About Eugene O'Neill's "Long Day's Journey Into Night"

A Literary Analysis

Seminar Paper, 2001

6 Pages, Grade: 1,0


“Every form of addiction is bad, no matter whether the narcotic be alcohol or morphine or idealism.“

(Carl Gustav Jung, cited after McWilliams)

I begin my paper with this striking sentence by the Swiss philosopher Jung, since it summarises perfectly one of the main themes in Eugene O’Neill’s A Long Day’s Journey Into Night. However, I will not only confine myself to drug abuse, but will also consider social tensions between the family members, since the reason for those is mostly also alcoholism and drug abuse, but of course not exclusively. Another theme I would like to deal with are the autobiographical elements in the play, because the parallels between Eugene O’Neill’s family and the Tyrones are too striking to be neglected.

Before we start to deal with the text, it is necessary to give a short account of the drug situation at the beginning of the century, for the drama takes place in 1912 and the situation was completely different from today. What sort of drug Mary Tyrone was, or better is, addicted to, is, as her whole addiction, only implied by O’Neill. However, she is most likely addicted to some kind of opiate, probably to pure morphine, since this was the drug which was given to patients suffering from acute pain at the beginning of the century(cf. McWilliams). Mary became addicted after giving birth to Edmund, as she states in the play:

I was so healthy before Edmund was born. You remember, James.[...]Even travelling with you season after season, with week after week of one-night stands[...]in dirty rooms of filthy hotels, eating bad food[...], I still kept healthy. But bearing Edmund was the last straw. I was so sick afterwards, and that ignorant quack of a cheap hotel doctor - All he knew was I was in pain. It was easy for him to stop the pain(O’Neill 1326).

This passage also contains an implied reproach. She indirectly accuses her husband of being a miser, since he did not want to afford a good, but expensive doctor instead of “that ignorant quack of a cheap hotel doctor“, as Mary calls it. However, I will refer to these reproaches, since this is not the only one, later on.

From the point of view of the 1990s, one could ask the question “How can a doctor prescribe morphine so easily?“. The answer is found in the discrepancy of the drug policy in the 1990s and at the beginning of the century. Morphine was first separated from opium in 1806 and opium eating was usually drinking beverages made with morphine. These included a number of patent medicines such as laudanum, an alcohol-morphine mixture. In addition to pain killing, morphine was known for its tranquillising and relaxing effects. Many of the patent medicines were marketed to women to cure anxiety, nervousness, and menstrual cramps. By the 1890s, men went to the saloons to drink alcohol and women stayed home and ate opium.

Physicians even referred to morphine as “G.O.M.“ or “God’s Own Medicine“. With the introduction of the hypodermic syringe in the middle of the 19th century, the effects of injecting morphine were discovered. The Civil War was an ideal laboratory to experiment with morphine’s injectable anaesthetic and painkilling qualities. The doctors went a little overboard: many soldiers returned from the war addicted to morphine. For quite some time, morphine addiction was known as the soldier’s disease.

Nevertheless, by 1880, physicians recommended G.O.M. for fifty-four diseases including anaemia, insanity, nymphomania, and obviously some disease which women suffer from when they give birth to a baby. Eugene O’Neill gives no detailed description of the disease Mary Tyrone suffered from when she gave birth to Edmund, so we can only speculate about it. Maybe she only had a sort of painful infection and the doctor did not know what it was. So he gave her morphine - that killed the pain she was suffering from at that moment, but produced another “pain“ she was to suffer from her whole life - drug addiction.

This leads me to another aspect of morphine addiction. The addictive quality of morphine did not concern doctors. Although many people needed the drug daily, as long as they were able to get the drug, morphine addicts functioned normally in society. Most addictions are only troublesome when the addictive substance is taken away(cf. McWilliams).

This also refers to the case of Mary Tyrone. She does not behave unsocially in public, as long as she gets her drug. She has managed to live this way for about a quarter of a century now, since Edmund is twenty-three at the time of the play, and this clearly shows that one can live without problems, as long as there is enough money for buying the drug. The case of Dr. William Stewart Halsted, who is widely recognised as the father of modern surgery (the sterile operating room was one of his many contributions), is most striking. He enjoyed a thirty-two-year marriage, good health, and the admiration of his peers. However, Sir William Osler, a colleague of Halsted’s at the same hospital, revealed in 1969 that Halsted had been addicted to morphine until the end of his life(cf. McWilliams). Also this case illustrates how easy it is to keep up a normal life as a drug addict as long as the drug is not withdrawn. The situation of Dr. Halsted, which happened in real life, thus also proves that O’Neill does not convey unrealistic, far-fetched stories to the reader, but realistic facts that can also happen in everybody’s life. O’Neill experienced these facts in his own life, but as far as autobiographical elements are concerned, I will deal with them later on.


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About Eugene O'Neill's "Long Day's Journey Into Night"
A Literary Analysis
University of Salzburg
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Quote paper
Martin Payrhuber (Author), 2001, About Eugene O'Neill's "Long Day's Journey Into Night", Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/190670


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