• Eugene O'Neill (1888 - 1953)
• Category: American Literature
Born: October 16, 1888
New York City, New York,
Died: November 27, 1953
• Born October 16, 1888 in a hotel then situated at Broadway and Forty-
third Street in New York City, Eugene O'Neill was the son of James
O'Neill, one of America's most popular actors from the 1880s until World
War I. The first seven years of Eugene's life were spent travelling the
country with his father who had given up his career as a shakespearean
actor to tour in a less satisfying but highly profitable play called Monte
Cristo. Eugene's violent reaction to everything conventional in the theatre
may have been related to his intimate association with this play.
• O'Neill spent six years in a Catholic boarding school and three years in
the Betts Academy at Stamford, Connecticut. He attended Princeton for a
short time, but when he was suspended at the end of his freshman year, he
decided not to return. In 1909, he set out on a gold-prospecting voyage to
Honduras--only to be sent home six months later with a tropical fever.
During the period that followed, he spent time working as a stage
manager, an actor, a tramp, and a reporter. He also tended mules on a
cattle steamer and set out on several other voyages as a sailor. It was here
that he came in contact with the sailors, dock workers and outcasts that
would populate his plays, the kind of characters the American theatre had
heretofore passed over in silence. But this irregular life took its toll on the
young man, and in December 1912, he was forced to retire for six months
to a sanatorium for tubercular patients.
• It was during this time that O'Neill began to read not only the classic
dramatists, but also Ibsen, Wedekind and Strindberg--"especially
Strindberg" he would later confess. He then turned his hand to
playwriting, quickly churning out eleven one-act plays and two full-
lengths, not to mention a bit of poetry.
• Then, in 1916, O'Neill met at Provincetown, Massachusetts, the group
which was founding the Provincetown Players, including Susan Glaspell
and Robert Edmond Jones. Shortly thereafter, the group produced
O'Neill's one-act play Bound East for Cardiff in Mary Heaton Vorse's
Wharf Theatre at Provincetown. Other short pieces followed at the
playhouse on MacDougal Street, and soon O'Neill's plays became the
mainstay of this experimental group. It was a marriage made in Heaven.
O'Neill got a theatre company which would produce his plays, and the
company got a playwright who would--more than any other single author-
-provide it with the fuel to revolutionize the American Theatre.
• With the Broadway production of Beyond the Horizon in 1920, O'Neill
began a steady rise to fame. He received countless productions both in the
United States and abroad, and when the Provincetown players finally
collapsed, he became the Theatre Guild's leading playwright. But by the
time he received the Nobel Prize in 1936--a feat which no other American
playwright had been able to accomplish--his career had begun to fizzle.
• The new generation of critics--Francis Fergusson, Lionel Trilling, Eric
Bentley--began to subject O'Neill to a closer scrutiny than their
predecessors who had been satisfied simply to find an American playwright
of international stature. Pushed about by this critical storm, obscurity
began to settle in on the playwright, and it deepened more and more until
his death in 1953. Ironically, it was during these dark years that O'Neill's
real development began. Maturing in silence and motivated only by his
obsessive urge to write, he developed a profound artistic honesty which
would result in several genuine masterpieces of the modern theatre
including A Touch of the Poet (1935-1942), More Stately Mansions (1935-
1941), The Iceman Cometh (1939), A Long Day's Journey into Night (1939-
41) and A Moon for the Misbegotten (1943). Most of these were not
published or produced during O'Neill's lifetime.
• Then, in 1956, three years after the playwright's death, a successful revival
of The Iceman Cometh and the first Broadway production of A Long Day's
Journey into Night, returned Eugene O'Neill once again to his rightful place
at the forefront of American Drama. As George Jean Nathan noted, O'Neill
"singlehandedly waded through the dismal swamplands of American
drama, bleak, squashy, and oozing sticky goo, and alone and singlehanded
bore out the water lily that no American had found there before him."
