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III. Characteristics and Techniques in the Expressionistic Drama
IV. Strindberg’s Expressionism
V. The Hairy Ape
1. Theme and Structure
2. Settings, Atmosphere and Development of Characters
3. Character and Speech
VI. The Great God Brown
1. The Use of Masks in the Development of the Characters
1.1 Dion Anthony and William Brown
1.2 Cybel and Margaret
2. Language and Sound
Expressionistic Elements in Eugene O’Neills The Hairy Ape and The Great God Brown
Eugene O’Neill never made a secret of his influences. His indebtedness to the great Swedish dramatist August Strindberg has often been pointed out, and O’Neill himself devoted half the Nobel Prize speech in 1936 to him: “For me, he remains . . . the Master, still to this day more modern than any of us, still our leader.“1 The influence is not very surprising, for in tempera- ment and in outlook on life, O’Neill and Strindberg had much in common. In fact, both of these men felt the urge to search restlessly for answers to questions such as: What is man’s place in the universe? Why does he suffer? What is the essence of life? To do so, they dared to project their own soul on the stage, they dramatized their inner struggles.2
Nevertheless, it would be a mistake to reduce the influences on him only to Strindberg. By the time O’Neill had spent a few seasons with the Provincetown Players, he had become acquainted with the contemporary Continental, in particular with German drama. Apart from this, Strindberg is considered to be one of the forerunners of expressionism. Thus, it is undeniable that there is more than just a faint connection between Strindberg and the European expressionists so that both can be seen in the same context.
The central purpose of this study is to examine to what extent O’Neill’s The Hairy Ape and The Great God Brown are linked to an unrealistic theatre. And, in addition, the influence of Continental expressionistic drama, with special regard to Strindberg, shall be traced back. With this purpose in mind, the focus will be on formal elements or techniques that are characteristic for expressionistic drama. For “in its basic techniques [expressionism] has been an enduring thread of great strength and vitality in the story of modern drama “3
In order to reveal certain parallels it is necessary to give a short outline of expressionism and Strindberg in particular.
As The Hairy Ape and The Great God Brown are recognized as O’Neill’s most unrealistic plays, these two dramas will serve as objects for a careful study.
Around the year 1910 an extensive revolution took place in the occidental world of art and literature which also can be seen in accordance with radical changes in the natural sciences. Between 1905 and 1910 Picasso and his supporters developed cubism in art while Apollinaire and Max Jacob introduced a ‘cubistic poetry’, that was later called surrealism by Apollinaire. In the year 1910 Marinetti wrote his manifesto of futurism. T. S. Elliot began his Prufrock in 1911, and James Joyce his Ulysses in 1914. In 1913 Strawinsky’s Sacre du printemps threw the audience of Paris into a turmoil. Furthermore, Einstein’s work on the specific theory of relativity came out in 1905, and only a few years earlier Freud’s Traumdeutung was pub- lished (1900). These men revolutionized the world and changed our conceptions of the uni- verse and of the ego. It meant the beginning of a new tradition, namely the tradition of the modern age. Despite the shocking effects for the contemporaries, this was not the birth of a new epoch but only a peak of developments which were characteristic for the whole nine- teenth century.4
So the term expressionism comprises only one aspect of this modern revolution in art and literature. It was first applied to painting and was coined by the French painter Julien-Auguste Hervé in 1901. In the 1900s it was especially used to distinguish early impressionist painting from the more energetic individualism of Van Gogh and Matisse. Where the impressionist’s aim was to paint external reality, the expressionist wanted to produce and make vivid his very own reality, his inner idea or vision, of what he saw. To him it did not make sense just to create an imitation of the world and, consequently, he rather disapproved of any realistic style. “The new expressionist,“ writes J. L. Styan, “was defiantly subjective, imposing his own intense, and often eccentric view of the world on what he painted.“5
The useful general term was soon shared by other art forms. Expressionism was soon applied to music, architecture, poetry and fiction, but it was especially at home with drama. The reason for this was that now the stage could turn away from realistic plays to those productions which showed life in a highly personal, idiosyncratic manner, and where the form of the play expressed its content. Such pioneers of imaginative stagecraft as Adolphe Appia and Edward Gordon Craig tried to simplify and purify the scene design in order to stress “the importance of a unified theatrical effect that would bring out the inner life of the play.“6
However, the German theatre emerged from these new artistic currents as the most turbulent undermining the foundations of the realistic stage. “Employing the magic of the forms, movements, sounds and colors of a stylized theatre, expressionism attempted to penetrate through life’s surface reality and portray man’s inner world. In order to present subjective states on the stage, a radical change in dramatic form became necessary.“7
For the direct sources of the new drama it is necessary to have a look at the work of three nineteenth-century dramatists who were regarded to be the forerunners of expressionism. Georg Büchner, a scientist and political revolutionary, wrote Woyzeck in 1836-37. In this tragedy the surface story is not merely presented, but Büchner attempts to capture the tension and struggle within Woyzeck’s mind. It is very striking that the action takes place in more than twenty short and swiftly moving scenes making the atmosphere nervously tense. Furthermore, the dialogue is highly reduced and most of the characters are depicted as caricatures.8 Influenced by Büchner, whom he greatly admired, Frank Wedekind wrote Frühlings Erwa- chen in 1890-91 (like Woyzeck it was not performed until the beginning of the twentieth cen- tury). Early expressionism is manifested by distorted scenes in order to present a character’s inner struggle and further elements like two-dimensional characters or heightened speech. “Although Büchner’s as well as Wedekind’s influence on the later drama is considerable, the real father of German expressionism is the Swedish playwright August Strindberg.“9 This is obviously because he dared to project his own soul, his inner self, on to the stage, that is, he was interested in the subjective reality.
The new style spread sporadically through Europe (apek in Czechoslovakia, Lenormand in France and O’Casey in Ireland) and found its way to America, being adopted by Rice, Wilder, Williams and, above all, by Eugene O’Neill.
