Long Day's Journey into Night" -- Eugene O'Neill's long labor of love and his efforts of compassion as a playwright family saga detailing the damage of alcohol and morphine addiction, combined with a father's story of personal failure in the arts. Tubercular sickness. Family in fighting and rivalries. Death. Hardly the stuff of an uplifting night at the theater. Such are the various themes of Eugene O'Neill's play "A Long Day's Journey into Night." But one cannot judge a play by its plot and discern its overall tone anymore than one can judge a hypothetical book by a hypothetical cover.
Simply put, because the Tyrone family's all too human physical and psychological infirmities are portrayed with compassion and even with tenderness by the great American playwright Eugene O'Neill in his drama of family feuds in his autobiographical play "Long Day's Journey into Night," the play is not depressing, but a life lesson in human and family limits and love. As one reviewer noted, "The Strindbergian love/hate relationship is often discussed, but productions of O'Neill often emphasize the hate more than the love. [but] After all, why did the four O'Neills stay together if not for the love?" (Shafter, 2003)
At the beginning of the play, it becomes clear that addiction is a Tyrone family curse, a tie that unites as much as it grates. Mary has just returned for her opiate addiction from a sanatorium. Mary's son Jamie is an alcoholic. Her husband James Tyrone is a failed but financially successful actor, addicted to playing the same part again and again, rather than stretching himself to become the great thespian of his boyhood dreams. He fears losing his money almost as much as the other family members fear losing their sanity, for in Tyrone's eyes, his money is his sanity.
The Tyrone family is virtually incapable of discussing any of their underlying issues of addiction and dependency. This is not because they do not love one another; rather they may love one another, or the ideals they have of one another, too much to be effectively honest in family discussion. For instance, the youngest brother's Edmund's consumption, an affliction that is not entirely his own fault (although blamed on his mimicry of his brother) is unspoken for most of the play, despite the character's coughing and poor health. Edmund himself conspires in this protective but ineffectual denial. "I want you to promise me that even if it should turn out to be something worse, you'll know I'll soon be all right again, anyway, and you won't worry yourself sick, and you'll keep on taking care of yourself, " Edmund says to his mother. (49). Later, Mary says to her husband, attempting to stifle discussion of her opiate addiction, "James! I tried so hard! I tried so hard! Please believe!" As if so long as she 'tries' to get better for the sake of her family, this will be enough to shield her from the dangers of addiction (72).
The protectiveness of the truth is a kind of love for all of these family members, even if it is a destructive love, because the denial of the truth allows them to both function as a family and enable one another's addictions. Edmund protects his family from news of his health, and Jamie and the elder Tyrone make excuses for their abuse of alcohol, a disease manifested worse in the father than the son. Tyrone states, " it's before a meal and I've always found that good whiskey, taken in moderation as an appetizer, is the best of tonics," of his own drinking, even while he attempts to keep Jamie out of the liquor cabinet. (68). No family member is perfect, and none can help the other, despite their love for one another, because they cannot see their own afflictions with a clear eye.
In fact, later on, Tyrone reproaches Mary for her use of morphine, yet his drinking may have been one of the causes that pushed her over into addiction. "But I must confess, James, although I couldn't help loving you, I would never have married you if I'd known you drank so much" (115). This is followed…