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Term Paper, 2003
16 Pages, Grade: 2,0
2. Without desires, man could not exist
2.1. The motif of desire in Beyond the Horizon
2.2. The motif of desire in Desire under the Elms
3. Blinded by the force of passion
3.1 Passion in Beyond the Horizon
3.2 Passion in Desire under the Elms
4. The love triangle – the catalyst of failure
5. Love, desire and passion – an attempt of a final
6. Works Cited
In 1918, Eugene O’Neill advocated a life within reality. Living outside reality, he sees as destructive. With this in mind, he wrote Beyond the Horizon. One of his later plays, Desire under the Elms, reverts in character to Beyond the Horizon, though it exhibits a fine progress in solidity and finish. Desire under the Elms is the last of O’Neill’s naturalistic plays and the first in which he re-created the starkness of Greek tragedy. The play involves O’Neill’s own family conflicts and Freudian treatment of sexual themes. Beyond the Horizon is O’Neill’s first major statement of the theme of self-deception, pipe dreams and life-lies, resulting out of passion and desire. At this point of his career, O’Neill believed that one must engage in the quest to find the ultimate meaning of life, to discover the mysterious behind-life force that lies just beyond the horizon. To his mind this was in fact the pursuit of a goal. Further in his career as a playwright, he begins to believe that just having a dream that can survive through time is more important than having a dream that is attainable or the pursuit of a dream.
In Beyond the Horizon, Eugene O’Neill dramatizes the conflict of the opposing ideals of adventure and security, emotion and ratio, embodied in the two brothers, Robert and Andrew. O’Neill identifies himself with the lead character, Robert Mayo whereas he compares Roberts brother Andrew to his brother Jamie. Both brothers represent two parts, the poetic, emotional dreamer and the rational down-to-earth farmer. During the play, both brothers give up their desires and passions; one of them flees into materialism, the other into a world of pipe dreams. When O’Neill wrote Beyond the Horizon, he was only able to see and to tolerate the emotional level of behaving and acting; in other words: rationalism. That is, in his point of view, something negative, which must be prevented.
But his opinion changes: in 1924, he tolerates that motif although he still neither likes it nor considers it as a good value. The emotional way of behaving still overweighs in Desire under the Elms but there can also be found a profound way of rationalism in the behaviour of his protagonists. This change of O’Neill’s opinion comes out clearly in the characterisation of Abbie Putnam, who changes from rationalism to emotionalism. The fact that O’Neill changes his point of view made him a child of his time. The values of the golden twenties, like decadence and demeanor, and the image of the American Dream are no longer the ultimately important things in life. Ratio influences the people’s behaviour and re-creates the old values.
The first part of the term paper deals with the role of desire in both of the plays: the desires the characters have and how they are presented. Furthermore, the consequences of the different desires and what it means to live them out or deny them will be pointed out. In the second part the focus will lay on the passions which drive the protagonists forward and why they make them behave in their special way. After having dealt with desire and passion a short overview about the relationship between the protagonists, how they differ and how they resemble will be given. Finally, the term paper ends with a comparison of both plays and a try to prove if the facts referring to the main characters and their development mentioned here are true.
In Beyond the Horizon, Eugene O’Neill reveals that desires are necessary to sustain life. Both of his main characters, Robert and Andrew Mayo, depend on their desires, as they feed their destiny. Denying their desires means denying their destiny, altering their lives forever. O’Neill also points out that following your desires brings you true happiness, something all of his characters do not experience. Robert Mayo’s brother Andrew succumbs to desires but for him they are old values like farm life and a happy marriage. Andrew has no desire to go anywhere beyond the farm because he feels he has everything he needs.
ANDREW “[…] because we’ve got all you’re looking for right on this
farm.[…]” (“Beyond the Horizon” 129)
In the 1920’s, farm life meant wealth and an ensured lifestyle. Living on a farm signifies an idyllic life where human order meets natural order and becomes united. When Robert declares that he will stay on the farm and marry Ruth, Andrew flees in a world of rationalism and materialism seeing his desires disappear. Andrew never looks back. He never thinks about what would have happened if he had made different decisions. Andrew has been totally devoted to the farm but when he realizes that he cannot fulfill his desires he takes the role of the disappointed lover who leaves home to find his desires elsewhere and to be out of the happy couple’s way. When Andrew decides to leave the farm and to go to sea with his uncle he becomes separated from his spirit as a pragmatic, down-to-earth farmer.
