wears threadbare

Long Day's Journey into Night

Long Day's Journey into Night is a 1956 dramatic play in four acts by Eugene O'Neill, widely considered to be his masterwork. It won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 1957.


The action covers a fateful, heart-rending day from around 8:30 am to midnight, in August 1912 at the seaside Connecticut home of the Tyrones - the autobiographical representations of O'Neill himself, his older brother, and their parents at their home, Monte Cristo Cottage.

The theme of the play is addiction and the dysfunction of the family. All three males are alcoholic and Mary is addicted to morphine. They all constantly conceal, blame, resent, regret, accuse and deny in an escalating cycle of conflict with occasional desperate and half sincere attempts at affection, encouragement and consolation.


Dramatis personae

James Tyrone, Sr.: (65 yrs) Looks ten years younger and is about five feet eight but appears taller due to his military-like posture and bearing. He is broad shouldered and deep chested and remarkably good looking for his age with light brown eyes. His speech and movement are those of a classical actor with a studied technique, but he is unpretentious and not temperamental at all with "inclinations still close to his humble beginnings and Irish farmer forbears". His attire is somewhat threadbare and shabby. He wears his clothing to the limit of usefulness. He has been a healthy man his entire life and is free of hang ups and anxieties but has "streaks of sentimental melancholy and rare flashes of intuitive sensibility". He smokes cigars and dislikes being referred to as the 'Old Man" by his sons. Mary Cavan Tyrone: (54 yrs) The wife and mother of the family who lapses between self-delusion and the haze of her morphine addiction. She is medium height with a young graceful figure, a trifle plump with distinctly Irish facial features. She was once extremely pretty and is still striking. She wears no make-up and her hair is thick, white and perfectly coiffed and she has large, dark, almost black, eyes. She has a soft and attractive voice with a "touch of Irish lilt when she is merry". James, Jr. ("Jamie"): (33 yrs) The older son, has thinning hair, an aquiline nose and shows signs of premature disintegration. He has a habitual expression of cynicism. He resembles his father. "On the rare occasions when he smiles without sneering, his personality possesses the remnant of a humorous, romantic, irresponsible Irish charm – the beguiling ne'er-do-well, with a strain of the sentimentally poetic". He is attractive to women and popular with men. He is an actor like his father but has difficulty finding work due to a reputation for being irresponsible, alcoholic, and a lecher. His father and he argue a great deal about this. Edmund: (23 yrs) The younger and more intellectually and poetically inclined son, is thin and wiry, he looks like both his parents but more like his mother. He has her big dark eyes and hypersensitive mouth in a long narrow Irish face with dark brown hair and red highlights from the sun. Like his mother, he is extremely nervous. He is in bad health and his cheeks are sunken. Later he is diagnosed with tuberculosis. He is politically inclined with socialist leanings. He travelled the world by working in the merchant navy and may have caught tuberculosis while abroad. Cathleen: "The second girl", is the summer maid. She is a "buxom Irish peasant", in her early twenties with red cheeks, black hair and blue eyes. She is "amiable, ignorant, clumsy with a well-meaning stupidity".

The following characters are mentioned in the play but do not appear on stage. They are included for study purposes. Eugene Tyrone: A deceased son of the Tyrones who died of measles in infancy. Mary believes that he was infected by her son James who was seven at the time and had been told not to enter the infant's room but disobeyed. Bridget: a cook McGuire: A real estate agent who has advised Tyrone in the past. Shaughnessy: A tenant on a farm owned by Tyrone. Harker: A friend of Tyrone, "the Standard Oil millionaire", owns a neighboring farm to Shaughnessy with whom he gets into conflicts. Doctor Hardy: Tyrone's physician whom the other family members don't think much of. Captain Turner: The Tyrones' neighbor. Smythe: A garage assistant whom Tyrone hired as a chauffeur for Mary. Mary suspects he is intentionally damaging the car to provide work for the garage. The mistress: A woman with whom Tyrone had had an affair during his marriage, who had later sued him causing Mary to be shunned by her friends as someone with undesirable social connections. Mary's father: Died of consumption. Tyrone's parents and siblings: The family immigrated to the United States when Tyrone was 8 years old. Two years later the father abandoned the family and returned to Ireland where he died after ingesting rat poison. It was suspected suicide but Tyrone refuses to believe that. He had two older brothers and three sisters.

Act I

James Tyrone is an aging actor (65 yrs) who had bought a 'vehicle' play for himself and had established a reputation based on this one role with which he had toured for years. Although it had served him well financially, by the time of the opening of the play, his is resentful of the fact that he has become so identified with this character that it has severely limited his scope and opportunity as an actor. He is a wealthy man but his money is all tied up in property which he hangs on to in spite of progressive financial hardship. His dress and appearance are showing signs of his strained financial circumstances but he moves and speaks with the hallmark attributes of a classical actor of the declamatory tradition in spite of his shabby attire.

His wife Mary has recently returned from treatment for morphine addiction and has put on weight as a result. She is looking much healthier than the family has been accustomed to and they remark frequently on her improved appearance but she has the haggard facial features of a long-time addict. In common with many recovering addicts she is restless and anxious and suffers from insomnia, not made any easier by her husband and children's loud snoring. When Edmund, her younger son hears her moving around at night and entering the spare bedroom he becomes very alarmed, this being the room where his mother used to go to get 'high'. He questions her about it indirectly and she reassures him that she just went there to get away form her husband's snoring.

