Tragic Vision of Eugene O'Neill in his Drama

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      O’Neill possesses a remarkable tragic sense and his vision of life is extremely tragic. His plays are known for their tragic beauty and sublimity. As a dramatist, O’Neill has displayed a very intimate and first-hand grasp of the causes that make the modem life so tragic and unbearable. It goes to O’Neill’s credit that of all his contemporaries and predecessors, it is he who imparted an element of truth to drama. O’Neill’s deep-rooted fascination for tragedy is shown in his deliberate neglect of melodrama, farce, and comedy. As a dramatist, O’Neill’s vision is best depicted in dealing with subjects like murders, suicides and deaths.


      Classical tragedies are invariably objective or impersonal in which the dramatist is totally absent. O’Neill’s tragedies have a powerful subjective bias as they have a direct bearing on his life. In O’Neill’s tragedies, the man and the artist are complementary to each other, for the man had suffered and the artist had given a shape to his sufferings. O’Neill was born a ‘lost’ man. His sense of desolation grew in part from the fact that he was an introspective man born and reared a Catholic who had lost his faith. O’Neill’s tragic vision is the product of his ill-health and it had always depressed him to a kind of yearning for death. His family background made him extremely morbid. He was born in a theatrical family which was always on the move and this rootless existence was sadly lacking in any meaningful social communication. His life of constant wandering made him lonely and restless in life. O’Neill was worried about his brother Jamie who was a habitual alcoholic. His mother failed to give him love and pay proper care during the early period of his life. In an interview at the posthumous presentation of Long Day’s Journey Into Night, Mrs. Carlotta Monterey gives us a very personal and revealing assessment of O’Neill as a young boy:

      “He was never in good health. He talked about his early life - that he had no real home, no mother in the real sense, or father, no one to treat him as a child should be treated - and his face became sadder and sadder”.


      O’Neill was well-read in Greek tragedy and he tried to recreate the Greek spirit in his tragic plays. “What has influenced my plays the most”, he declares, “ is my knowledge of the drama of all time - particularly Greek tragedy”. O’Neill’s concept of tragedy comes very close to that of the Greeks and it was their classic example that he tried to emulate for the purpose of realizing tragic intensity in his tragedies. O’Neill’s preference for the Greek drama was not without reason. Undoubtedly, he followed the Greek tragic patterns in order to impart new meaning and depth to the modem dramatic presentation. O’Neill developed a really genuine tragic expression in terms of transfigured modem values and symbols in the theatre.


      O’Neill displayed special fascination for Nietzsche and he expressed his indebtedness to him in his writings. His favorite work was Nietzsche’s Thus Spake Zarathustra. O’Neill’s concept of tragedy has a striking resemblance with that of Nietzsche. Both regarded the Greek tragedy as the matchless example of art. O’Neill was mainly impressed by the Greek tragedy for its religious fervor which has no equal in the modem drama. The concept of Superman or Theoretical man has a special appeal for him. Both visualized life as full of hope and promise and concluded that there was nothing wrong or repulsive about it. They affirmed life and pleaded for its total acceptance at its face value. Moreover, their interest in life was not limited to the realization of eternity but exclusively focused on making it more meaningful and worth living.


      O’Neill was not an ivory - tourist or an escapist in the romantic sense of the term. Being and existentialist, he dealt with life in a very realistic and authentic manner. As dramatist, his commitment was to the faithful dramatization of human situations. O’Neill’s tragedies strike at the root of the sickness of today. “The playwright must dig at the sickness of today” notes O’Neill, “as he feels it - the death of the old God and the failure of science and materialism to give any satisfying new one for the surviving primitive instinct to find a meaning of life in, and to comfort its fears of dealt with. It seems to that anyone trying to do big work now-a-days must have this big subject behind all the little subjects of his plays or novels, or he is simply scribbling around the surface of things and has no more real status than a parlor entertainer”.