Moreover, expressionistic characteristics were also to be found in German films, among them Robert Wiene’s The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1919) and Fritz Lang’s Metropolis (1926). From an ideological point of view, expressionism in the German theatre “was at first a drama of protest, reacting against the pre-war authority of the family and the community, the rigid lines of the social order and eventually the industrialization of society and the mechanization of life.“10 At that time, however, it was a necessary artistic form, for it had also the function of a countermovement to that kind of art which was satisfied with lining up impressions side by side without questioning the essence, the responsibility or the idea. Instead of attempting to write what could be seen, the expressionist wanted to recreate his environment as he felt it in order to reveal the very essence.11
III. Characteristics and Techniques in Expressionistic Drama
In its earlier stages expressionistic drama was a dramatization of the subconscious or a kind of scripted dream. Consequently, character motivation and the rational development of the plot of a well-made play were almost lost. Apart from becoming formless the play received its inner unity through the single vision of the author. Nevertheless, the expressionists’ interest in subjective ideas or visions forced them to create specific dramaturgical techniques that distorted reality and formed a world of dream images.12
Like romanticism, for example, expressionism does not have a precise definition. Regarding today’s use of the term ‘expressionism’, it is associated clearest with the set of basic techniques which goes back to earlier German drama and not with a distinct conception. When trying to value the impact of this European movement on American drama it is apparent that American playwrights were most of all interested in using the techniques of expressionist dramaturgy. This was probably due to the American temperament that was not receptive to the excessive Continental philosophies and themes.13
So, in order to realize the main intention of an expressionist drama, that is to reveal the innermost soul of man, particular characteristics and techniques became essential parts of it.
First, the atmosphere was often dreamlike and nightmarish achieved through shadowy, unrealistic lighting and visual distortions in the set. The dream effect was also aided by placing pauses or silence of unusual length inmidth of dialogues or monologues.
Settings were no longer realized in a detailed way as they used to be in the naturalistic drama. Simplification was emphasized, and images had more a symbolical than a photographical char- acter.
Furthermore, the structure of the play was split into a lot of episodic scenes which were arranged in very fast, almost film-like, sequence. Nevertheless, its coherence was retained by the connecting force of the dream construct.
Characters lost their individuality and were reduced to types or caricatures. In order to bring out the essential of man, he was stripped of all surface features. Such characters often repre- sented social groups rather than particular people and were depicted in an unreal, exaggerated way.
Finally, the dialogue had often an abbreviated style or was made up of short phrases. It could also appear in the form of long monologues sometimes being highly (or ironically) po- etic/lyrical. Or it was replaced by sound effects or music in order to support certain moods.14 Additionally, the different style of acting should be mentioned. Avoiding the detail of human behavior, the player often overacted and tried to adopt the mechanical and broad movements of a puppet. Also directors and their scenic and lighting designers had now the opportunity for creative experiment which any production of a realistic drama had not allowed.
“These distortions for the sake of objectifying inner truth freed the drama from the rigid conventions of realism and encouraged playwrights to turn to a more imaginative handling of their subject matter.“15
By providing these formal innovations, the European expressionists had done a great deal for the development of the modern American drama with Eugene O’Neill standing in the front line.
IV. Strindberg’s Expressionism
As Strindberg is considered to be the father of expressionism in drama, it is absolutely neces- sary to take his own, undoubtedly forerunning, conception of drama into account. Further- more, Strindberg’s importance for Eugene O’Neill has often been mentioned, and O’Neill himself made no secret of this: “It was reading his plays when I first started to write back in the winter of 1913-14 that, above all else, first gave me the vision of what modern drama could be, and first inspired me with the urge to write for the theatre myself. If there is anything of lasting worth in my work, it is due to that original impulse from him “16
It was his experience of inner torment which Strindberg wrote down in his works. But the dramas that he created in such a way were never mere copies of his personal life. From the forces of the soul of a gifted playwright and a promethian will, he raised his work high above his troubled, tortured and often very unhappy life to a general meaning for man.17 And for the purpose of objectifying soul states and inner conflicts, Strindberg found the realistic method and the naturalistic point of view of the contemporary drama to be inadequate. Considering Strindberg’s work, certain characteristics of his expressionist drama can be made out. The preface to A Dream Play, a well-known example of Strindberg’s subjective drama, can be seen as a kind of manifesto of dramatic expressionism:
As in his previous dream play, To Damascus, the author has in A Dream Play at- tempted to reproduce the detached and disunited - although apparently logical - form of dreams. Anything is apt to happen, anything seems possible and probable. Time and space do not exist. On a flimsy foundation of actual happenings, imagination spins and weaves in new patterns: an intermingling of remembrances, experiences, whims, fancies, ideas, fantastic absurdities and improvisations, and original inven- tions of the mind. The personalities split, take on duality, multiply, vanish, intensify, diffuse and disperse, and are brought into a focus. There is, however, one singleminded consciousness that exercises a dominance over the characters: the dreamer’s.18
For the purpose of examining O’Neill’s The Hairy Ape and The Great God Brown, it is probably useful to refer to certain ‘control factors’ in expressionism established by Carl Dahl- ström.19 As some of these factors will overlap with characteristics mentioned and others will become clear when analyzing O’Neill’s dramas it will be suffient just to list them: ‘radiations of the ego’ (objectivation of inner experience), ‘the unconscious’ (intuition, dream character), ‘Seele’ (feeling, ecstasy), music, lyricism, verse, religion (search for God, realization of God, battle with the ‘Powers’), ‘the worth of man’ (social-political framework, an esoteric socialism, a spiritual brotherhood, re-creation of human values).
Referring to Morris Freedman, “Strindberg’s plays move from the bitterness of personal anger to the hopelessness of the universal The personal disaster, after all, matters not at all until it becomes a revelation of the total human disaster.“20 When having a closer look at the work of O’Neill now, these control factors as well as Strindberg’s own central ideas will have a guiding function.
V. The Hairy Ape
1. Theme and Structure
When it was staged for the first time, O’Neill’s The Hairy Ape caused a lot of misunderstanding among the critics. And that was not only due to the theme of the play but also the form and style. Because of O’Neill’s very obvious criticism of the capitalist society which he never put in a more radical way, people were highly irritated by the form of expression. Dealing with such a theme, a realistic presentation was expected.21
The Hairy Ape consists of eight scenes which can all be seen as certain states which the main antagonist Yank has to undergo. The structure of the play has a circle-like form and, thus, the starting situation is equal to the one at the end: Yank being in the cramped stokehole seems to be caged like an animal. However, he is not aware of this situation still believing firmly in his false self-portrait: “I’m at de bottom, get me! Dere ain’t nothin’ foither. I’m de end! I’m de start! I start somep’nand de woild moves! It - dat’s me! - de new dat’s moiderin’ de old! . . . Steel, dat stands for de whole ting! And I’m steel - steel - steel - steel! . . . All de rich guys dat tink dey’re somep’n, dey ain’t nothin’! Dey don’t belong.“22
So, at the beginning he has a strong sense of belonging to the modern civilization, that is, he perceives himself as a integrated part of a meaningful totality although not reflecting this. Here, one of the main leitmotifs appears characterized by repeated and varied phrases like “We belong and dey don’t“ (40) or “Dat belongs“ (43).
