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Eugene O’Neill’s Long Day’s Journey Into Night – I

Following upon his introduction to O’Neill in his first lecture, Dr. White examines the nature of O’Neill’s play and discusses both its elements and O’Neill’s approach from a number of angles. As an American with a Catholic sense but, in effect, without the Catholic faith, O’Neill’s essentially auto-biographical play reveals all the contradictions, conflicts, and essential despair characteristic of O’Neill’s personal life and his existence as an American. On the plus side, he knows renaissance drama and the “unities” – one setting, one action, one day’s time – are apparent in his work. At the same time, his play partakes of the inherent tragedy of American political and religious life. Hounded by the Faith, O’Neill spends his life running from it. In an interesting sideline, Dr. White discusses the famous American Catholic Dorothy Day and her understanding of O’Neill: “He portrayed more than any other what life with God is like.” Though he knew from memory, and could recite with energy and drama, Thompson’s Hound of Heaven, he never let God’s pursuit come to fruition. As always, Dr. White’s explication of this particular work of literature carries with it many insightful aphorisms gleaned from his sweeping and expansive knowledge of the panorama of American and Western literature as a whole. “Dead children haunt American drama”; O’Neill’s work, like so many other American productions, is full of people almost literally dying to go to confession; America, as revealed by her greatest artists, is a failed nation that compromised with materialism, as did many of the artists themselves. Still, the Catholic sense seeps through, such that, to cite just one example, O’Neill’s work is obsessed with the past, and in this respect is eminently traditional rather than modern or progressive.

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