheaffer 505.

(lxxxix) Raleigh. 154.

(xc) O’Neill. A Touch of the Poet. Act II scene 1. 228.

(xci) Floyd.  444.

(xcii) Floyd. 462.

(xciii) O’Neill. Long Day’s Journey into Night. 805.

(xciv) O’Neill. Long Day’s Journey into Night. 806.

(xcv) O’Neill. Long Day’s Journey into Night. 806.

(xcvi) O’Neill. Long Day’s Journey into Night. 750.

(xcvii) O’Neill. Long Day’s Journey into Night. 758.

(xcviii) O’Neill. Long Day’s Journey into Night. 818.

(xcix) O’Neill. Long Day’s Journey into Night. 760.

(c) O’Neill. Long Day’s Journey into Night. 814.

(ci) O’Neill. Long Day’s Journey into Night. 820.

(cii) O’Neill. Long Day’s Journey into Night. 756.

(ciii) O’Neill. Long Day’s Journey into Night. 748.

(civ) O’Neill. Long Day’s Journey into Night. 764.

(cv) O’Neill. Long Day’s Journey into Night. 765.

(cvi) O’Neill. Long Day’s Journey into Night. 826.

(cvii) O’Neill. Long Day’s Journey into Night. 828.

(cviii) O’Neill. Long Day’s Journey into Night. 828.

(cix) O’Neill. Long Day’s Journey into Night. 762.

(cx) O’Neill. Long Day’s Journey into Night. 796.

(cxi) O’Neill. Long Day’s Journey into Night. 801.



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