When he sees Mildred shrink back in horror from him, his pride and initial self-confidence are shattered. Doubt and hate enter his soul and a thought-process is being caused which is going to bring him to the insight into his own alienation. On the one hand, this process is expressed by another (pantomimic) leitmotif: “He is seated forward on a bench in the exact attitude of Rodin’s “The Thinker“.“ (54) On the other hand, the action itself is not merely a sequence of scenes but it also serves as a spatial and chronological visualization of Yank’s spiritual search.
Scene four to eight show the inner conflict of a man who is trying to emerge from a brutal state of existence in which he can no longer find satisfaction. These scenes can be seen as different steps of Yank’s way to realization, getting more and more aware of being locked out of ‘real’ life by civilization. After vain efforts trying to find his belonging in the human society, Yank tries to be brother to a gorilla in the zoo. But being a civilized, thinking human being with a soul he cannot find satifaction in mere animal instinct for the initial harmony with nature is lost forever. Thus, Yank is again at his starting point. Like at the beginning he is in a steel cage.
It is unmistakable that the circle-like form of the action reveals a fundamental philosophy that is pessimistic. The concluding remark - which is highly ironic - “And, perhaps, the Hairy Ape at last belongs“ (81) makes clear that any hope of surmounting human alienation, if at all, is to be searched for in the hereafter. All the signs are that O’Neill’s criticism is concentrated on the emotional consequences of society instead of on the physical. Yank becomes aware of his alienation not by the inhuman working conditions but the insult of his self-esteem because of which he realizes that he does not belong.23
So, the theme of The Hairy Ape fits very well into expressionistic drama as it deals with cer- tain inner states of a man whose search for the essential beliefs becomes a necessary part of life.
Regarding the structure of the play, it becomes obvious that O’Neill uses rapidly moving short scenes. In this way, the action receives a dynamic flow and the confusion inside Yank’s mind is intensified.
2. Settings, Atmosphere and Development of Characters
In his stage directions for the first scene O’Neill already makes clear that the settings are intended to be fully expressionistic: “The treatment of this scene, or of any other scene in this play, should by no means be naturalistic“ (35).
There is no doubt that the design of the first scene, the firemen’s stokehole, should resemble a cage: “The room is crowded with men . . . the bewildered, furious, baffled defiance of a beast in a cage The effect sought after is a cramped space in the bowels of a ship, imprisoned by white steel. The lines of bunks, the uprights supporting them, cross each other like the steel framework of a cage“ (35). The ceiling crushing down upon the men’s heads evokes a sense of enclosure or a kind of claustrophobic threat. Furthermore, it also “accentuates the men’s usual stooping posture and thus underlines an objective property, a consequence of their toil“24.
It is evident that O’Neill creates in this scene a nightmarish atmosphere by using dark and gloomy images. Instead of being descriptive these images involve or imply a simile: the shouting stokers are described in terms of furious beasts; they resemble the appearance of Neanderthal Man; the white steel framework of the tiers of narrow bunks gives the impression of a cage and creates the effect of cramped space.25 Consequently, the depiction of the stokehole has a strong effect on one’s feelings so that the fearful impression is even more increased.
In addition, the unpleasant atmosphere is intensified by employing almost alienated noises and sounds: “There is a deafening metallic roar, through which Yank’s voice can be heard bello- wing“ (44); “Eight bells sound, muffled, vibrating through the steel walls as if some enormous brazen gong were imbedded in the heart of the ship“ (44). Even the voices sometimes become distorted: “The chorused word has a brazen metallic quality as if their throats were phono- graph horns.“ In case of Yank, O’Neill produces the effect of identification by merging his voice with the metallic roar so that the impression arises that Yank is steel. As it is noticeable that references to the word ‘steel’ are made frequently it thus serves as a leitmotif throughout the play.
The second scene leads to a conspicuously different world. The relationship to scene I is one of obvious contrast: “The impression to be conveyed by this scene is one of the beautiful, vivid life of the sea all about - sunshine on the deck in a great flood, the fresh sea wind blowing across it“ (45).
Nevertheless, also in this scene the leitmotif ‘cage’ appears. When Mildred tells her aunt about her discontent with being a waste product in the degenerative development of the Douglas generations her situation seems to be that of someone who is caged. She has to accept her fate of having lost personal autonomy: “When a leopard complains of his spots, it must sound rather grotesque. Purr, little leopard. Purr, scratch, tear, kill, gorge yourself and be happy - only stay in the jungle where your spots are camouflage. In a cage they make you con- spicuous.“
The third scene which O’Neill treats separated to present the effect of Mildred’s appearance on Yank is characterized by a masterful construction. “The setting of the stokehole possesses the intensity of an expressionistic painting.“26 It provides an even gloomier atmosphere than in the first scene. One hanging bulb sheds only dim light and the murky air is full of coal dust. It is hard to make out the interior while masses of shadows are everywhere. In addition, a line of men is before the furnace doors “handling their shovels as if they were part of their bodies, with a strange, awkward, swinging rhythm“ (50). It is obvious that the movements of the stok- ers are absolutely unnatural though serving their work. Their moves have a mechanical quality so that they can be seen as mere parts of the ship’s engines. Furthermore, the workers are depicted “in silhouette in the crouching, inhuman attitudes of chained gorillas“ (50). This whole disturbing picture is completed by obscure, and in no way realistic, noises:
There is a tumult of noise - the brazen clang of the furnace doors as they are flung open or slammed shut, the grating, teeth-gritting grind of steel against steel, of crunching coal But there is order in it, rhythm, a mechanical regulated recurrence, a tempo. And rising above all . . . the roar of leaping flames in the furnaces, the monotonous throbbing beat of the engines. (50/51)
The interaction of fire, engines and steel produces here a dissonant, yet rhythmic, ‘music’ of the modern age. Besides, it can also be understood as a warning of the forthcoming conflict.27
When Mildred comes from the cool, fresh air of the first cabin (described in the previous scene) to the hot, murky atmosphere of the stokehole, and dressed in white, stands before the grimy workers, the contrast between the two worlds is impressive. This turning point is intensi- fied by Yank acting exactly like a gorilla: “ . . . he brandishes his shovel murderously over his head in one hand, pounding on his chest, gorilla-like, with the other, shouting“ (52/53). Loo- king at this ‘furious beast’, Mildred, the white apparition, “shrinks away from him, putting both hands up before her eyes to shut out the sight of his face, to protect her own“ (53). So, for the first time Yank becomes conscious of the barrier between his world and the world to which Mildred belongs: “This startles Yank to a reaction He feels himself insulted in some un- known fashion in the very heart of his pride“ (53). His view of the world and his perception of himself is attacked. From now on it is his fate to search for his belonging inside the society.