In addition to Mary's problems, the whole family is worried about Edmund's constant coughing and the fear that he might have tuberculosis has placed them all under additional stress. They are anxiously awaiting the diagnosis of his condition. Edmund is more concerned about the effect a positive diagnosis might have on his mother than for himself and the constant possibility of a relapse worries him sicker than he already is. Once again he indirectly speaks to his mother about her addiction and asks her to "promise not to worry yourself sick and to take care of yourself". "Of course I promise you", she protests but then adds "with a sad bitterness", "But I suppose you're remembering I've promised before on my word of honor".

Act II

Jamie and Edmund taunt each other about stealing their father's alcohol and watering it down so he won't notice. They speak about Mary's conduct. Jamie berates Edmund for leaving their mother unsupervised. Edmund berates Jamie for being suspicious but both are very anxious that their mother's morphine abuse may have recommenced. Jamie points out to Edmund that they had concealed their mother's addiction from him for ten years, when he was a child, and so his naiveté about the nature of the disease was understandable but deluded. They discuss the upcoming results of Edmund's tests for tuberculosis and Jamie tells Edmund to prepare for the worst.

Their mother appears and is distraught about Edmund's coughing which he tries to suppress so as not to alarm her, fearing anything that might trigger her to use. When Edmund accepts his mother's excuse that she had been upstairs so long because she had been "lying down", Jamie looks at them both contemptuously. Mary notices and starts becoming defensive and belligerent, berating Jamie for his cynicism and disrespect for his parents and pointing out (correctly) that the only reason he has survived as an actor is through his father's influence in the business.

Mary speaks of her frustration with their summer home, its impermanence and shabbiness, and her husband's indifference to his surroundings. With irony, she alludes to her believe that this air of detachment may be the very reason he has tolerated her addiction for so long. This frightens Edmund who is trying desperately to hang on to his belief in normality while faced with two emotionally horrific problems at once. Finally, unable to tolerate the way Jamie is looking at her, she asks him angrily why he is doing it. "You know!", he shoots back, and tells her to take a look at her glazed eyes in the mirror.

History of the play

Upon its completion in 1942, O'Neill had a sealed copy of the play placed in the document vault of publisher Random House, and instructed that it not be published until 25 years after his death. A formal contract to that effect was drawn up in 1945. However, O'Neill's third wife Carlotta Monterey transferred the rights of the play to Yale University, skirting the agreement. The copyright page of Yale editions of the play states the conditions of Carlotta's gift:

All royalties from the sale of the Yale editions of this book go to Yale University for the benefit of the Eugene O'Neill Collection, for the purchase of books in the field of drama, and for the establishment of Eugene O'Neill Scholarships in the Yale School of Drama.

The play was first published in 1956, three years after its author's death.

O'Neill presented the manuscript of the play to his wife Carlotta on their twelfth wedding anniversary in 1941, with a dedication that read:

For Carlotta, on our 12th Wedding Anniversary

Dearest: "I give you the original script of this play of old sorrow, written in tears and blood. A sadly inappropriate gift, it would seem, for a day celebrating happiness. But you will understand. I mean it as a tribute to your love and tenderness which gave me the faith in love that enabled me to face my death at last and write this play--write it with deep pity and understanding and forgiveness for all the four haunted Tyrones.

These twelve years, Beloved One, have been a Journey into Light--into love. You know my gratitude. And my love!


Tao House

July 22, 1941.'''


Premiere productions

In keeping with O’Neill’s wishes, Long Day's Journey Into Night was first performed by the Royal Dramatic Theatre in Stockholm, Sweden. During his lifetime, the Swedish people had embraced O’Neill’s work to a far greater extent than had any other nation, including his own. Thus, the play had its world premiere in Stockholm on February 2, 1956, in a production directed by Bengt Ekerot, with the cast of Lars Hanson (James Tyrone), Inga Tidblad (Mary Tyrone), Ulf Palme (James Tyrone, Jr.), Jarl Kulle (Edmund Tyrone) and Caterine Westerlund (Cathleen, the serving-maid or "second girl" as O'Neill's script dubs her). The premiere and production were very successful, and the directing and acting critically acclaimed.

The Broadway debut of Long Day's Journey Into Night took place at the Helen Hayes Theatre on November 7, 1956 (shortly after its American premiere at New Haven's Shubert Theatre). The production was directed by José Quintero, and its cast included Fredric March (James Tyrone), Florence Eldridge (Mary Tyrone), Jason Robards, Jr. (“Jamie” Tyrone), Bradford Dillman (Edmund), and Katharine Ross (Cathleen). The production won the Tony Award for Best Play and Best Actor in a Play (Fredric March), and the New York Drama Critics' Circle Award for Best Play of the season.

The play’s first production in the United Kingdom came in 1958, opening first in Edinburgh, Scotland and then moving to the Globe Theatre in London’s West End. It was directed again by Quintero, and the cast included Anthony Quayle (Tyrone), Gwen Ffrangcon-Davies (Mary), Ian Bannen (Jamie), Alan Bates (Edmund), and Etain O’Dell (Cathleen).

Other notable productions

Film adaptations


External links

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