Today, he is recognized not only as the first great American dramatist, but
as one of the great dramatists of all time.
• Marco Polo in Xanadu and New York
On this day in 1324 Marco Polo died in Venice. The
Travels of Marco Polo, dictated by Polo several years after
his return from decades in the land of Kublai Khan,
became an influential book in Renaissance Europe --
though some publishers were so dubious of the hyperbole
that they titled the book, "The Million Lies." The path to
Xanadu led to New York via Eugene O'Neill: his Marco
Millions opened on Broadway, this day in 1928.
• O'Neill's Long Day's Journey
On this day in 1941, on his twelfth wedding anniversary,
Eugene O'Neill presented the just-finished manuscript of
Long Day's Journey Into Night to his wife, Carlotta, with a
touching dedication. He later instructed his wife and his
publisher that the play could not be printed until 25 years
after his death, and not performed ever -- instructions
which Carlotta overrode almost as soon as she got the
• A Wife For Life (1913)
An older man searches to murder his wife's lover. The man's life is
saved by his wife's lover, but neither knows the other's identity. The
men go prospecting together, where the lover learns that the older man
has supposedly died and that the lover is now free to marry the older
man's wife. The older man becomes enraged but, after realizing that
his own drunkenness and brutality drove his wife away, keeps his
identity secret and lets the lover go.
• The Web (1913)
A hunted criminal attempts to save a prostitute and her infant child
from her savage pimp. The pimp exacts revenge by shooting the
criminal and leaving the prostitute to stand trial for the murder.
• Recklessness (1914)
When a sneering husband discovers that his wife loves his chauffeur,
he plans to have the chauffeur killed in a car accident. The chauffeur
and the man's wife were enjoying a noble love. The husband then must
suffer his wife's suicide after she learns of her lover's death.
• Abortion (1914)
At the moment of his greatest athletic success, a successful college
baseball player learns that a girl he impregnated died during an
abortion operation. He admits his guilt to the girl's sick brother and
then, with his classmates singing his praises outside, kills himself.
• Warnings (1914)
A poor wireless operator on a ship hides the fact that he is going deaf
to keep his job. When the ship begins to founder because he can't do
his job properly, he refuses rescue. When the rescue ship finally comes,
the wireless operator commits suicide.
• Fog (1914)
A symbolic play where a poet, businessman, and peasant woman
clutching her dead child share a boat while waiting to be rescued by an
ocean liner. They realize the ocean liner might hit an iceberg if it tries
to rescue them, so the Poet prevents anyone from calling out. The
ocean liner is guided through the danger safely by the mysterious
crying of the dead child. When they are at last about to be rescued, the
peasant woman dies.
• Thirst (1914)
A Mulatto sailor, a dancer and a gentleman try to survive the scorching
sun while in a raft floating in the middle of the ocean. The dancer goes
mad, the gentleman wages a futile fight against the elements and the
sailor finds contentment by accepting the harsh conditions. Near the
end, the gentleman attacks the sailor and both fall overboard and
• Servitude (1914)
A playwright's play about an emancipated woman inspires a woman to
leave her husband and seek out the playwright. The woman then tries
to make the playwright see that his own wife is kept subservient, but
the playwright explains that marital happiness is based precisely on
this sort of bondage. A thinly veiled commentary on Ibsen and his
plays of 'female emancipation.'
• Bread and Butter (1914)
A young artist is forced by his fiancee and his family to renounce his
unconventional artist's life in Greenwich Village to settle down in his
hometown. His wife drives him mad and, after she refuses him a
divorce, he strangles her. Right before he is about to squeeze the last
breath out of her, he runs upstairs and shoots himself.
• Bound East for Cardiff (1914)
One man aboard a cramped ship with a group of crude sailors suffers
damage to his lungs and waits to die. His wait for death profoundly
affects the other crew members in a variety of ways.
• The Long Voyage Home (1914)
A sailor tries to stop drinking aboard ship so he can return safely home.