Here, at the latest, it becomes evident that the splendid illustrations of distortion can be related to Yank’s mind. Surface reality is distorted in order that we may see these settings as they appear to Yank’s troubled mind. At the beginning, the inner struggle is still hidden in his sub- consciousness - in the same way that everything is difficult to make out in the dim and gloomy stokehole. But it is to emerge when Yank is confrontated with Mildred representing a world that rejects him.
Superficially, only Yank’s pride seems to be shattered. In the fourth scene, however, he is found in the exact position of Rodin’s “The Thinker“, and his mates try to find an explanation. Even if on occasion insults may provoke angry reactions, they do not cut deep. But Yank is hurt in a very bad way. A sign of this is that he is not any more in the superior position when having an argument with Paddy. It’s now Paddy who dominates the dialogue while Yank is only uttering exclamations which show his rage and dissatisfaction: “Hell! Law!“; “Hell! Governments!“; “Hell! God!“ (56) His apparent overreaction suggests that he is driven by a larger cause, and he is not not simply a hurt stoker with an apish face but someone who seeks truth on a fate-marked course.
The fifth scene again is one of expressionistic distortion and contrast. The contrast is, as in scene III, between Yank’s world and the world Mildred belongs to. Here, the latter is a crowd of people on Fifth Avenue which O’Neill characterizes as “a procession of gaudy ma- rionettes“ (63). In this scene he seems to employ a naturalistic setting with a pleasant atmos- phere describing a lot of details: “The jeweler’s window is gaudy with glittering diamonds, emeralds, rubies, pearls, etc., fashioned in ornate tiaras, crowns, necklaces, collars, etc“ (60). Yet on a closer look it becomes obvious that these descriptions are far too exaggerated to be realistic. The adornments are of “extreme wealth“, everything is “gaudy“ or “enormous“ and has “incredible prices“. The downpour of artifical light in the furrier’s has the general effect “of a background of magnificence cheapened and made grotesque by commercialism, a back- ground in tawdry disharmony with the clear light and sunshine on the street itself“ (60). Thus, it is more the distorted surface reality as it appears to Yank than an objective description.
In contrast to the “general atmosphere of clean, well-tidied, wide street“ Yank and Long are described as having an extremely - almost exaggerated - filthy and dirty outward appearance: “He has not shaved for days . . . the black smudge of coal dust still sticks like make-up“ (60). However, the confrontation with the ‘marionettes’ of Fifth Avenue reveals the naturalness of Yank. In comparison to him, these people seem very unnatural and almost artificial. The ele- gant people leaving the church are dressed very - again exaggeratedly - extravagantly, “yet with something of the relentless horror of Frankensteins in their detached, mechanical un- awareness“ (63). Here we have a good example for O’Neill objectifying in concrete, visual terms Yank’s inner thoughts. Although he screams angrily at the people they remain calm and even totally indifferent, “they seem neither to see nor hear him“ (65). This making him furious, he tries to jostle the men, but “rather it is he who recoils after each collision“ (65). This pro- cession of marionettes becomes evidently also a cage against the bars of which he beats in vain. Finally, a fat gentleman accuses him of missing his bus and calls for the police, so that “Many police whistles shrill out on the instant and a whole platoon of policemen rush in on Yank from all sides The crowd at the window have not moved or noticed this disturbance“ (66). The scene ends with a loud gong of the dinning patrol wagon as if sealing another step of Yank’s way to his fatal end.
The conflict in this scene is more than a class struggle. It is the inner conflict of a man and the strange incidents result from the radiations of Yank’s ego.
The setting of scene VI is the prison on Blackwells Islands. The low ceiling and the narrow corridor with one electric bulb reminds one of the crampedness and the gloominess in the sto- kehole. “Early metaphors relating to prison are transformed into a set of non-metaphorical images (having symbolic connotations).“28 Yank finds himself in a real cell behind bars and, thus, is inclined to suppose that he is an ape in the zoo (“I’m a hairy ape, get me?“ (67)) He is also again in the attitude of “The Thinker“ which shows that his process of reflection is con- tinuously in progress. As a result, he realizes that steel does not ‘belong’ any more for now he is imprisoned by steel: “Steel! It don’t belong, dat’s what! Cages, cells, locks, bolts, bars - dat’s what it means!“ (71)
The next scene is less obviously distorted/expressionistic. Caused by incongruous misunderstandings it has the character of a hopeless, grotesque tragicomedy. Nevertheless, the fact that the building is massed in black shadow gives a hint of an unhappy ending. Also the commonplace and unmysterious furnishing of the office can be seen as a sign of the disillusionment which Yank is to expect. After he is thrown out of the office by his last ‘allies’ as he hopes, he is then “bewildered by the confusion in his brain, pathetically impotent. He sits there, brooding, in as near to the attitude of Rodin’s “Thinker“ as he can get in his position“ (76). At this point, Yank’s construct of ideas is finally destroyed. He realizes that he is an outcast in the modern society: “Steel was me, and I owned de woild. Now I ain’t steel, and de woild owns me. Aw, hell! I can’t see - it’s all dark, get me? It’s all wrong!“ (77) The last scene shows the monkey house in the zoo, everything shrouded in clouds except the gorilla cage on which grey light falls. The fact that the animals have human features (a conversational tone can be heard out of the cages and the gorilla is sitting in the attitude of “The Thinker“) stands in contrast to the workers and the people on Fifth Avenue who were always characterized as mechanical or unnatural.
