A literature of social and cultural change. Eugene O’Neil's "The Hairy Ape"

Term Paper, 2013

8 Pages, Grade: A


A Literature of Social and Cultural Change

1. Yank, Paddy and Long each have different, yet somehow similar views about their social dispositions. Yank comes from the lowest social hierarchy, and his occupation is that of a fireman inside a liner. He defines his social inclination by belonging, and even though he comes from the lowest social class, he seems, as indicated in scene 1 of the play, “broader, fiercer, more truculent, more powerful, more sure of himself than the rest.” (O’Neil, 1922 pg. 2). He uses his position in the ship as a fireman, as a tool of indicating his social importance. Paddy, being the oldest of the men in the room in scene 1, seems to portray the entanglement of freedom and acceptance in society. His monologues are directed at highlighting the enslaving of men like Yank to machines as a result of industrialization. He uses the ship to define this societal slavery, by contrasting the old times when “a ship was part of the sea, and a man was part of a ship, and the sea joined all together and made it one.” (O’Neil, 1922 pg. 11). Long is a labor radical, and a man who views the capitalistic class as violators of individual rights. His depiction of the ship which Yank refers to as home, brings forth his perception of his social situation as being that of the lower class. He describes the ship as hell, and that all of them would die in it.

2. The focus of Yank on belonging is highlighted almost immediately in the opening scene of the play. Yank seems to be content about his lifestyle, his social situation notwithstanding. He is what one may call; proud to be who he is on the ship, i.e. a fireman. He is focused on his role on the ship, and describes his efforts as the input that makes the ship run, seemingly meaning that he is a vital link in the foundation of the ship. As such, his inclination towards belonging may be described as his personal view of power, even if he did not belong to the highest class of society. His idea of belonging is best explained by his outburst towards Long, in an effort to assert the superiority of the men in the room, to that of the dwellers of the first class cottages, and his depiction of Paddy as being too old to belong to the present. However, Yank’s perception of belonging is instantly altered by Mildred Douglas’ reaction to him. She faints at the sight of Yank, which leads Yank to question his worth and place in society.

3. The three poems depicted in the reading share different opinions about the outcome of society in general. Most of them seem to endorse and reflect on the fact that the depicted period in America was characterized by the social, spiritual and moral collapse of humanity, which symbolized the sorry end of a materialistic culture. The poem titled Harlem Shadows is an exact depiction of the same. The author uses one particular gender to indicate the loose morals innate in America at the time, which echoed abject poverty, and the quest for materialistic gains. In the poem, the author uses the negro girl or the dark girl, to show the level of moral degradation in America at the time, where the black girl goes from street to street, in response, not to poverty alone, but also to desire. The final reflection of the poem in regard to society at the time is shown when the author describes the life of the Negro girl as that of poverty, dishonor and disgrace.

4. The story of F. Scott Fitzgerald is presented as a biography of some kind, depicting his life and times, and his role in literature going from his publications. In the story, it is indicated that Fitzgerald was “regarded as the lingering symbol of the Jazz age…” (1142), an age which is further indicated in the story as being characteristic of extravagance, social irresponsibility, not to mention spiritual desperation. It is evident from the story that his center need was that of literary writing, which can be extended to include his interest of musical- comedy, an attribute that is ever present in a majority of his works. But as further described in the story, this need of literary prominence was never really achieved by Fitzgerald. The story indicates that Fitzgerald was never really “recognized that he was, at his best, a genuine artist…” (1142). This conclusion is perhaps influenced by the fact that Fitzgerald’s age ended with the period depicting the great depression, which ultimately changed the attitude of a majority of Americans resulting in both social and spiritual awakening. Fitzgerald was unable to identify with this new generation, and his decline was as shown in the story, “spectacular” (1144).


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A literature of social and cultural change. Eugene O’Neil's "The Hairy Ape"
University of Canberra
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eugene, o’neil, hairy
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David Kuria (Author), 2013, A literature of social and cultural change. Eugene O’Neil's "The Hairy Ape", Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/280709


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