      There are many sources of tragedy in O’Neill’s plays. The most important one is man’s failure to belong or to find roots anywhere in this hostile world. Man is alienated not only from himself but also from the society, Nature, and God. He is a lost soul and suffers from a sense of anguish in Strange Interlude. In The Hairy Ape, Yank desires an ideal brotherhood of man. The torment of man may be the result of his failure to attain complete humanity after getting himself separated from Nature. Man’s desire to belong is shown in Mourning Becomes Electra, There is the utter lack of any sustaining faith in the present times; there is also complete loss of faith in the traditional religions. Man’s failure to belong either to the old supernatural God or the new God of science is dramatized in Dynamo.


      Tragedy in O’Neill’s plays may occur on account of extreme loneliness from which his characters often suffer and their failure to control it in an effective manner. This loneliness may originate from a painful sense of separation from those with whom one has a striking intellectual or spiritual affinity. It looks quite ironical when one feels a total stranger where he actually belongs. A lonely person is one whose circumstances have forced into a “suffering self-recognition of separateness”. In Anna Christie, it is Anna’s loneliness which is exploited by one of her cousins and she is forced into prostitution. The Iceman Cometh shows how man’s inability to cope with life can create a feeling of alienation in his life, forcing him to withdraw from others. The play dramatizes the loneliness and sufferings of the inhabitants of Harry Hope’s saloon who have long broken their links with the outside and are living in a world of their own making. The Great God Brown shows how a man’s persistent efforts to belong to Nature are thwarted by materialism, Christian asceticism, and socially-caused conflicts in the psyche. It is in Mourning Becomes Electra the effect of loneliness is acutely felt by all the members of the Mannon’s family and they are forced to bear its brunt.


      Materialism is another factor which can create tragic tensions in the plays of O’Neill. It goes to his credit that he has achieved great artistic successes in successfully depicting the disaster of the modem acquisitive society. It may be gathered from his plays that the profit-motive is playing havoc with the Western civilization and is destroying that which is the best and noblest in man. Marco Millions shows Marco’s materialistic nature comes in the way of developing the beautiful and the good. Marco is so much obsessed by money that he starts measuring everything in terms of it. It is money which governs his life attitudes and thus reveals his utter lack of human instincts in him.


      Too much mechanization of modern life may also cause tragedy in O’Neill’s plays. It generates a sense of loneliness and insecurity and can destabilize human life. In The Hairy Ape, Yank is brutalized by an impersonal and mechanical social order. The play is a forceful denunciation of the whole structure of machine-age. The State takes special delight in dehumanizing its underprivileged citizens and thereby making it impossible for them to rise in the social scale. Yank who challenges the supremacy of the Machine Age and sacrifices his life to provoke the workers by making them realize the necessity of taking cudgels against their powerful masters. In fact, Yank is a the voice of protest against the material success of the Machine Age.


      The conflict between reality and illusion can also cause tragedy in a drama. The sufferings of O’Neill’s tragic heroes may be attributed to their failure to discriminate between the world of dream and world of reality. His characters have to face destruction and death because they refuse to give up romantic dreams. For them, dream is attractive and vital but reality is repulsive and unbearable. O’Neill’s heroes are the willing victims of romantic illusions and his plays dramatize the tragic defeat of the romantic ideal in actual life. With tragic inevitability, they go down fighting and suffer defeat in the end. In Beyond the Horizon, Robert’s romantic dream of going beyond the horizon is pushed beyond his pragmatic bent of mind and he has to pay the price of his life for having nourished it. The thwarted romantic man, Robert, remains an absolute failure on the farm, and his wife, Ruth, dies of poverty and daily soul-killing domestic recriminations. The Iceman Cometh indicates how the destructive power of the romantic ideal stands in the way of forming meaningful relationships with the real world. Hickey’s dreams are responsible for his personal undoing as well as the death of his wife, Evelyn, whose only fault was that she could not be disloyal to him.