The leitmotif of Yank’s comparison to a hairy ape comes to its perfection. When standing face to face in front of the gorilla, silent and motionless, both staring at each other, the similarity between Yank and the animal is most striking. “A pause of dead stillness“ (78) underlines the fact that after being named filthy beast by Mildred and called brainless ape by an I.W.W. sec- retary his resemblance to an ape is finally proved. Moreover, the desperation of his last move is clearly revealed.
Yank’s death in a steel cage makes the symbolism of the play complete. The confrontation with Mildred caused in him the feeling of being hemmed in by bars of steel. At the beginning this feeling was more subconscious but in the development of the play, as it slowly emerges to his mind, it finally becomes ‘true’.
Having realized that he does not belong to modern society, Yank attempts to be brother to the gorilla, which stands for nature. When he talks to the ape, he thinks that it gives reaction: “The gorilla, as if he understood, stands upright . . .“ (78); “The gorilla roars an emphatic affirmative“ (80). But, in fact, these ‘answers’ clearly reveal Yank’s desolate state of mind, serving as examples for radiation of the ego.
3. Character and Speech
Typification is very clearly marked in this play. This applies obviously also to the main character Yank. He is a primitive man trying to find something to which he belongs. As the author explains, he is “a symbol of man who has lost his old harmony with nature, the harmony which he used to have as an animal and has not yet acquired in a spiritual way.“29 As a type character, Yank becomes significant, not for what he does in a particular environment, but for what he symbolizes in a universal struggle.
A good illustration of ‘radiations of the ego’ are in the form of monologues and soliloquies expressing different ideological attitudes as well as elucidating Yank’s inner struggle. “The stroker tries to rationalize his predicament in the pattern of what may be called a modified dramatic interior monologue (78-81). It is not a simple aside since its primary function is not to inform the audience but to express a seething state of a turbulent mind.“30 References to the word “steel“ are repeated in a kind of musical-theme dialogue. O’Neill ar- ranges the dialogue for an emotional effect by picking up phrases and repeating them as in a musical composition. So, in the first scene Yank is so proud of his strength that he boasts, “And I’m steel - steel - steel . . .“ (44).
For the description of the numerous minor characters O’Neill uses chiefly the means of con- trast and exaggeration. So, in scene III, the presentation of Mildred as “a girl of twenty, slen- der, delicate, with a pale pretty face marred by a self-conscious expression of disdainful supe- riority“ (45) and her aunt as “a pompous and proud - and fat - old lady“ (45) illustrates their caricaturistic type character, thus symbolizing the degeneration and artificiality of the wealthy bourgeoisie. The important contrast lies not between the “two incongruous, artificial figures“, but between them and the environment: “The impression to be conveyed by this scene is one of the beautiful, vivid life of the sea all about . . .“ (45) Consequently, their alienation from na- ture and artificial character is strikingly revealed.
The same applies to the high-ranking ‘marionettes’ of Fifth Avenue - in an even more exagger- ated fashion. Here, their extremely artificial appearance (“overdressed to the nth degree“ (63)) is emphasized by gestures and dialogues.31 Acting as if they were unaware of Yank and his outbursts of rage, their talk is typically snobbish and affected: “We must organize a hundred per cent American bazaar.“ (64) When they all answer in chorus in a mechanical way, their similarity to lifeless machines is most apparent. The contrast to the pleasant atmosphere (“a flood of mellow, tempered sunshine; gentle, genteel breezes.“ (60)) emphasizes the inhuman and artificial aspect of the rich again.
The same machine-like speech can be noticed in the workers; their chorused voices have a metallic sound. The fact that they are stereotypes rather than individuals - “All the civilized white races are represented . . .“ (35) - and therefore appear grotesque and unreal is expressed by the picture of the Neanderthal Man.
Long and Paddy stand out of this group for they are special stereotypes and the only ones to have different opinions to Yank’s. Long is a typical follower of Marxism holding the class so- ciety responsible for the misery of the proletariat. The ‘poet’ Paddy is characterized by his yearning for the past when man and nature were still in harmony. At times the language of Paddy is touched by poetic exaltation. A good example for lyric poetry is found in the first scene in which Paddy conjures up the good old days of the sailing vessels: “Oh, to be scud- ding south again wid the power of the Trade Wind driving her on steady through the nights and the days! Full sail on her! Nights and days! Nights when the foam of the wake would be flam- ing wid fire, when the sky’d be blazing and winking wid stars . . .“ (41).
In contrast to the rhythmic effects he uses throughout the play, O’Neill employs lyricism in order to strive for a stronger emotional effect.
VI. The Great God Brown
In his essay “Memoranda on Masks“32 O’Neill speaks of a “non-realistic imaginative theatre“ using also terms like “inner drama“ and “drama of souls“. Regarding his play The Great God Brown, it is obvious that he probes into the problem of man’s search for inner unity and har- mony. As a means of expression he uses masks here. And it seems very clear that the mask is to be seen as a key-image probably having more functions than just typification as in the an- cient Greek theatre.
As the play lead many critics to bewilderment, O’Neill wrote a letter to several New York newspapers explaining the literary onomastics, motivations of the characters and the symbol- ism of the play. In the following, these explanations will not only serve as a help for further examinations but they are also a source of information which has to be taken into account.
1. The Use of Masks in the Development of the Characters
1.1 Dion Anthony and William Brown
As O’Neill states that he is concerned with the “background pattern of conflicting tides in the soul of Man the mystery . . . in any life on earth“33, the universal nature of the subject mat- ter of this play is indicated. Such a subject matter of universal scope calls for type characters rather than for individuals in a particular environment. Thus, the two main characters, Dion Anthony and Billy Brown, are types. They are symbolic of all who labour in their vocations and simultaneously represent the crass and the sublime which struggle within each. Not only are these two masked men alter-egos; there is a duality even within the artist, as his name somewhat too pointedly indicates.
So, in addition to typification, radiation of the ego is a main expressionistic factor in this play. O’Neill embodies in Dion’s name(s) the dichotomy of his existence. It refers to Dionysus and Saint Anthony and alludes to the conflict in modern times between “the creative pagan acceptance of life“ and “the masochistic, life-denying spirit of Christianity“34.
