Eugene OíNeillís Long Dayís Journey into Night is a drama about a family torn apart by personal conflict. The play was written in 1941, and produced in 1956.The play won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 1957.
The characters in the play include: James Tyrone, 65 years old, an actor who has had a successful stage career; his wife, Mary, 54, a nervous, high-strung woman, who is struggling with morphine addiction; their older son, Jamie, 33, a cynical, hard-drinking, unemployed actor, and their younger son, Edmund, 23, a gloomy intellectual who is suffering from tuberculosis.
The setting of the play is the summer home of the Tyrone family, on the coast of New England. The action of the play takes place during a single day in August, 1912.
Mary has recently returned home from a sanitarium, where she has been treated for drug addiction. She has a long history of morphine addiction, which began after her miserly husband sent her to an incompetent doctor, to be treated for the pain she suffered after giving birth to her younger son, Edmund.
Mary has had a relapse in her addiction, after returning home two months ago from the sanitarium. She is trying to conceal her relapse from her family, and accuses them of spying on her. She feels their suspicion and mistrust, but denies that there is any reason for them to suspect her of having relapsed.
James is a penny-pinching and stingy caretaker of his wealth and property. This is partly because he grew up in poverty, after his father deserted his mother.
James is now an aging, but successful, actor of the theatre. He had the potential, when he was a young man, to become a great actor, but instead chose to play the same role, year after year, in a successful stage production, which brought him a steady income. He squandered the talent he had, repeating the same performance and never trying to learn new roles, because he was so concerned about money.
Many years ago, James had been unfaithful to Mary, and he had an affair with another woman. Mary has never forgiven him.
For years, James never gave Mary a permanent home to live in, forcing her to travel with him while his stage-play was on tour, and forcing her to stay in cheap hotels, while he spent his nights in saloons and barrooms.
James has never overcome his miserliness or his obsession with money. For this reason, he has been repeatedly swindled by traders and speculators. He has been duped repeatedly into buying worthless property, because he was lured by the propect of making easy money.
Jamie, the elder son, is an alcoholic, who has abandoned his acting career. Jamie lacks a sense of having any purpose or meaning in his life, and thinks of himself as a failure. He is cynical about any illusions which are held by the other members of the family. He feels that each of them is a failure, like himself.
Edmund is an aspiring, young poet, who is searching for his own sense of personal direction. He feels unwanted, because the other members of the family feel ambivalently toward him. They love him, but they blame him for the fact that his birth led to the events that triggered Maryís morphine addiction.
Edmund writes articles for the local newspaper, but feels that he lacks the ability to become a successful poet. He has been influenced by his brotherís cynicism.
The conflicts within the family arise from a number of sources: Mary is trying to conceal her addiction from her husband and sons, by lying to them, and by denying that there is any reason to mistrust her. She feels lonely and isolated, and reacts defensively when she is reminded by her family that she needs to be careful to avoid a relapse of her addiction.
James rebukes Jamie for wasting money, and for not working hard enough to have a successful acting career.
Edmund is ill with tuberculosis, but James and Jamie are trying to conceal the severity of Edmundís illness from Mary, because they do not want her to be under stress, and do not want to give her another excuse for falling into a relapse of her addiction.
Jamie also blames his father for sending Edmund to Doctor Hardy, whom Jamie describes as cheap and incompetent. Jamie thinks that the only reason that his father chose Doctor Hardy was because Hardy was the cheapest doctor available in the area.
Jamie also thinks that his father may want to send Edmund to the cheapest sanitarium, because his father will not want to spend any money if he assumes that Edmund may have a fatal illness anyway.
The Tyrone family has to deal with a number of causes of stress, including substance abuse, physical illness, unemployment, and a husbandís aloofness from the emotional needs of his wife. The family members are not able to respond adequately to these causes of stress, however, because of their ambivalent feelings toward each other. They blame each other for their own personal weaknesses and failures.
They scorn each other, and ridicule each other. They try to suppress their anger and frustration, but they remind each other of their own failures, and compulsively inflict their pain on each other. They cannot forgive each other, and they feel the need to humiliate each other. They jeer at each other, and try to make each other feel guilty. They try to destroy each otherís sense of self-esteem.
The play is a realistic and uncompromising portrayal of how internal conflict can destroy the integrity of a family. OíNeill shows how important it is not to blame others for oneís own personal failures, and the play makes clear that it is important to accept personal responsibility. OíNeill also shows the need to liberate the self from internal conflict, and to resolve conflicts which can destroy the self emotionally.
An important symbol in the play is the distant sound of the foghorn. The sound of the foghorn represents the distance which the characters in the play feel from each other.
The fog also represents Edmundís sense of being lost. The fog symbolizes an escape from the reality of family conflict. Edmund describes himself as one of the ďfog people,Ē and says that he has become like a ghost, haunting the past. The fog is like a ghost of lost hope, or a veil of empty aspiration.