Anna Christie: Play by Eugene O'Neill - Summary & Analysis

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      The play Anna Christie achieves it most striking effect through the description of a sailor’s life ashore in and around waterfront saloons. The first act is O’Neill’s masterpiece in the domain of strict realism, each character being depicted with supreme sureness and mastery. The content is the raising of a fallen Swedish girl to respectable human status by strong and wholesome influences of the sea, for once pessimism is left out of the picture, the play having what is called a ‘happy’ ending.

      The play opens with Anna’s arrival on the waterfront, where, recovering from illness, she plans to visit her father, Chris, a sea captain. Concealing her past, Anna finds, aboard, her father’s vessel, the sense of freedom and cleanness she longs for, and falls in love, for the first time, with the stoker Mat Burke. Ignoring the disapproving Chris, the two plan to marry. But when Burke discovers the truth about Anna’s past, his illusion of love is all shattered, and he deserts her to take refuge in the illusions induced by whiskey. Yet, upon Burke’s drunken return, Anna’s love and willingness to reform convince him of the possibility of a successful marriage. The two lovers are finally united with Christ’s approval and blessing.

Critical Analysis

      In Anna Christie, this impossible ideal of security found its clearest expression and its surest defeat. The main thematic interest of the play is the irresponsibility of Anna’s father, which for a time drove Anna into prostitution, but it could totally destroy her. The play is not tragic, but true to life. It is a realistic study of modem life, which dramatizes that mixture of comedy and tragedy most characteristic of life. The character of Anna is drawn from life, but is larger than life. She is a prostitute having a heart of gold. She possesses perfect integrity which will not let her cheat her lover. The romantic unreality of Mat weakens the play.

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