CliffsNotes on O’Neill’s The Emperor Jones, The Hairy Ape and Mourning Becomes Electra

CliffsNotes on O’Neill’s The Emperor Jones, The Hairy Ape and Mourning Becomes Electra

CliffsNotes on O’Neill’s The Emperor Jones, The Hairy Ape and Mourning Becomes Electra

CliffsNotes on O’Neill’s The Emperor Jones, The Hairy Ape and Mourning Becomes Electra



• Life and Background of the Author

• Brief Synopses

• Lists of Characters

• Critical Commentaries

• Character Analyses

• Critical Essays

• Essay Topics and Review Questions


Eugene Gladstone O’Neill was born in New York City October 16, 1888. O’Neill’s father, James, was a matinee idol of the melodrama school who specialized in portraying the count of The Count of Monte Cristo. Together with his family James O’Neill toured the entire country for sixteen years in this production. Baptized into the theater in this manner, Eugene utilized the technological background in becoming America’s pioneer of expressionistic and naturalistic drama.

O’Neill entered Princeton University in 1906, but left shortly thereafter to work on a tramp steamer at sea. During this period of travel, O’Neill formulated many of the ideas and characterizations which are found in his works. His obsession with the mystical attractiveness of the sea plays a central role in the S.S. Glencairn tetralogy and in Anna Christie. It was not until O’Neill was stricken with tuberculosis in 1913, however, that his thoughts turned to playwriting. the following year he studied the art of playwriting under George Pierce Baker at Harvard University. in 1916 Bound East for Cardiff was produced at the Wharf Theatre in Massachusetts by the Provincetown Players.

Four years later, O’Neill was on Broadway with the Provincetown production of Beyond the Horizon, for which he received both popular acclaim and the Pulitzer Prize. in the course of his profuse dramatic career (47 plays) O’Neill was the recipient of three more Pultitzer Prizes (Anna Christie, 1922: Strange Interlude, 1928: and Long Day’s Journey Into Night, posthumously) and the coveted Nobel Prize for Literature in 1936. Desire Under the Elms, perhaps the greatest of his works, represents a milestone in American Drama.

Shortly before he died of bronchial pneumonia in 1953, O’Neill set out to destroy all of his remaining manuscripts. Fortunately for the world of the theater, three completed plays were uncovered among his papers: Long Day’s Journey Into Night: Hughie: and A Touch of the Poet.

O’Neill’s dramatic instincts repelled him against the old naturalism of surface-reality; he wanted a supranaturalism. He favored the Strindberg of The Spook Sonata and The Dream Play, for there the Swedish expressionist concerns himself with the inscrutable forces behind life. Nietzsche’s ideas on the development of race instincts also found a voice in the naturalism of O’Neill. O’Neill felt that man today is the same creature he was 2,000 years ago; he is learning ever so slowly how to control his primal instincts. Indeed, O’Neill would say that modern man is far worse off than his predecessors, for today we find the death of the old god and the failure of science to replace a new one. O’Neill, in dramatizing these instinctive relationships among men, made great use of Freudian and Jungian psychology. the drama of O’Neill is distinctively modern in all its aspects: in theatricality, in philosophy, and in subject matter.

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