The function of drugs in Eugene O'Neill's "Long Day's Journey into Night" and Tennessee Williams' "A Streetcar Named Desire"


Seminar Paper, 2007

13 Pages, Grade: 2,3


Excerpt

Table of Contents

1. Introduction

2. The Importance of Drugs for the Individual Family Members in O’Neill’s Long Day’s Journey into Night
2.1 Tyrone
2.2 Jamie
2.3 Edmund
2.4 Mary
2.5 Cathleen

3. The Function of Alcohol for the Two Main Protagonists in Williams‘ A Streetcar Named Desire
3.1 Stanley Kowalski
3.2 Blanche DuBois

4. Comparison of the Function of Drugs in both Plays: Similarities and Differences

5. Conclusion

6. Bibliography

1. Introduction

The two plays Long Day’s Journey into Night by Eugene O’Neill and A Streetcar Named Desire by Tennessee Williams can be seen as two of the most successful and respected plays of American Modernism.

Besides other similarities, both plays deal, more or less obviously with the consumption of alcohol and - in case of Mary Tyrone in Long Day’s Journey into Night - drugs.

This paper’s matter is to find out what function drinking or the consumption of other drugs have for the characters of the two plays. This question could also be interesting looking at the authors: O’Neill’s play has very many parallels to his own life and also Williams admitted that he is to be found in the character of Blanche DuBois to a certain extend.

To find psychological backgrounds I used the book Familienproblem Alkohol by Sylvia Berke, which gave me a lot of information about functions that drugs can have for an addict and about how the familiar sphere of the addict can cope with the problem.

I also used Steven F. Bloom’s article “Empty Bottles, Empty Dreams: O’Neill’s Use of Drinking and Alcoholism in Long Day’s Journey Into Night” which brought a lot of thesis into my paper and Robert Brustein’s article “The Journey into the Past“.

I was not able to find literature specialized on drinking in A Streetcar Named Desire, so I had to find thesis in other papers on the play. For this purpose I used Elia Kazan’s “Notebook for A Streetcar Named Desire.

I will analyze all characters of O’Neill’s play, but will limit myself to the characters of Stanley Kowalski and Blanche DuBois of Williams’ play.

For every character, I will try to give a general survey of his or her drinking habits and afterwards I attempted to analyze what function alcohol or drugs have for him or her.

In the comparison I want to give an overview of similarities and differences according to the function of drugs in the two plays and for the characters.

2. The Importance of Drugs for the Individual Family Members in O’Neill’s Long Day’s Journey into Night

The abuse of drugs and alcohol in Eugene O’Neill’s autobiographically detached drama Long Day’s Journey into Night has different functions for every individual family member.

Though all the family tries to deny that there is a problem with drugs or alcohol, in the later scenes of the play it becomes very obvious that almost every member of the Tyrone family has a serious problem with addictive substances. That this denial is going on for a long time in the family is very evident when one looks at the patterns of communication which seem to be always the same: ”I could see that line coming! God, how many thousand times -! (He stops, bored with their quarrel, and shrugs his shoulders.)”[1]. It is also only possible for the men of the Tyrone family to have a real conversation where they don’t have to accuse one another the whole time but are free to speak even if this means to blame themselves.[2]

2.1 Tyrone

James Tyrone used to be a very famous actor who was often touring through the country. Out of Mary’s memories one learns that Tyrone always used to drink: “Always a bottle on the bureau in the cheap hotel rooms!” (LDJ, 122). It is evident that with Tyrone, drinking had at the time of his young actor life, when he was just married to Mary, a social function. He used to go out with his “barroom friends” (LDJ, 124) as Mary calls them and to return to drunk to find his way to the “ugly hotel rooms” (LDJ, 125) by himself.

Now, in his older days, Tyrone usually has a drink before lunch as an appetizer: “It’s before a meal and I’ve always found that good whiskey, taken in moderation as an appetizer, is the best of tonics.” (LDJ, 72). But he also uses to drink when he “hobnob[s] with men at the Club or in a barroom” (LDJ, 51). At the end of the play, Tyrone is drunk (“He is drunk and shows it by the owlish, deliberate manner in which he peers at each card to make certain of its identity” LDJ, 137) and from Mary’s remark it becomes obvious that this is probably quite likely to happen oft: “I know what to expect. You will be drunk tonight. Well it won’t be the first time, will it - or the thousandth?” (LDJ, 76).