Though the debauched crew initially support his resolve, they soon
reject him. He is then robbed and taken aboard a jinxed ship.
• The Sniper (1915)
A Belgian peasant whose family has been killed by the invading
German army becomes a sniper to avenge their deaths. Written while
O'Neill attended George Pierce Baker's playwriting class at Harvard.
• The Personal Equation (1915)
A son of a ship's engineer agrees to wreck his father's ship for a radical
socialist worker's organization. The father is forced to shoot his son in
the head to save the ship, which leaves the son brain damaged. Written
while O'Neill attended George Pierce Baker's playwriting class at
• Now I Ask You (1915)
A young girl enchanted by the latest intellectual fad of free love
'involves' herself and her husband with an artist and his wife. The
emotional turmoil that results from the various betrayals drives the
young girl to a humorous fake suicide. Written while O'Neill attended
George Pierce Baker's playwriting class at Harvard.
• Before Breakfast (1916)
A monologue where an alcoholic shrew rails against her husband for
his drinking, his failed literary aspirations, his adultery and how he
maligns her character in letters to his mistress. The constant harangue
eventually leads the husband to slit his throat.
• In the Zone (1916)
A young man, fleeing troubles on land, ships out with a crew who soon
thinks he is a spy as they near U-Boat infested waters. The crew is
suspicious because of a mysterious black box the young man carries,
which contains the love letters of the girl who rejected him.
• The Moon of the Caribees (1917)
An atmospheric dramatic poem about a group of sailors who listen to
the melancholy chanting of a black man while they wait for women to
bring booze aboard their ship. At first, they discuss the chanting and
then become annoyed and try to drown it out. Once the booze arrives,
their revelry does drown out the chanting, but the party soon becomes
violent and one man dies. In the aftermath, the chanting resumes.
• Ile (1917)
A frail woman accompanies her husband, a hardy ship captain, on his
whaling expedition. Her illusions about sea life and her husband are
shattered by the harsh conditions aboard the ship during winter. She
pleads with him to return home and, just when he is about to relent, the
crews spots a pod of whales . The ship captain chooses to chase the
whales and his wife goes mad.
• Tomorrow (1917)
A former newspaper correspondent hopes to return to his job in South
Africa with the help of a friend. When the newspaper man gets the job
but finds he can no longer write, he returns to the saloon where he lives
and throws himself out his window. An early sketch of a character
found in The Iceman Cometh.
• The Dreamy Kid (1918)
A gangster must visit his grandmother before she dies to avoid the
curse that will befall him if he doesn't. The ensuing visit only leads to
the police, gunfire and tragedy for all.
• The Rope (1918)
A New England farmer entices his no-good son to come home with the
promise of a rich inheritance. Once home, the son discovers that his
true inheritance is a noose with which to hang himself.
• Beyond the Horizon (1918)
A poet ,who lives in dreams and longs to go to sea, and his more
practical minded brother vie for the affections of a young girl. The
practical minded brother goes to sea after his dreamer brother marries
the girl, but their marriage deteriorates and leads to the poet's death.
• The Emperor Jones (1920)
A play that mixes expressionism and realism to tell the story of a black
fugitive who became a jungle 'emperor' and who now faces the collapse
of his 'kingdom.' He flees into the jungle to survive where encounters
the sins of his past. He at last meets a witchdoctor and he realizes he
must sacrifice himself to the witch doctor's primitive god.
• Gold (1920)
A treasure hunting expedition discovers a Mayan treasure, but when the
discovery's value is doubted by some members of the expedition, several
tragic turns lead to the death of several members of the party and the loss
of the treasure.
• Diff'rent (1920)
A play laden with Freudian overtones about a New England woman who
insists on her fiancee's sexual purity. She mysteriously sends him away,
but he maintains his purity for 30 years out of devotion until he kills
• The First Man (1920)
An anthropologist and his wife experience marital discord over their
differing paths they use to seek the origin of man: his path is the Missing
Link and hers is bearing children. He views his wife's pregnancy as an
act of treachery and, when she dies in childbirth, he becomes mad and
leaves for Tibet without every seeing or acknowledging his child.