On the surface, Dion appears as a lean, wiry young man, very restless and nervous. But in order to hide his sensitive, spiritual self, he wears a mask with “the expression of a mocking, reckless, defiant, gayly scoffing and sensual young Pan“ (294). The mask has not only a superficial meaning but it also symbolizes the one side of his personality that is more conscious and recognized by society. In contrast to this his inner attitude, reflected in the face beneath, is “dark, spiritual, poetic, passionately supersensitive, helplessly unprotected in its childlike, religious faith in life“ (293-294). Referring to O’Neill’s own words, “Dion’s mask of Pan which he puts on as a boy is not only a defense against the world for the super-sensitive painter-poet underneath it but also an integral part of his character as the artist.“35 So, the function of the mask is first of all to differentiate the hidden from the public self.
Dion’s real face mirrors the terrible conflict within himself, between an effusive vivaciousness of spirit and a restraining conformity of attitude. This inner struggle makes him increasingly incapable of meeting the demands of outer reality, that is, he is unable to paint or to support his family and, instead, starts to drink. In addition to that, he is confronted with a world that “is not only blind to the man beneath but it also sneers at and condemns the Pan-mask it sees.“36 Dion’s personality changes under the strain of the inner conflict. This development is again explained by O’Neill: “After that Dion’s inner self retrogresses along the line of Christian resignation until it partakes of the nature of the Saint while at the same time the outer Pan is slowly transformed by his struggle with reality into Mephistopheles.“37 So, while his mask reflects his increasingly defiant attitude towards the world that rejects him, his real face becomes purified, almost ascetic: “His real face has aged . . . more selfless and ascetic . . . The mask, too, has changed. It is older, more defiant and mocking . . .“ (303). It is obvious that the mask is additionally used to indicate a gradual change in personality.
Shortly before his death, Dion makes his last will and testament: “I leave Dion Anthony to Wil- liam Brown - for him to love and obey - for him to become me . . .“ (331). Then Brown takes his mask and assumes his friend’s identity. So, finally, the mask has also the function to indi- cate the transfer of personality which is probably the most important factor in the play.
In contrast to Dion, the subjective type, William ‘Billy’ Brown is the objective type represent- ing the tall, athletic, blond all-American boy. Through the play he ages into a successful busi- nessman-architect still appearing as a stereotype due to the exaggerated depiction (“He is the ideal of the still youthful, good-looking, well-groomed, successful provincial American of forty.“(321)). Nevertheless, secretly, he has always envied Dion because to him it seems that his friend has mastered life and enjoyed himself, while he has been conventional and practical. O’Neill describes Billy as a “visionless demi-god of our new materialistic myth - a success - building his life of exterior things, inwardly empty and resourceless “38 The reason for him not wearing a mask until Dion’s death is that his consciousness identifies more with objects outside himself than those in his inner life. Through Dion, however, Billy’s self-awareness awakes by realizing his knowledge and envy of Dion’s creative life force and also of his wife Margaret. Consequently, he steals Dion’s mask of Mephistopheles. Here, the mask is the symbol of the subjective, imaginative qualities which Billy lacks. After assuming Dion’s identity and, thus, his sensitive nature, he is confronted with the ‘magic’ touch of life starting to torture him: “He tears off his mask and reveals a suffering face that is ravaged and haggard, his own face tortured and distorted by the demon of Dion’s mask“ (337-338).
There are many links throughout the play that “Dion Anthony and William Brown are merely expressionistic objectifications of a multiple personality “39 From the beginning, Dion and Billy are always closely associated. They are of the same age, they attend the same school, take the same course of study and later become partners in Billy’s architect office. In addition, they even love the same girl. When both of them visit the whore Cybel, though for different reasons, she suggests that they are “brothers, I guess, somehow“ (320). She sees that they seem like missing parts of each other. So, Billy and Dion “have, in reality, always been two opposing disparate parts of a single and complete whole.“40
It is evident that the search for God is an important expressionistic factor in this play. Dion, the creative artist, has tried to find God through his painting: “. . . I got paint on my paws in an endeavor to see God“ (316). Failing in this, he pretends to forswear his quest for God and ironically deifies materialism embodied in the Great God Brown. Cybel, the pantheistic Earth Mother, is to present the solution of life. When she says to Dion that “Life is alright, if you let it alone“ (314), she probably means that one “should find a way to rid themselves of the desire to win, to possess and even to see God.“41 Her philosophy is further revealed in another dialogue with Dion: “You may be important but your life’s not. There is millions of it born every second. Life can cost too much even for a sucker to afford it - like everything else. And it’s not sacred, only the you inside is. The rest is earth.“ (319)
O’Neill himself refers in his published letter to Christianity as “once heroic in martyrs for its intense faith, now pleading weakly for intense belief in anything, even Godhead itself.“42 One can follow from this that O’Neill was more concerned with the question of the essence of life than with the search for a god according to Christianity.
1.2 Cybel and Margaret
As the other figures in the play, Cybel is also a type character, though occupying a special part. In the published explanation, O’Neill points out that “Cybel is an incarnation of Cybele, the Earth Mother doomed to segregation as a pariah in a world of unnatural laws but patronized by her segregators, who are thus themselves the first victims of their law“ (66). Also Cybel has a split personality, though quite satisfactory in contrast to Dion. She has come to an accommodation with the world and its unnatural laws by means of her prostitute’s mask and, therefore, does not have to compromise the relationship to her inner self.43 Wearing the mask, she has the “rouged and eye-blackened countenance of the hardened prostitute“ and speaks in “a coarse, harsh voice“ (313). Unmasked, though, she has the external characteristics of a deity as she “... chews gum like a sacred cow forgetting time with an eternal end“ and has “eyes dreamy with the reflected stirring of profound instincts“ (312).
Her duality is also visualized by the furnishings of her home. On the one hand, the furnishings are cheap and shabby - “a dirty gilt second-hand sofa . . . a bald-spotted crimson plush chair. . . . a cheap alarm clock“ (311) - and, on the other hand, there are symbols of her divinity: “The piano-player is groggily hanging out a sentimental medley of “Mother-Mammy“ tunes“ (312), “. . . wall-paper of a dull yellow-brown, resembling a blurred impression of a fallow field in early spring“ (311). Here we have illustrations of expressionism that are consistent with Cybel’s appearance and personality.
