The Hairy Ape: Play Scene 6 - Summary & Analysis

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Summary 

YANK IN PRISON

      In the sixth scene, Yank is seen in a cell in the prison on Blackwells Island on the night of the following day. One electric bulb from the low ceiling of the narrow corridor sheds its light through the heavy steel bars of the cell at the extreme front and reveals part of the interior. Yank can be within, crouched on the edge of his cot in the attitude of Rodin’s “The Thinker”. His face is spotted with black and blue bruises. A blood-stained bandage is wrapped around his head.

YANK AWAKENS FROM DREAM

      Yank suddenly starts as if awakened from a dream, reaches out and shakes the bars. He presumes that he is caged in the zoo-like prison and says: “Steel, Dis is de Zoo, huh”? A burst of hard, barking laughter comes from the unseen occupants of the cells, runs back down to tier, and abruptly stop. Yank realizes that this cage is not fit thinking. Voices of the other inmates of the prison are heard. They remind him that he is in prison and for what crime he is lodged here.

YANK’S STORY OF REVENGE

      Yank informs the inmates that he was a fireman. Rattling the steel bars, he says that he is a hairy ape, and warns them not to tease him otherwise he will break their jaws. But the prisons ignore his threat and continue to tease him. They think that he has lost his balance of mind due to hard beating for his crime. Yank comes to the realization that nobody can understand him except himself. Even the judge, who had heard his case, failed to understand him and gave him “Toity days to tink it over” in prison.

YANK’S REFERENCE TO MILDRED

      After a pause, he refers to his resentment against Mildred. The prisoners think that Yank’s failure in love must have tilted his mind. Yank ignores their observation and recalls to his mind his encounter with Mildred: “Her hands-dey was skinny and white like dey wasn’t real but painted on somep’n”. He calls her a lifeless creature meant for decorating the show case of a toy store. She is the product of an unreal world only. She does not belong whereas he belongs. He cannot spare Mildred who had humiliated and tortured him and lowered his image in the eyes of his fellow stokers. He breaks out angrily: “...she had noive to do me doit. She lamped me like she was seein’ somep’n broke loose from the de menagerie”. He again rattles the bars of his cell furiously and reiterates his resolve to take revenge on Mildred for calling him “a hairy ape”.

PRISONERS’ ADVICE TO YANK

      Yank is advised by one of the prisoners to join the Wobblies, the I. W. W. for taking revenge on Mildred who is the daughter of Douglas, the steel magnate. He calls this organization not as the Industrial Workers of the World but the Industrial Wreckers of the World. It consists of “rascals, jailbirds, murderers, and cutthroats” which believes in destruction only. Yank feels that his dream of destroying Mildred and other capitalists is going to be materialized by joining I. W. W. He also blames her father, the manufacturer of half of the steel in the world, who had caged him in the ship where he once thought he belonged. He holds him responsible for Mildred’s spitting on him: “Sure-her old man-president of the Steel Trust who makes half the steel in the world-steel-where I thought I belonged drivin’ tru-movin’-in dat-to make her-and cage me in for her spit on me! Christ!” He shakes the bars of the cell door till the whole tier trembles. Yank’s illusion of his belonging suddenly comes to an end. But his plan to destroy Douglas and industries is further intensified: “But I’ll drive trou. Fire, that melts it. I’ll be fire-under de heap-fire dat never goes out-hot as hell”. He is going to break the bars when the prison guard rushes in, dragging a host pipe behind him. He threatens to “drown” him if he persists in damaging the bars of the cells. As Yank tries to bend another bar, the guard orders Ben to turn the hose pipe on Yank’s cell and let the water flow with full pressure to stop him from damaging it. He summons other guards and asks for a straitjacket for Yank. The curtain falls hiding Yank from view and the stream of water hits the steel of Yank’s cell.

Analysis

SETTING OF THE PRISON

      The setting of the prison is highly expressionistic. A row of cells in the prison on Blackwells Island that extend back diagonally from right front to left rear. One electric bulb from the low ceiling of the narrow corridor sheds its light through the heavy steel bars of the cell at the extreme front and reveals part of the interior. Yank is seen within, crouched on the edge of his cot in the attitude of Rodin’s “The Thinker”. His face is spotted with black and blue bruises. A blood-stained bandage is wrapped around his head.

FUNCTION OF CHORUS

      In the sixth scene the chorus comprises of Yank’s fellow prisoners who are lodged in the prison. They have no separate identities but behave as a group. O’Neill uses them for ironical purposes only.

      The voices of the prisoners are expressionistically presented in this scene. They mockingly inform him that he is in a steel cage where hairy apes like him are kept. They warn him not to call them hairy apes otherwise he will be severely beaten by them. They conclude that Yank is on the verge of madness and they should not mind his words.

YANK’S MISGIVING ABOUT I.W.W.

      Yank realizes that he can not settle his accounts with Mildred and her class without joining I.W.W. He lives under the illusion that this workers’ organization will help him in taking revenge on Mildred on his behalf. For Yank, I. W. W. stands for the Industrial Wreckers of the World and not the industrial Workers of the World.

YANK’S REALIZATION

      Yank has come to the realization that thinking is not meant for him. He is mentally disturbed and his replies have become incoherent and confused. He admits in anger that he a hairy ape and all the prisoners like him. He refuses to tell the prisoners about his crime because they cannot understand like the judge who awarded him twenty day’s imprisonment. Finally, he reveals that he is trying to take revenge on a woman who humiliated him and called him a hairy ape.

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