• Anna Christie (1920)
A Swedish coal barge captain reunites with his prostitute daughter in a
dive bar where they at last resolve their mutual antipathy for the sea and
for each other in an uncharacteristic happy ending.
• The Fountain (1921)
An expressionistic tale about Spanish conquistadors in search of the
fountain of youth. A materialistic man searches for the fountain because of
love, but his own vision of the fountain is tested during his travels through
the jungle. Just as he is about to die, the materialistic conquistador sees that
his own love is reborn in his nephew who loves the daughter of the man's
• The Hairy Ape (1921)
A ship's stoker, secure in the bestial power he wields over the men in a
ship's bowels, becomes aware of the contempt the bourgeois hold for his
bestial nature during a visit by an angelic middle class girl. He runs
through New York City looking for the acceptance and security he had in a
ship's engine room, but only finds his death in the cage of an ape at the zoo.
• The Welded (1922)
A realistic play which uses various stage devices to depict the internal
reality of a playwright and his actress wife whose marriage is strained by
the demands of their separate careers. The playwright demands a total
spiritual union and surrender and, when the actress refuses these demands,
they both turn to infidelity. The couple at last come to accept the dual
nature of marriage: the torment of possession and joy of communion.
• All God's Chillun Got Wings (1923)
A white girl and black man marry and suffer the criticism of both blacks
and whites. They flee to France where they find acceptance, but, feeling
he must be able to live anywhere, the husband decides to return to
America. The wife becomes insane, but she finally accepts her husband's
true affection now that her madness has numbed her to the external world.
To atone, her husband devotes himself to caring for his mad wife and they
oddly enough find a stronger, more intimate connection to one another.
• The Rime of the Ancient Mariner (1923)
A telling of Coleridge's Rime of the Ancient Mariner with expressionist
elements such as a masked chorus who mimes and the use of the screens.
• Desire Under the Elms (1924)
An old farmer brings home a young wife who he hopes will bear him a
son to inherit the farm. The farmer's son from his previous marriage longs
for his dead mother and wishes to avenge the harsh treatment she received
from the farmer that led to her death. The young wife has a son, but falls
in love with the farmer's first son who feels the new wife has cheated him
out of his inheritance with the birth of her son. As a sign of devotion to
him, she kills her own son and they both accept blame before the law.
• Marco Millions (1925)
Marco Polo, depicted as a failed poetic dreamer, travels to China where he is
welcomed by the Khan and falls in love with his beautiful daughter who
briefly reawakens his soul. When she dies, the Khan advises Marco to find
his soul. Marco refuses, insisting on his simple unreflective existence in the
material world. Marco returns to Venice where he buries himself in a
materialistic world of food, luxury and money.
• The Great God Brown (1925)
An innovative use of masks tells the story of a successful architect, who is
secretly a wounded fragile being, a good natured business man and a
desirable young woman who both men love. The woman marries the
architect, or at least the cynical mask he wears, and she recoils from him
when he reveals his true fragile nature. The architect dies and wills his mask
to the businessman who wears it, allowing him enjoy a warm relationship
with the young. Unfortunately, the real man behind the mask begins to fade
• Lazarus Laughed (1926)
Lazarus, the first man brought back from the dead, tells the curious masses
that there is only God's Eternal laughter. When the Jews, Romans and Greeks
try his faith, Lazarus simply continues to laugh, even as he is being burned at
• Strange Interlude (1926)
Long expressionist play about a woman who tries to control her father , her
husband and her lover by various means to compensate for the dead aviator
that she once loved. Her attempts to indulge her mothering instinct are
repeatedly frustrated, first when she attempts to take care of her father and then
later when she can't have a child with her husband because his family's history
of insanity. Finally, she has a child with her lover. The play is widely known
for its 5 hour length and its use of expressionist techniques such as masks,
asides and an onstage chorus that delivers the internal thoughts of each
• Dynamo (1928)
A young man, torn between the rigid Calvinist priesthood and a life of
business, searches for something that will connect him to an elemental life
force. He finds this in electricity and begins worshiping the dynamos, the
generators, at his work. A poetic young woman momentarily distracts him
from his new found religion, and, as an atonement for his infidelity to his god,
he shoots her and immolates himself on a generator.