      Love is another vital source of disappointments, sufferings, and deaths in the tragic world of O’Neill. Doubts and misgivings disturb the love-relationships and bring untold miseries and hardships in their wake. In Different, Emma Crosby’s failure to read the real mind of her faithful lover leads to a double tragedy. As he fails to come up to her desired expectations, she begins to give herself to a young exploiter who has promised to marry her, but has actually no genuine love for her. The old lover hangs himself when he learns of her degrading match, and she commits suicide when she discovers that the young boy is only befooling her and is interested in pocketing her money only.


      O’Neill’s tragedies are often influenced by the hereditary and environmental factors which disrupt man’s pursuit of happiness and integrity. The Emperor Jones makes manifests how Jones’s present is conditioned by the powerful hereditary factors. Jones often regresses into his aboriginal fears in a moment of extreme anxiety and terror. The atavistic fears haunt him like phantoms and he relives the entire history of the Black race to which he really belongs. Jones’s death is finally caused by these overwhelming primitive fears. All God's Chillun Got Wings is a tragedy born out of the modem hostile environment. Jim Harris and Ella Downey are the victims of their social backgrounds. Ella tries to kill her husband who embodies for her all the innate and unreasoning fears which are her traditional heritage as a White woman.


      Tragedy shows the steady impingement of powerful external forces on the life and the prospects of the protagonist, who may plan and propose confidently, yet cannot be sure of the ultimate end. In the nick of time, some unforeseen event, a trifling accident, may happen suddenly, upsetting his plan. Classical writers attribute human disaster to Fate. Chance also plays a very important role in determining or deflecting the current of the action which the hero cannot but follow. The heroes in Greek tragedies were punished by Fate, because they had incurred the displeasure of gods or the goddesses. The element of Fate looms large in Shakespeare’s tragedies. The term “behind-life” relates to O’Neill’s concept of Fate and it suggests the existence of an external, supernatural Force ruling man’s life and he calls it Fate or God. O’Neill presents his characters as blind and powerless victims in the face of destiny and subjects them to forces over which they have no control. There is a cosmic anguish arising from a perception of inscrutability of Fate.

      In Fog, O’Neill dramatizes the antagonism between the individual and the Fate. Ile and Rope are concerned with man as the prisoner of forces which ultimately crush him. Thirst is the struggle between human beings obsessed by a force outside them and the end of play reveals the irony of Fate. The characters are thrown on the same raft merely by a stroke of chance. Beyond the Horizon is the story of two brothers who are trapped by Fate so that the one who wanted adventure is forced to stay at home while the other who wanted to stay at home is driven out to find wealth in far-off places. The measured tread of Fate can be heard among the overtones of this remarkable tragedy. In Anna Christie, Fate's endless chain relentlessly draws the Christopherson family to its doom.


      O’Neill’s fatalism is not absolute. His faith in fatalism is not opposed to his faith in free will. Though man is a victim of his circumstances over which he has no control, he does not submit himself to the tyranny of circumstances. In a letter to Mary Clark, he avers that “the brave individual always wins”. The leading characters in O’Neill’s plays are quite conscious of the forces that shape their destiny and the way they ruin their lives O’Neill’s concept of Fate is not just an off-shoot of modem scientific thinking, but is rather a blend of psychological determinism of modem times and the fatalism so popular in the ancient times.


      The agencies of destruction in O’Neill’s world may have multiple origins. There is the conflict between the individual and the vast impersonal forces. Usually both the external and the internal forces are pitted against the helpless individual. In early sea plays, there a considerable play of chance and circumstance. Here characters are shown as victims of circumstances over which they have no significant control. They helplessly move in the world of dark and sinister forces. In The Hairy Ape, it is the society which remains hostile to Yank and makes his life unbearable. Again it is the society which ruins Anna in Anna Christie. It also furnishes the matrix for the tragedy of All God’s Chillun Got Wings. In the later plays, it is not an intangible Fate that dodges him. Sometimes, man is crushed by the sheer might of Nature. In The Emperor Jones, Jones reverts to savagery and is ruined by the sheer weight of the oppressive tropic night.