According to psychologist’s judgments, denial is an often reported sign of addiction[3] which can also be found when regarding Tyrone: ”I’ve never missed a performance in my life. That’s the proof!” (LDJ, 91).

The reason for Tyrone to drink as much as he does is in situations when he is in a Club or a barroom, surely the function of alcohol as a “soziales Schmiermittel” (FPAlk, 21) as Berke calls it. According to her, alcohol in the context of barrooms often has the function of creating a feeling of unity and togetherness, so that personal and hierarchical differences can be forgotten for the time being drunk.

When Tyrone gets hold of Mary’s relapse, he uses it as an excuse to drink[4]. He drinks out of anger and disappointment: “If I did get drunk it is not you who should blame me. No man has ever had a better reason.” (LDJ, 91). When Tyrone sees no other way to escape his problems with Mary, he tries to find an antidepressant in alcohol, but he ends up just more depressed and lonely, not knowing what to do or as Bloom points out: “intoxication only increases Tyrone’s sense of defeat and lonliness”[5].

2.2 Jamie

Jamie’s excessive drinking is not regarded as an addiction by the family but only as a factor of his lifestyle. Jamie started drinking very early in his life, he got rejected from school and obviously his drinking was one of the reasons: “Even after he had begun to drink and they had to expel him, they wrote us how sorry they were, because he was so likeable and such a brilliant student” (LDJ, 121). The relics of his massive alcohol abuse can even be found in his physics: “The signs of premature disintegration are on him. His face is still good looking, despite marks of dissipation” (LDJ, 19-20). Although Jamie seems to take the news of his mother’s relapse quite good, he definitely tries to forget about the family’s problems by driving to town and get drunk.

Throughout the play, Jamie, unlike the other characters, does not give a reason for his drinking. According to Brustein “[f]or Jamie (…) the present is without possibility; he is a ne’er-do-well, pursuing oblivion in drink”[6]. In contrast to this opinion, one could also regard Berke’s definition of the “Sündenbock” as matching for Jamie. She describes this person as a child of a family in which one parent is addicted. This child always causes any kinds of trouble to the purpose of getting his parents to talk and to give them a common responsibility. According to Berke, this child is very likely to get into an addiction himself when he is grown up (FPAlk).

Jamie could be using his alcoholism to take away the attention from his mother’s addiction and to take away the burden of being in the centre of refusal from her.

Jamie is also for sure suffering from the rejection from his father, who wants to see him following his footprints as an actor and the mostly unarticulated accusations of his mother of having killed his brother Eugene: “I’ve always believed Jamie did it on purpose. He was jealous of the baby. He hated him. (…) Oh, I know Jamie was only seven, but he was never stupid. He’d been warned it might kill the baby. He knew. I’ve never been able to forgive him for that.” (LDJ, 96).

Another function of alcohol from Jamie’s point of view could be that alcohol gives social security which Jamie tries to find with his friends in town or with whores: “Fat Violet’s a good kid. Glad I stayed with her. Christian act. Cured her blues. Hell of a good time.” (LDJ, 182).

[...]


[1] Eugene O‘Neill, Long Day‘s Journey into Night, p.37. Quotes from this book will from now on be referred to as LDJ, <page number>

[2] Steven F. Bloom, Empty Bottles, Empty Dreams: O‘Neill‘s Use of Drinking and Alcoholism in Long Day‘s Journey Into Night

[3] Sylvia Berke, Familienproblem Alkohol, p. 35. Quotes from this book will from now on be referred to as FPAlk, <page number>

[4] Steven F. Bloom, Empty Bottles, Empty Dreams: O‘Neill‘s Use of Drinking and Alcoholism in Long Day‘s Journey Into Night

[5] ibid., p. 169

[6] Robert Brustein, The Journey into the Past, p. 173

Excerpt out of 13 pages

Details

Title
The function of drugs in Eugene O'Neill's "Long Day's Journey into Night" and Tennessee Williams' "A Streetcar Named Desire"
College
RWTH Aachen University  (Institut für Anglistik)
Course
Modern American Drama
Grade
2,3
Author
Year
2007
Pages
13
Catalog Number
V82471
ISBN (eBook)
9783638898003
ISBN (Book)
9783638906111
File size
409 KB
Language
English
Tags
Eugene, Neill, Long, Journey, Night, Tennessee, Williams, Streetcar, Named, Desire, Modern, American, Drama
Quote paper
Nadine Esser (Author), 2007, The function of drugs in Eugene O'Neill's "Long Day's Journey into Night" and Tennessee Williams' "A Streetcar Named Desire", Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/82471

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