• Mourning Become Electra (1931)
A retelling of the Orestes-Electra Greek legend set in Civil War New England
where Fate is replaced by the determinism of modern Freudian psychology.
• Days Without End (1931)
A man who lost his Catholic faith his parents died many years before,
tells his sick wife and a preist the outline of his autobiographical novel.
Through his story, the man's wife learns of her husband's infidelity and
goes out in the cold to catch pneumonia as her character in the novel did.
The husband at last quells his religious doubts and makes a leap of faith.
• The Cycle: A Tale of Possessors, Self-dispossessed (1932 - unfinished)
A series of 11 plays O'Neill had planned which would chronicle 175
years of an American family to the turn of the century. O'Neill completed
only one play and nearly finished another before his death.
• Ah Wilderness! (1933)
A nostalgic comedy involving a turn of the century New England family
and their rebellious son who worries them. The rebellious son is in love
with a neighbor girl, but when she spurns him, he drinks and visits a
prostitute to spite her. While his parents think this is a calamity, the
young couple manage to reconcile on a beach where the son becomes
himself again. This image of young love reminds the parents of the
beginnings of their own romance.
• Iceman Cometh (1939)
A group of spiritually bankrupt drunken derelicts are shaken when a
former friend returns to the flop house cleaned up and advises them to
give up their pipe dreams. They later find out that their cleaned up
friend is a fake and a murderer.
• Long Day's Journey into Night (1941)
Autobiographical play about a sickly artistic son and his disintegrating
family - his father, a failed actor, his mother, addicted to morphine and
religion, and his dissolute older brother who the artistic son idolizes.
• Hughie (1941)
An older man tells the night clerk of a hotel how he misses the old
night clerk who recently died. Realizing that his relationship with the
dead night clerk was the only true relationship in his life, the older man
buys an expensive floral arrangement to give his friend a big send off
at the funeral. The older man now realizes he has nothing left. The
night clerk is profoundly touched by the older man's desolate grief and
both man come to realize that sharing a vision with another human
being is the only way to make sense of life.
• A Touch of a Poet (1942)
Fifth play in the Cycle about a drunken tavern owner who lives in his
past military achievements, his fiercely devoted wife, and his daughter
who despises him, but possesses the same pride that led to her father's
downfall. The father disdains the newly wealthy Yankees and the
working class, who both look down upon him. He is surprised when
his young daughter falls in love with the a wealthy Yankee who has
• A Moon for the Misbegotten (1943)
An isolated young man finds both a whore and maternal love in the
shape of a fat, boisterous prostitute who develops a bizarre affection
for the boy. But this connection only lasts during the night and
disappears with the dawn.
• The Last Will and Testament of an Extremely Distinguished Dog
An essay about the death of his beloved dog which reminds one of the
"joy and happiness only a loving and loyal dog can provide."
