The Hairy Ape: by Eugene O'Neill - Summary

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The action of the play has been divided into eight scenes.

      Scene I opens in the forecastle of a transatlantic liner, an hour after the beginning of a voyage. The stokehole is echoed with the tumultuous noises of the hairy chested stokers. The room is crowded with men, shouting, cursing, laughing and singing. Nearly all the men are drunk. Yank is heard asking for something stronger than beer. He pulls up Paddy for singing sentimental songs. Yank criticizes Long for his anti-capitalistic stance. Unlike Paddy and Long, Yank feels himself indispensable for the ship for he makes it move: “And I’m steel-steel-steel! I’m de muscles in steel, de punch behind it!”

      Scene II takes place two days after on the promenade deck, Mildred and her Aunt quarrel, as usual. Mildred is critical of her Aunt and mockingly calls her ‘a cold pork pudding’. The Aunt ridicules her social service credentials how the ‘other half lives’. Mildred tells her Aunt not to doubt her ‘groping sincerity’ how the poor live in deplorable conditions. The Aunt calls her a ‘poser’ who would ‘drag the name of Douglas in the gutter’. Mildred discloses her intention to visit the stokehole against her Aunt’s wishes. She enters the stokehole, escorted by the Second Engineer.

      Scene III takes place in the Stokehole where stokers are taking a breathing spell. Yank asks them to open the furnaces and resume work. Yank is seen cursing the man for neglecting their duties. He sees Mildred, like an apparition in the full light from the open furnaces. He glares into her face, turned into stone. As she looks at his gorilla face, she utters a low, choking cry and shrinks away from him. She puts both of her hands on her eyes to avoid his ghastly appearances. She calls him a ‘filthy beast’. She almost faints and asks the Engineer to take her away from the stokehole.

      Scene IV shows Yank in a disturbed state of mind after being called a ‘filthy beast’ by Mildred. He is seated forward on a bench in the exact attitude of Rodin’s “The Thinker”. He has become a laughing stock at the hands of the fellow-stokers. He has not even washed himself. He asks them not to disturb him because he is “trin’ to tink”. He clarifies that he has not fallen in love but in hate with Mildred, her offender. He apologizes for not ‘banging’ her for her racial damaging remark. He is determined to square with her at any cost.

      Scene V is set on Fifth Avenue in the Fifties on a fine Sunday morning. Yank and Long come swaggering, looking about the colorfully dressed church-goers with a forced, defiant contempt. Yank tries to interrupt the flow of the people after attending the church services but is pushed aside. None bothers even to look at him for this uncivilized behavior. Yank lets drive a terrific swing, his fist landing full on the fat gentleman’s face. But the gentleman stands unmoved as if nothing has happened. He looks a bit angry as he has missed the bus. Yank is finally overpowered and arrested for this unlawful act.

      Scene VI presents a row of cells in the prison on Blackwell’s Island Prison. Yank can be seen within, crouched on the edge of his cot in the attitude of Rodin’s “The Thinker”. He shakes the bars and realizes that he is firmly confined to the bars of the Zoo. He is advised by the fellow prisoners to join I. W. W. to settle his scores with Mildred for calling him a ‘hairy ape’. In a fit of fury, he bends the steel bars to show that he cannot be imprisoned in ‘cages, cells, locks, bolts, bars’. The prison guards turn the hose on him and run to get a straitjacket for him.

      Scene VII shows Yank heading towards I. W. W. Office for enrolling himself as its member. After paying the registration fee of fifty-cent, his membership is confirmed. But he is thrown out of the office of the Union when he discloses his intention of blowing up the steel plants of the Street Trust owned by Mildred’s father. A policeman arrives and hears Yank asking the Man in the Moon to clarify his confusion. The policeman rejects his plea of being arrested and leaves him behind lying on the road.

      Scene VIII is set in the monkey house of the Zoo. Yank continues to face the problem of belongingness in life. He stands before a cage marked ‘gorilla’. The gigantic animal himself is seen squatting on the haunches on a bench in much the same attitude as Rodin’s “The Thinker”. Yank finds a striking resemblance between himself and the gorilla. He tells the gorilla how lucky he is that he cannot think. Yank takes a jimmy from under his coat and forces the lock on the cage door. He throws the door open and tries to shake hands with the gorilla. With a spring the gorilla wraps his huge arms around Yank in a murderous hug. The gorilla lets the crushed body slip to the door and shuts the door of the cage. And, perhaps, the Hairy Ape at last belongs.

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