Dion’s wife, Margaret, is O’Neill’s “image of the modern direct descendant of the Marguerite of Faust - the eternal girl-woman with a virtuous simplicity of instinct, properly oblivious to everything but the means to her end of maintaining the race.“44 The fact that Margaret is meant to be a type character rather than an individual is indicated in the stage directions already early in the play: “On her entrance, her face is masked with an exact, almost transparent reproduction of her own features, but giving her the abstract quality of a Girl instead of the individual, Margaret“ (296). As a type character, she is “three mothers in one person“ (316). So she represents the substitute mother of Dion, the physical mother of his three children and the everlasting eternal feminine referring to Faust ’s Marguerite.45
Moreover, she belongs to the world in which necessary compromises are required in order to live within the accepted parameters of society. Since she is not able to give love and protection to Dion, i.e. his real self, but only to his mask, Margaret is a possessive female.
2. Language and Sound
Regarding the prologue and the epilogue of the play, it is evident that O’Neill makes an at- tempt to round the circle by using same words. Especially the lament for the past of Billy’s mother - “The nights are so much colder now than they used to be! . . . but the moonlight was warm and beautiful in those days . . .“ (293). - is repeated by Margaret in the epilogue. Also aural effects are revealed as expressionistic elements in these scenes. When the play opens and closes the sound of “the lapping of ripples against the piles and their swishing on the beach“ (291) as well as “distant dance music“ (356) can be heard. In this way O’Neill under- lines the natural cyclic process of life which has been articulated by Cybel: “Always spring comes again bearing life! Always again! Always, always forever again! - Spring again! - life again! - summer and fall and death and peace again!“ (355) By employing verbal repetition in this speech - “always“ and “again“ -, O’Neill attempts to make the reader really ‘feel’ the re- currence of life as being an essential aspect of life.46
Furthermore, phrases like “my own Dion - my little boy - my baby“ (298) are repeated as in a musical composition (sometimes even visualized by the stage direction: “She sings laughingly, elfishly“ (298)) and, thus, causing a strong emotional effect.
Language often appears - especially in the prologue - in a rhapsodic style. When Dion meets Margaret for the first time, his outbursts become significant and even more ecstatic by using a “disconnected yet highly suggestive speech of the expressionists . . . [compressing] into a few lines of dialogue the essence of Dion’s and Margaret’s first sexual union“47: “Come! Rest! Relax! . . .“ (301)
A good example for poetry in the play is in the third scene of the first act. Shortly before his death, and being unmasked, Dion speaks about his parents. (315-316) And Brown, also in dying, rises above the suffering and the frustration of life to a note of exultation and of ecstatic lyricism: “Only he that has wept can laugh! The laughter of Heaven sows earth with a rain of tears, and out of Earth’s transfigured birth-pain the laughter of Man returns to bless and play again in innumerable dancing gales of flame upon the knees of God!“ (355)
As a result of this study, I am convinced that O’Neill’s indebtedness to Continental expressionistic dramas and dramatists, especially to Strindberg, is very evident. The Hairy Ape and The Great God Brown are full of expressionistic elements and techniques which have their origins in this European movement. Nevertheless, a careful study of O’Neill’s dramas also proves his genius as a dramatic artist. There is no doubt that he developed his own style of expressionistic dramas and did not only imitate or copy his idols abroad.
One must emphasize here his use of masks as being unique and experimental. Instead of conventionalizing the human individuality, the mask in The Great God Brown is used to reveal it as directly and profoundly as possible. On closer examination the mask has three functions. It is used firstly to differentiate the two sides of the split character, secondly to indicate a gradual change in personality and, finally, to show a transfer of personality.
One might think that The Great God Brown is linked more to the realistic theatre because, undoubtedly, it moves in space and time in a coherent and essentially realistic way. But when regarding Dion and Billy as two parts of a multiple personality, the action is obviously only a framework in order to better visualize the real essence of the drama.
People had similar problems with The Hairy Ape. In none of his dramas did O’Neill express criticism against the modern society in such a radical way. Having only the social criticism in mind, one is irritated by O’Neill’s grotesque form of presentation which is incongruous with such a serious theme. But, in fact, he was most of all concerned about the character of Yank, an every human being, “a symbol of man, who has lost his old harmony with nature“48. In or- der to show the struggles which hit the tragic figure Yank, he creates inner reality with superfi- cial unrealistic techniques expressed partly symbolically, partly abstractly and partly gro- tesquely. One is confronted with imaginative distorted pictures when disruptions from the out- side work into the inside of man.
In my opinion, O’Neill employs in The Hairy Ape so many expressionistic factors as in no other play he wrote. There is no difficulty in finding elements that go back to Continental ex- pressionism and also to Strindberg. The most significant of these expressionistic elements are radiations of the ego, typification, sound effects, musical-theme dialogue and monologue.
Bogard, Travis. Contour in Time: The Plays of Eugene O’Neill. New York: Oxford UP, 1988.
Dahlström, Carl. Strindberg’s Dramatic Expressionism. Ann Arbor, Mich., 1930.
Dietrich, Margaret. Das Moderne Drama: Strömungen-Gestalten-Motive. 2., überarb. u. erw. Aufl. Stuttgart, 1963.
Egri, Peter. ““Belonging“ Lost: Alienation and Dramatic Form in Eugene O’Neill’s The Hairy Ape.“ Critical Essays on Eugene O’Neill. Ed. J. J. Martine. Boston: G. K. Hall, 1984.
Erzgräber, Willi, and Paul Goetsch, eds. Neue Studien zur Anglistik und Amerikanistik: Konventionen und Tendenzen der Gesellschaftskritik im expressionistischen ameri- kanischen Drama der 20er Jahre. Frankfurt a. M.: Peter Lang Verlag, 1977. Freedman, Morris. “Strindberg’s Positive Nihilism.“ Essays in the Modern Drama. Ed. Morris Freedman. Boston, 1964. 56-63.
O’Neill, Eugene. Comments on the Drama and the Theatre. A Source Book Ed. Ulrich Halfmann. Tübingen, 1986.
O’Neill, Eugene. “Memorando on Masks.“ O’Neill and his Plays: Four Decades of Criticism. Ed. Oscar Cargill, N. Bryllion Fagin and William O. Fisher. New York: N.Y. UP, 1961. 116-122.