Biographies/Studies of Eugene
• The Banished Prince: Time, Memory, and Ritual in the Late Plays of
• Bibliography of the Works of Eugene O'Neill With Collected Poems by
• The Cambridge Companion to Eugene O'Neill
• Conversations With Eugene O'Neill
• Critical Approaches to O'Neill
• The Critical Response to Eugene O'Neill
• Down the Nights and Down the Days: Eugene O'Neill's Catholic
• The Dramatic Art of Eugene O'Neill
• Eugene O'Neill (Bloom's Major Dramatist)
• Eugene O'Neill (Modern Critical Views)
• Eugene O'Neill and His Eleven-Play Cycle: 'A Tale of Possessors Self-
• Eugene O'Neill and the Emergence of American Drama
Biographies/Studies of Eugene
• Eugene O'Neill and the Tragic
• Eugene O'Neill at Tao House
• Eugene O'Neill at Work: Newly
Released Ideas for Plays
• The Eugene O'Neill Companion
• Eugene O'Neill: Dancing With
• Eugene O'Neill in China
• Eugene O'Neill in Ireland
• Eugene O'Neill: Life, Work,
• Eugene O'Neill's Century
1"Blow, blow, thou winter wind." 13My eyes are red, my lips are blue
2 Away from here, 14 My ears frost bitt'n;
3And I shall greet thy passing breath 15Thy numbing kiss doth e'en extend
4 Without a tear. 16 Thro' my mitten.
5I do not love thy snow and sleet 17I am cold, no matter how I warm
6 Or icy flows; 18 Or clothe me;
7When I must jump or stamp to warm 19O Winter, greater bards have sung
8 My freezing toes. 20 I loathe thee!
9For why should I be happy or
1] A quotation from Shakespeare's As You Like
10 E'en be merry, It, II.7:
11In weather only fitted for 12] On April 21, 1908, Dr. Frederick A Cook
12 Cook or Peary. (1865-1940) and on April 6, 1909, Robert E.
Peary (1856-1920) arrived at the North Pole.
"It's Great When You Get In"
1They told me the water was lovely, 25I felt like a frozen mummy
2 That I ought to go for a swim, 26 In an icy winding sheet.
3The air was maybe a trifle cool, 27It took me over an hour
4 "You won't mind it when you get in" 28 To calm my chattering teeth.
5So I journeyed cheerfully beach-ward, 29And I sympathized with Peary,
6 And nobody put me wise, 30 I wept for Amundsen's woes,
7But everyone boosted my courage 31As I tried to awaken some life in
8 With an earful of jovial lies. 32 My still unconscious toes.
9The Sound looked cold and clammy, 33So be warned by my example
10 The water seemed chilly and gray, 34 And shun the flowing sea,
11But I hastened into my bathing suit 35When the chill winds of September
12 And floundered into the spray. 36 Blow sad and drearily.
13Believe me, the moment I touched it 37Heed not the tempters' chatter
14 I realized then and there, 38 Pass them the skeptics' grin
15That the fretful sea was not meant for me 39For the greatest bull that a boob can pull
16 But fixed for a polar bear. 40 Is "It's great when you get in."
17I didn't swim for distance Notes
18 I didn't do the crawl, 29] Peary: Robert Edwin Peary (1856-1920), Arctic
19(They asked why I failed to reach the raft, explorer.
20 And I told them to hire a hall.) 30] Amundsen: Roald Amundsen (1872-1928),
21But I girded my icy garments Norwegian polar explorer.
22 Round my quaking limbs so blue, 39] bull: nonsense, lying brag.
23And I beat it back to the bath house
24 To warm up for an age or two.
• Man is born broken. He lives by mending. The grace of God is glue.
- Great God Brown
• Love is a word--a shameless ragged ghost of a word--begging at all
doors for life at any price!
- Great God Brown
• How naive age makes one
- The Hairy Ape
• Yank: Sure! Lock me up! Put me in a cage! Dat's de on'y answer yuh
know. G'wan, lock me up! Policeman: What you been doin'? Yank:
Enough to gimme life for! I was born, see.
- The Hairy Ape
• You become such a coward you'll grab at any lousy excuse to get out
of killing your pipe dreams. And yet, as I've told you over and over, it's
exactly those damned tomorrow dreams which keep you from making
peace with yourself.
- Iceman Cometh
• If I had any nerves, I'd have a nervous breakdown.
- Iceman Cometh
• Contentment is a warm sty for the eaters and the sleepers.
- Marco's Millions