Plot Summary:

Long Day’s Journey into Night is set in the summer home of the Tyrone family in August of 1912. The play is the account of eighteen tortuous hours, where the audience watches the Tyrone family fall to pieces. The play begins in the morning, just after breakfast. Almost immediately, they begin to pick at each other. As the day wears on, we slowly learn about the background of the family, mostly through their arguments with each other. Tyrone, Jamie, and Edmund each have their suspicions that Mary has returned to her morphine addiction. When Mary goes upstairs for a nap, Jamie suspects that she is taking more of the drug. Doctor Hardy calls the Tyrones and tells them that Edmund has tuberculosis, and may need to stay in a sanitarium. Mary takes a drive uptown and visits the drugstore, where she purchases more morphine. Edmund visits the doctor, and the returns, with his father, after having more than a few drinks. Unable to bear the stresses at home, he leaves again. It is after midnight when the Tyrone family is united again, but each is isolated within their own means of escape: alcohol for the men and morphine for Mary. The play closes as she relives her past, from her happy childhood to her marriage to James Tyrone. "That was in the winter of senior year. 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."


The gradual revelation of these two medical disasters makes up most of the play's plot. In between these discoveries, however, the family constantly revisits old fights and opens old wounds left by the past, which the family members are never unable to forget. Tyrone, for example, is constantly blamed for his own stinginess, which may have led to Mary's morphine addiction when he refused to pay for a good doctor to treat the pain caused by childbirth. Mary, on the other hand, is never able to let go of the past or admit to the painful truth of the present, the truth that she is addicted to morphine and her youngest son has tuberculosis. They all argue over Jamie and Edmund's failure to become successes as their father had always hoped they would become. As the day wears on, the men drink more and more, until they are on the verge of passing out in Act IV.

Most of the plot of the play is repetitious, just as the cycle of an alcoholic is repetitious. The above arguments occur numerous times throughout the four acts and five scenes. All acts are set in the living room, and all scenes but the last occur either just before or just after a meal. Act II, Scene i is set before lunch; scene ii after lunch; and Act III before dinner. Each act focuses on interplay between two specific characters: Act I features Mary and Tyrone; Act II Tyrone and Jamie, and Edmund and Mary; Act III Mary and Jamie; Act IV Tyrone and Edmund, and Edmund and Jamie.

The repetitious plot also helps develop the notion that this day is not remarkable in many ways. Instead, it is one in a long string of similar days for the Tyrones, filled with bitterness, fighting, and an underlying love.


James Tyrone - The husband of Mary and the father of Jamie and Edmund, he was once a famous actor who toured the U.S. with his wife. Because his Irish father abandoned him at age 10, forcing him to work immediately to support himself, he has a strong work ethic and an appreciation for money that leads to strong financial prudence--bordering on stinginess.

Mary Tyrone - The wife of Tyrone and mother of Jamie and Edmund, she struggles from a morphine addiction that has lasted over two decades. While she has broken the addiction several times, she always resumes her morphine use after spending more time with her family. She is on morphine in each scene of the play, and her use increases steadily as the day wears on. Although she loves Tyrone, she oftentimes regrets marrying him because of the dreams she had to sacrifice of becoming a nun or a concert pianist.

Jamie Tyrone - The elder Tyrone son, he is in his early thirties. Because he squanders money on booze and women, he has to rely on his parents for support. He dropped out of several colleges and has very little ambition, much to the dismay of his parents.

Edmund Tyrone - The younger Tyrone son, he is ten years younger than Jamie. An intellectual and romantic dreamer, he learns during the play that he is afflicted with consumption (tuberculosis), which means that he will have to spend up to a year in a sanatorium. Like his brother and father, he is partially alcoholic, and he has a tendency to squander money, although he works harder than Jamie. Mary always holds out hope that he will become a success one day.

Cathleen - The Tyrone family maid. She appears in the play only briefly. She is flirtatious and, by Act III, drunk.

About the Playwright:

Long Day's Journey into Night is one of Eugene O'Neill's later plays. He wrote it for his wife on the occasion of their 12th wedding anniversary in 1940. The play was written in part as a way for O'Neill to show the world what his family was like and in what sort of environment he was raised. O'Neill wanted to create a play that would lay forth his own background in a forgiving nature, which is why he strove not to bias the play against any one character. The drama is very similar to O'Neill's family situation as a young man, but more importantly, it has become a universal play representing the problems of a family that cannot live in the present, mired in the dark recesses of a bitter, troubled past. Because of its deeply personal nature, O'Neill requested that the play be published posthumously, which meant that the play was not revealed to the world until O'Neill's death in 1956.

O'Neill has always been seen as one of the greatest American playwrights. He was the only American dramatist to be awarded the Nobel Prize, an honor not bestowed upon either Arthur Miller or Tennessee Williams, two other great American playwrights. He won the Pulitzer Prize for four plays, including Long Day's Journey into Night. His other best known plays are The Iceman Cometh, Mourning Becomes Electra, Ah Wilderness!, Strange Interlude, and The Hairy Ape. O'Neill was a huge Broadway success during his own adult life.

For information on what his childhood was like, one does best to read Long Day's Journey into Night and examine the character of Edmund, who is partly autobiographical. O'Neill was the son of a Broadway actor and a mother who disliked Broadway. He suffered from tuberculosis, which caused him to have a nervous breakdown early in life. He was born in 1888, but he did not achieve success as a playwright until his 30th play, Beyond the Horizon, appeared in 1920. Around the same time, his father died, which devastated O'Neill, who had admired his father tremendously despite their differences.

After achieving success in 1920, O'Neill remained a dominant figure of American theater throughout his life. He had numerous personal problems, including failed marriage, but he was most captivated by his troubles and experiences growing up, before he found fame. The early part of his life is the subject of Long Day's Journey into Night, which will forever remain O'Neill's goodbye to the world--the play that showed America who O'Neill was and where he came from.

1. Spark Notes
2. Long Day’s Journey

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