O’Neill, Eugene. Nine Plays. New York: Modern Library, 1993.
O’Neill, Eugene. “Nobel Prize Address.“ American Playwrights on Drama. Ed. Horst Frenz. New York: Hill/ Wang, 1965. 42-46.
O’Neill, Eugene. “O’Neill talks about his plays.“ O’Neill and his Plays: Four Decades of Criticism. Ed. Oscar Cargill, N. Bryllion Fagin and William o. Fisher. New York: N. Y. UP, 1961. 110-112.
Rosen, Kenneth M. “O’Neill’s Brown and Wilde’s Gray.“ Modern Drama 13. 1971. 347-355.
Sockel, Walter H. Der literarische Expressionismus: Der Expressionismus in der deut- schen Literatur des 20. Jahrhunderts. Trans. Jutta and Theodor Knust. München: Langen/ Müter, 1960.
Strindberg, August. Eight Expressionist Plays. Trans. Arvid Paulson. New York, 1965. Styan, J. L. Modern Drama in Theory and Practice: Expressionism and Epic Theatre. Vol. 3. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1981.
Tedesco, Joseph S. “Dion Brown and His Problems.“ Critical Essays on Eugene O’Neill. Ed. James J. Martine. Boston: GK Hall, 1984. 114-123.
Törnqvist, Egil. A Drama of Souls: Studies in O’Neill’s Super-naturalistic Technique. Uppsala: Almqvist and Wiksells, 1968.
Törnqvist, Egil. “Miss Julie and O’Neill.“ Modern Drama 19. 1976. 351-364.
Valgemae, Mardi. Accelerated Grimace: Expressionism in the American Drama of the 1920s. Carbondale and Edwardsville: Southern Illinois UP, 1972. Valgemae, Mardi. “O’Neill and German Expressionism.“ Modern Drama 10. 1967. 111-123.
1 Eugene O’Neill, “Nobel Prize Address,“ American Playwrights on Drama, ed. Horst Frenz (New York: Hill/ Wang, 1965) 42.
2 Egil Törnqvist, “Miss Julie and O’Neill,“ Modern Drama 19, (1976) 352-354.
3 J. L. Styan, Expressionism and Epic Theatre, Modern Drama in Theory and Practice, Vol. 3, (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1981) 1.
4 Walter H. Sockel, Der literarische Expressionismus: Der Expressionismus in der deutschen Literatur des 20. Jahrhunderts, trans. Jutta and Theodor Knust (München: Langen/ Müter, 1960) 7-9.
5 Styan 2.
6 Mardi Valgemae, Accelerated Grimace: Expressionism in the American Drama of the 1920s (Carbondale and Edwardsville: Southern Ill. UP, 1972) 1-2.
7 Valgemae 2.
8 Valgemae 5.
9 Valgemae 6.
10 Styan 3.
11 Styan 1-2.
12 Valgemae 12.
13 Valgemae 3.
14 Styan 4-5.
15 Valgemae 12.
16 O’Neill, “Nobel Prize Address“ 42.
17 Margaret Dietrich, Das Moderne Drama: Strömungen-Gestalten-Motive, 2., überarb. u. erw. Aufl. (Stuttgart, 1963) 134-135.
18 August Strindberg, Eight Expressionist Plays, trans. Arvid Paulson (New York, 1965) 343.
19 Carl Dahlström, Strindberg’s Dramatic Expressionism (Ann Arbor, Mich., 1930) 80.
20 Morris Freedman, “Strindberg’s Positive Nihilism,“ Essays in the Modern Drama, ed. Morris Freedman (Boston, 1964) 63.
21 Willi Erzgräber and Paul Goetsch, eds., Neue Studien zur Anglistik und Amerikanistik: Konventionen u. Tendenzen der Gesellschaftskritik im expressionistischen amerikanischen Drama der 20er Jahre (Frankfurt a. M.: Peter Lang Verlag, 1977) 117.
22 Eugene O’Neill, Nine Plays (New York: Modern Library, 1993) 44. Subsequent references to the plays will appear in the text.
23 Erzgräber 119.
24 Peter Egri, ““Belonging“ Lost: Alienation and Dramatic Form in Eugene O’Neill’s The Hairy Ape,“ Critical Essays on Eugene O’Neill, ed. J. J. Martine (Boston: G. K. Hall, 1984) 78-79.
25 Egri 80.
26 Egri 84.
27 Egil Törnqvist, A Drama of Souls: Studies in O’Neill’s Super-naturalistic Technique (Uppsala: Almqvist and Wiksells, 1968) 159.
28 Egri 92.
29 Eugene O’Neill, “O’Neill talks about his plays,“ O’Neill and his Plays: Four Decades of Criticism, ed. Oscar Cargill, N. Bryllion Fagin and William o. Fisher (New York: N. Y. UP, 1961) 110.
30 Egri 96.
31 Erzgräber 119.
32 Eugene O’Neill, “Memorando on Masks,“ O’Neill and his Plays. Four Decades of Criticism, ed. Oscar Cargill, N. Bryllion Fagin and William O. Fisher (New York: N. Y. UP, 1961) 116.
33 Eugene O’Neill, Comments on the Drama and the Theatre. A Source Book, ed. Ulrich Halfmann (Tübingen, 1986) 67.
34 O’Neill, Comments 66.
35 Ibid. 66.
36 Ibid. 66.
37 Ibid. 67.
38 Ibid. 66.
39 Valgemae 36.
40 Kenneth M. Rosen, “O’Neill’s Brown and Wilde’s Gray,“ Modern Drama 13 (1971) 351.
41 Travis Bogard, Contour in Time: The Plays of Eugene O’Neill (New York: Oxford UP, 1988) 277.
42 O’Neill, Comments 66.
43 Joseph S. Tedesco, “Dion Brown and His Problems,“ Critical Essays on Eugene O’Neill, ed. James J. Martine (Boston, 1984) 119.
44 O’Neill, Comments 66.
45 Bogard 274.
46 Törnqvist, A Drama of Souls 192.
47 Mardi Valgemae, “O’Neill and German Expressionism,“ Modern Drama 10 (1967) 121.
48 O’Neill, O’Neill talks about his plays 110.
- Quote paper
- Mathias Sparr (Author), 1999, Expressionistic Elements in Eugene O`Neill`s The Hairy Ape and The Great God Brown, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/94694