“All happy families are alike;each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” is a famous Tolstoy quote thatcomes to mind when reading (or seeing) Eugene O’Neill’s play Long Day’s Journeyinto Night. The Tyrones suffer intensely from the vague, nameless guiltassociated with their lost ideals and the family dynamic is unique to them.
O’Neill “isthe elegist of the Freudian “family romance,” of the domestic tragedy of which weall die daily, a little bit at a time”. (Bloom, 5) The atmosphere of the play isdepressing from the beginning and will become more and more suffocating as theaction evolves. The Tyrones are on vacation between seasons and spend their summerin a house built by them with great “sacrifices” and savings becauseof the fear of the elderly asylum of “some” of the house’s men. Thetension is visible because none of the family members rested the night beforeour intrusion into their lives.
The fog lamp that ‘accompanies’ the light ofthe oceanfront lighthouse sounded all night, covering even Tyrone’s snoring. Thesound of the siren is nothing but the alarm signal for both Mary and the men inthe house that something important will happen. It is a sinister sound, ascream of horror. Mary, barely returning from the detoxification clinic, hasresumed the old habit of “haunting” the cameras in search of peace.The men realize, one by one, through the conversation with Mary, thedetached shimmering of her eyes, her nervousness that the inevitable happenedand that they lost her again. This is the moment when all the characters,including Mary, live a lot of disillusionment and feel betrayed and guilty. Inthe meantime, Mary finds the reasons for her weakness: the loneliness anddistrust of others around her, which she feels constantly watching.
Thispresumption of guilt pushes her and actually leads her to the fall. Everyone inthe house is, however, guilty towards Mary – James for the endless tours ofhotels with insidious and depressing rooms, for the stinginess manifested onmany occasions, the worst being an incompetent doctor to treat the pain causedby the birth of Edmund and prescribing morphine to the sick. Mary’s emotionalinstability and dependence on “happiness” is largely due to Jamie. Hewas the reason why little Eugen, just two years, died. Although he was sick ofmeasles and had been warned not to enter the small room, Jamie entered hisbrother’s room, causing his death after two weeks of suffering. There wasperhaps, since then an evil desire in Jamie to do harm to his brothers.
Eugen’sdeath had a strong impact on Mary. Mary loved Edmund, but he was hated to thesame extent. This contradictory reporting to the third son is also found inJamie. Even if she loved her baby, Mary could not forget that because of him shehad pains for which morphine was recommended. Little by little, the”fog” falls over the present and allows Mary to make more and morefrequent stops in her past, to remember the youth, the emotions of the firstencounter with James, the temptation to be a nun. The fog is a symbol andoccasion of concealment, a screen, and everybody in the house uses it – thosemasks they confuse for real faces, deceiving, first of all, themselves, andthen those around them. These masks will fall one at a time and reinstallthemselves on their faces because people do not feel safe at all when they arethemselves and do not feel protected when their souls are open and soaked inalcohol.
It is alcohol that binds and unties the tongues ??and the Tyrones areno exception to the Irish stereotype of heavy drinkers. Mary’s addiction isbalanced by the men’s alcoholism. Although the morphine is maybe a more damagingdrug, alcohol does its fair share of harm to the Tyrone men. It is Tyrone’sgreat vice, and it has contributed to Mary’s unhappiness. Drunkenness has beenJamie’s response to life, and it is part of why he has failed so miserably.
Moreover, Edmund’s alcohol use has possibly contributed to ruining his health.For the most part, Tyrone family members are only concerned withthemselves. It is as if everybody stood in his own world and shut up therecarefully, as if he locked the door of his own room, separating himself fromthose around him and cutting all the connections to the environment. Eachindividual’s existence is marked by suffering, but all of them try to escapethe guilt they feel by throwing each other new accusations as if they are fullof regret and resentment and looking at their own reactions and attitudes assuperior to others. The Tyrones do not even need each other to carry on anargument; each is so consumed by guilt that he can play both parts. When Tyronepraises Edmund’s success as a reporter, for instance, Jamie’s jealous responseis typical:A hick town rag! Whatever bull they hand you, they tell me he’s apretty bum reporter. If he weren’t your son—Ashamed again.
No, that’s not true! They’re glad to have him, but it’s the specialstuff that gets him by. Some of the poems and parodies he’s writtenare damned good.Grudgingly again.Not that they’d ever get him anywhere on the big time.
HastilyBut he’s certainly made a damned good start. (O’Neill, 63) The drama of this unforgiving and unforgettable family is great. You cannotreally forget if you forgive. If you remember, you did not forgive and you didnot get away. That is what the Tyrone family does – they remember, they recall,dissolving in their continuous journey between what was, what it is and what itcould have been. We do not have exemplary characters, but we have a devastatingand unequalled inner suffering.
O’Neill writes the play to free himself of painful memories, pastreproaches, he writes in the dedication: ”I mean it as a tribute to your love and tendernesswhich gave me the faith in love that enabled me to face my dead at last andwrite this play—write it with deep pity and understanding and forgiveness forall the four haunted Tyrones.”(27) It is a play in which he confesses hisforgiveness to his own family, the attempt to forgive himself and, at the sametime, all the families who lead their lives into the tortures ofmisunderstandings, lies and indifference.It is a play that leads theaudience to that ancient catharsis, for they cannot be indifferent to Mary’semotional exhaustion, James’s illusoriness, or the failures of Jamie andEdmund. All of them fail to communicate to themselves and others. Except forthe last scene, the drama is one of silence and concealment of true faces.
It isa drama theatre in the long road of the day to the night. There are people whoplay their roles in a scene flooded by the tense time that does not want to beforgotten and ignored. The Tyrone family is a ship that sinks slowly, butsurely.