ANDREW “I’ve got to go - to get away! I’ve got to, I tell you. I’d
go crazy here, bein’ reminded every second of the
day what a fool I’d made of myself.[…]” (“Beyond the
This leads to a change: Andrew starts a career, his personality changes and he develops growing materialism. Consequently, he denies himself and loses his identity.
“[…] He has changed but little in appearance, except for the fact that
his face has been deeply bronzed by his years in the tropics; but
there is a decided change in his manner. The old easy-going
good-nature seems to have been partly lost in a breezy,
business-like briskness of voice and gesture.[…]” (“Beyond theHorizon”
Andrew dies on an emotional level whereas Robert really dies because he could not achieve what he was striving for so terribly.
His punishment for giving up his desires and emotions is that he is never truly happy. In fact, Andrew Mayo is the greatest failure of all, for he has spent eight years running away from himself and his desires and has been changed from creator to parasite.
ROBERT “[…] I’m a failure, and Ruth’s another - but we can both
justly lay some of the blame for our stumbling on
God. But you’re the deepest-dyed failure of the
three, Andy. You’ve spent eight years running away
from yourself. Do you see what I mean? You used
to be a creator when you loved the farm. You and
life were in harmonious partnership. And now- […]“
(Beyond the Horizon,p. 188)
Robert is a dreamer and a poet who longs to go to sea and seek the
promise that lies beyond the horizon. The love affair between him
and Ruth Atkins makes him stay, neglecting his deepest wish. The
play depicts the gradual decline of the marriage and the farm and
concludes with Robert’s death. His whole life, Robert keeps up his
desires but fails in living them.
ROBERT “[…]I’m not a farmer. I’ve never claimed to be one. But
there’s nothing else I can do under the circumstances,
and I’ve got to pull things through somehow.[…]”
(“Beyond the Horizon” 159)
ROBERT “[…] Sometimes I think if it wasn’t for you, Ruth, and -
[…] - little Mary, I’d chuck everything up and walk
down the road with just one desire in my heart-to
put the whole rim of the world between me and
those hills, and be able to breathe freely once
more![…]” (“Beyond the Horizon” 161)
From the beginning to the end, Robert Mayo wishes for a different
reality, (that is in fact a rather blurred picture of the truth) which lies
“beyond the horizon”. Going “beyond the horizon” is a metaphor for
an escape. Going to sea signifies leaving the world behind and
searching for personal freedom.
ROBERT “It’s just Beauty that’s calling me, the beauty of the
far off and unknown, the mystery and spell of the East which lures me in the books I’ve read, the need of the freedom of great wide spaces, the joy of wandering on and on-in quest of the secret which is hidden over there, beyond the horizon.” (“Beyond the Horizon” 129)
In fact, this does not prevent him from submitting himself, as he is
an idealist, to another romantic motif which is love. He therefore
stays on the farm and never discovers the mystery of life. Robert realizes that he won’t be able to fulfill his desires. The more he becomes aware of not having the possibility to flee from a life that he disgusts the more inevitable becomes his downfall. At first, his marriage deteriorates, then the farm falls into disrepair and Robert’s personal decay is the logical consequence. Robert paid the price in full for neglecting his desires, proving that without desires he was nothing. He is a man who is out of harmony with his environment, a man who feels rootless and who therefore was condemned to live between hope’s eternal optimism and the inevitability of despair. Robert’s dream of his personal freedom finally comes true. Eventuallly, he has to die to be reborn. He has to die to look “beyond the horizon” (in the end). Robert Mayo is a victim of his very own romantic way of thinking and his understanding of romance which is, in his point of view, an escape out of life, the desire for personal freedom and the achievement of true love. Through the use of the characters, especially Robert Mayo, O’Neill proves that without desires, man could not exist.
 see:Eugene O’Neill: Early plays. Penguin Group, New York, 2001.123 – 194.
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