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Eugene O' Neill's The Hairy Ape -
Jayaraman Uma, M.A., M. Phil., PGDTE
An American Expressionistic Play
A Definition of expressionism
A definition of expressionism is called for here at the outset. The following quote reflects the approach taken in this paper: Expressionism is "an art movement early in the 20th century; the artist's subjective expression of inner experiences was emphasized; an inner feeling was expressed through a distorted rendition of reality." wordnetweb.princeton.edu/perl/webwn.
Eugene O' Neill's Life and Its Impact on His Plays
Eugene O' Neill's attitude towards science is thought-provoking. He felt science had cut Man away from his religious faith. The machine era has brought wealth to America. Americans' need for material comforts have been well provided for. But, at the same time, industrialization has destroyed his work satisfaction. His sense of security and belonging has been shaken. Lacking some sustaining faith, he feels lonely. This fundamental problem is aggravated in the case of an American immigrant. His sense of alienation becomes pronounced. O'Neill himself, having descended from an Irish immigrant family, felt this acutely.
This loss of Faith even when we have assumed Science to be our new God is something that playwrights around the world need to portray in their plays according to several critics. For example, Krutch writes: "It seems to me that anyone trying to do big work now-a-days must have this subject behind all the little subjects of his plays or novels, or he is scribbling around the surface of things." (J. W. Krutch, The American Drama Since 1918, page 92.)
An Expressionistic Play
O'Neill's artistic achievement is revealed in his expressionistic play, The Hairy Ape. The play was written in 1921 and was produced in 1922 for the first time. Immigration from Europe was still on, and industrial unrest amidst great expansion was easily noticed. In some sense, America was yet to achieve its super-eminence in economic activities. Talk of socialism was not yet a taboo or unlawful.
This play deals with the theme of social alienation and search for identity or belonging. Yank, the hero of The Hairy Ape is a representative of modern workers, who felt socially alienated and have been continuously in search of their own identity. As a result of industrialization man has lost his sense of harmony with nature. Hence he is condemning the whole of machine civilization because it has affected his psychological wellbeing. It has robbed him of his pride in his work.
In his Eugene O'Neill: A Critical Study, S.K. Winther describes the plight of modern man in the following manner.
"Man's work is a necessary part of his personality; it is an extension of his ego; it makes him feel he is a necessary part of the life of the world in which he lives. Modern industry tends to destroy this psychological counterpart of work…. and it leaves the worker a nervous, irritable and a dissatisfied misfit. Yank was such a worker, and at the same time conscious of the thing he had lost. He didn't want a job simply because it would be a means to earning a living; he wanted a job in which he could live." (S. K. Winther, Eugene O'Neill: A Critical Study. page 27)
The immediate occasion that led to the writing of Yank's story was the unexpected suicide of O'Neill's stokehole chum Driscoll.
It is, however, a well known fact that The Hairy Ape is based not only on Driscoll, but on the playwright as well. Biographers like Louis Sheaffer attest to this fact. Eugene O'Neill was a man forever haunted by feelings of not belonging. Unlike his father, he was acutely conscious of his "Irish identity" and the resultant problems in an "alien country". Moreover his mother's drug addiction and his actor father's rootless way of life did not brighten things for him. In A Long Day's Journey Into Night - a highly autobiographical play - he tells his essential story in a few words.
It was a great mistake my being born a man, I would have been much more successful as a seagull or a fish. As it is I will always be a stranger who never feels at home, who does not really want and is not really wanted, who can never belong, who must always be a little in love with death! (Louis Sheaffer, O'Neill: Son and Playwright, page 25)
This is only the beginning part of the article. PLEASE CLICK HERE TO READ THE ARTICLE IN PRINTER-FRIENDLY VERSION.
EAT Expressions in Manipuri | Learning from Movies - 'Slumdog Millionaire' and Language Awareness | Maternal Interaction and Verbal Input in Normal and Hearing Impaired Children | Role of L2 Motivation and the Performance of Intermediate Students in the English (L2) Exams in Pakistan | Problems in Ph.D. English Degree Programme in Pakistan - The Issue of Quality Assurance | Using Technology in the English Language Classroom | Teaching Literature through Language - Some Considerations | e-Learning of Japanese Pictography - Some Perspectives | Is It a Language Worth Researching? Ethnographic Challenges in the Study of Pahari Language | Using a Reading Material for Interactive Reading | Importance of Task-Based Teaching in Second Language Acquisition - A Review | Skill Enhancement Techniques - The Necessary Tools for the Indian Management Students | African American Literature and Ishmael Reed's Novels - Hoodism | Instances of Code Switching in Indian Television Serials | The Role of Compounding in Technical English Prescribed for Engineering Students in Tamilnadu | Polite Request Strategies as Produced by Yemeni EFL Learners | Manju Kapoor's Difficult Daughters - A Saga of Feminist Autonomy and Separate Identity | Reflections on Partition Literature - A Comparative Analysis of Ice Candy Man and Train to Pakistan | Mother Tongue! The Neglected Resource for English Language Teaching And Learning | Breaking the Good Mother Myths - A Study of the Novels of Amy Tan | Effect of Teachers' Academic Qualification on Students' L2 Performance at the Secondary Level | What Is Most Important? Fluency or Accuracy? Is Learning a Second Language a Conscious Process? | Let Us Learn from Our Standard 1 Textbook, Again! - A Brief Note on the New Standard 1 Tamil Textbook in Tamilnadu | Eugene O' Neill's The Hairy Ape - An American Expressionistic Play | A PRINT VERSION OF ALL THE PAPERS OF JULY 2010 ISSUE IN BOOK FORMAT | HOME PAGE of July 2010 Issue | HOME PAGE | CONTACT EDITOR
Jayaraman Uma, M.A., M.Phil., PGDTE
Sri Sarada College for Women
Salem 636 016
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