Symbolism in the Play The Hairy Ape

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      O’Neill has used very suggestive symbols for enhancing the expressionistic appeal of the appeal. The symbols used in this play are not decorative but thematically very relevant. All the characters and settings are symbolic which have a direct bearing on the theme of belongingness in the play. Though the characters are symbolic, yet they are not devoid of life.

      All the major characters-Yank, Long, Paddy-are symbolic but not lifeless. Yank is a symbol of American individualism. He is a symbol of superior power, self-confidence and fear among his fellow stokers. He is an indispensable character from the point of view of the theme of belongingness in the play. Long, on the other hand, he is a potential symbol of American radicalism. He is a spokesman of the Marxian concepts of class struggle and workers’ plight in the Industrial Age. He is a symbol of protest against the capitalists who have almost dehumanized the working classes. Paddy is the symbol of alienation in the Industrial Age. Unlike Yank, he feels almost suffocated and unwanted in the stokehole. For Paddy, ship is not a home but a hell for him. He is always reminded of his Irish home, the days of his youth to which he belonged. He is rooted in the past but alienated in the present. Even the minor characters-Mildred, the Aunt - are symbolic. Mildred is a symbol of the life of artificiality, false glamour and pretensions. She is a poseur who tries to present herself as a humanist in social life. Mildred’s Aunt is the true specimen of the capitalist class. She is pompous and proud. She is a type even to the point of a double chin and lorgnettes.

      The setting of The Hairy Ape is not naturalistic but highly suggestive and symbolic. It is also expressionistic in its lay-out and implications.

      The main setting of The Hairy Ape is the firemen’s (stokers’s) forecastle of a transatlantic liner. It looks like a cage stuffed with men - bewildered, furious, baffled defiance of a beast in a cage. The effect sought after is a cramped space in the bowls of a ship, imprisoned by white steel. The ceiling almost crushes upon heads of the stokers and they can hardly stand erect. This has badly damaged their natural posture and their backs and shoulders are badly bent and disfigured. All are dehumanized and look like hairy apes. All the inhabitants are dressed in dungaree pants, heavy ugly shoes and almost stripped to the waist.

      The title of The Hairy Ape is very apt and suggestive. It shows the dehumanization of the modem industrial worker in the capitalistic set-up. A petty worker like Yank leads a life of unending humiliations and hardships and is denied any identity or freedom. The title is the central metaphor which dominates the entire action of The Hairy Ape. It has a direct bearing on the theme as well as the structure of the play. It shows that a sailor leads a life of alienation from the beginning to the end of his life. He is isolated from his house as well as the main stream of life. The title of the play is indispensable for its structure.

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