Eugene O'Neill and the fairer sex - Anna Christie and Abbie Putnam

Term Paper, 2004

16 Pages, Grade: 2,2


Table of contents

1. Introduction

2. A woman’s personae – The Jungian Classification
2.1 The Mother
2.2 The Hetaira
2.3 The Amazon
2.4 The Medium

3. The fairer sex
3.1 Anna Christie
3.2 Abbie Putnam
3.3 Conclusion

4. Eugene O’Neill’s women – an attempt of a final analysis

Works Cited

1. Introduction

Eugene O’Neill’s portraits of women have occupied a position of prominence in his works and his efficacious handling of their psychological states, offers a comprehensive insight into the arena of their motivation and actions. Women in general play a huge role in the life of the American playwright Eugene O’Neill.

One of Eugene O’Neill’s earliest heroines is Anna Christie. The play Anna Christie, written in 1920 and first published in 1922, is an outgrowth of the earlier play called Chris Christopherson. In Chris Christopherson, Anna’s father dominates the play, whereas in Anna Christie the protagonist is a woman. It is the story of Anna’s regeneration through the love of a man and under the influence of the sea. Anna used to work as a prostitute but is now living happily on her father’s barge and says of herself to have preserved a virginal soul. On her father’s barge she meets Mat Burke with whom she falls deeply in love. Their passion develops rapidly up to a point where Anna confesses her past.

“[…] I wasn’t no nurse girl the last two years – I lied

when I wrote you – I was in a house, that’s what! –

yes, that kind of a house – the kind sailors like you

and Mat goes to in port – and your nice inland men,

too – and all men, God damn’em! I hate ‘em! Hate

‘em!” (“Anna Christie” 339)

Mat’s reaction to this revelation is a violent one and he continuously rebels against the idea of marrying a woman with such a troubled past. However, Anna asserts that she never really loved any man before she met him. In a desperate attempt to get away from Anna, Mat gets drunk. He leaves and signs on a steamer for Cape Town. In the end, he realized that he cannot escape from his feelings and returns to Anna, willing to ignore his initial doubts.

“If I was believing – that you’d never had love for any other man in the

world but me – I could be forgetting the rest, maybe.” (“Anna Christie” 350).

“[…] We’ll be wedded in the morning, with the help of God.[ Still more

defiantly.] We’ll be happy now, the two of us, in spite of the divil! [ He

crushes her to him and kisses her again.][…]” (“Anna Christie” 352)

Two years later, in 1924, when O’Neill wrote Desire under the Elms he still holds up to this theme of a prostitute helplessly trapped by circumstances. As I stated before, the prostitute Anna Christie was transformed through the true love of Mat Burke. The female protagonist of Desire under the Elms Abbie Putnam also changes through her love towards Eben Cabot. The prostitute becomes a wife and mother.

Searching for security, she rises from an inferior social position to the head of the household. From the day of her first appearance at the Cabots’ farm Abbie takes deep and full possession of everything including Eben when she says “[ with lust for the word ] Hum! It’s purty – purty! I can’t b’lieve it’s r’ally mine.” (“Desire under the Elms” 335).

Abbie and Eben fall in love and, later in the play, Abbie gives birth to a son. This troubled relationship culminates in Abbie’s murder of her own child to prove her love to Eben. Finally, Abbie and Eben are united in death.

O’Neill portrays women as flat characters: either as embodiments of virtues, to be admired as angels; or of vices, to be condemned as witches. Women appear frequently in the plays of Eugene O’Neill in all their biological roles of wife, mother and mistress. In my paper, the focus will lay on Anna Christie and Abbie Putnam, both women who have been prostitutes but who undergo a change through which they find true love.

Comparing and contrasting those two significant types of women, I now use Carl Gustav Jung’s and Toni Wolff’s classification of women and I briefly discuss the influence of especially Jung on Eugene O’Neill.

The second part is an attempt to categorize the protagonists. After having dealt with the role schemes of women I will try to give an overall analysis of O’Neill’s relationship towards women and how he uses his experiences developing the characters of Anna Christie and Abbie Putnam.

2. A woman’s personae - The Jungian classification

Eugene O’Neill’s projection of women is not entirely, but to a huge extend, governed by his personal experiences. Another influence stems from his immediate cultural environment. By the time O’Neill was writing, the theory of Carl Gustav Jung gained popular acceptance. Human behavior was explained according to their postulates. O’Neill thankfully absorbed these ideas and employed them in his plays although, in his words, he was

“[…] no deep student of psychoanalysis. As far as I can remember, of

all the books written by Freud, Jung, etc., I have read only four,

and Jung is the only one of the lot who interests me. Some of his

suggestions I find extraordinarily illuminating in the light of my

own experience with hidden motives” (“Haunted Heroes” 81/82)

Therefore, a brief mentioning of this theory is necessary. For Carl Gustav Jung repression is not harmful to man, but on the contrary it provides the canalization of the libido and formation of the individual consciousness. The conquering of the libido can be considered as a heroic task. The overcoming of the mother is symbolic of the death of the infantile soul and the rebirth of the heroic soul. (Compare “Practice of Psychotherapy”, 1970 ). The fact that a number of O’Neill’s characters undergo a regression and a craving for maternal affection in adulthood, display his indebtness of Jungian theory. A woman’s attitudes and responses are governed to a great extend by social and cultural circumstances. Her behavior follows a definite pattern and each pattern corresponds to an archetype. The archetype has to be understood through images and through the behavioral and emotional response it arises. Carl Gustav Jung categorized the Archetypal Feminine into four broad types: Eve, Helen, Amazon and Sophia (“Practice of Psychotherapy” 174). Toni Wolff, a close associate of Jung, later renamed this scheme. He adopted names from functions whereas Jung named his categories after mythic figures. Wolff called his functional categories Mother, Hetaira, Amazon and Medium. Mother is the collective and Hetaira the individual form of personal functioning, Amazon the collective and Medium the individual form of non-personal functioning.


Excerpt out of 16 pages


Eugene O'Neill and the fairer sex - Anna Christie and Abbie Putnam
University of Marburg
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ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
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Eugene, Neill, Anna, Christie, Abbie, Putnam
Quote paper
Nadine Kröschel (Author), 2004, Eugene O'Neill and the fairer sex - Anna Christie and Abbie Putnam, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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