      Psychological conflicts may also bring about tragedy in O’Neill’s plays. The playwright progressively dramatizes the conflicts within the minds of his characters. They often suffer from a sense of guilt; they are mostly haunted by their sins, mistakes and betrayals. The characters may be seen reliving the agonies of their past experiences. In Desire Under the Elms, the secret love-affair between Eben and Abbie is not without tragic undertones and the lovers are always afraid of being exposed. Eben’s sin is that he has betrayed his father by loving his new mother and this causes a lot of tension in his mind. Abbie’s fear of losing Eben and killing of her son to prove her loyalty to Eben produces a tremendous a tremendous rift in her mind. Again Days Without End deals with the problem of betrayal. Mary, who has been cheated and deluded by life, calls it “dirty and insulting - and evil”. Even Christine’s mind is Mourning Becomes Electra seems to have been subjected to warring psychic clashes. She talks to herself: “Why can’t all of us remain innocent and loving and trusting? But life would not leave until we are alone. It twists and wrings and tortures our lives until we poison each other to death”.


      Tragedy always presents a conflict. In tragedy, there is always a clash between forces, physical or mental or both. The conflict may be external or internal or both. The external conflict is an integral part of the tragic struggle and it requires a genius to rise to the height of impassioned art. It is the inner conflict what imparts majesty and distinction to a tragedy. The two types of conflicts contribute to the essence of tragedy, but the inner conflict has assumed greater and dominant importance in it. Both types of conflicts also constitute the crux of a Shakespearean tragedy. The clash between the inner and the outer may also lead to tragedy in O’Neill. The struggle between the conscious and the unconscious can also create tragic tensions in his plays. O’Neill’s dramas are rightly called “the dramas of soul”. He often explores the hidden mind i.e. the unconscious which is the storehouse of all the social values. For O’Neill, the primal urges relate the mind to the external problems. The dramatist is in favor of giving top priority to the exploration of the unconscious mind. O’Neill observes: “The Theatre should give us, what the Church no longer gives, a meaning. In brief it should return to the spirit of Greek grandeur. And if we have no god, or heroes to pray, we have the unconscious, the mother of all Gods and heroes”. The Emperor Jones is a powerful dramatization of psychological obsessive fear in the mind of Jones. In The Hairy Ape, Yank’s mind is all split as a result of the inner struggle, which threatens his very existence.


      The heroic figures in Greek and Shakespearean dramas enjoyed high social positions and they were invariably eminent personages. Their dramatic significance was two-fold. First, the social greatness operates as an external symbol and this reflects and re-enforces his greatness of soul. The central figure was given a position of manifest eminence and promised a special motivation for the reader. He towered head and shoulders above common men. His actions or sufferings were of an unusual kind. His nature was exceptional, raising him above the average level. Secondly, it added to the tragic hero the dimension of social and political responsibility. O’Neill’s tragic heroes are devoid of any traditional grandeur. They are not titans and supermen whose deaths can affect millions. They live more firmly in our minds then men in apparently more prominent places. In fact, they are like us and they may be accepted as standing for us. They are not expected to possess traditional heroism. O’Neill’s tragedy is truly an apotheosis (glorification) of the human spirit. The characters suffer and the very intensity of their suffering ennobles and exalts them. Brutus Jones, in The Emperor Jones, is not an “emperor” but a Negro porter. Yank, in The Hairy Ape is just a poor worker with no place in any social set-up. Yet Jones and Yank are exalted by the very intensity of their respective obsessions. There is nothing mean or petty about them. But there is the transfiguring nobility of tragedy in as near the Greek sense as possible.


      Characters face life-and-death struggle in a tragedy but they never accept defeat or give up fighting. Defiant courage is the key-note of them all. A never-failing spirit of defiance is the chief quality of O’Neill’s tragic heroes. They are unable to dominate forces which they do not understand or master. They are lost in a world which is too big for them. In fact, they are not strong enough to control their destiny. But the characters continue to rebel against the world in which they born and brought up. They face hard times throughout their lives in this hostile world while still retaining their identities and also assimilating their transgressions. They may be crushed or defeated, but they never plead for forgiveness. In the words of O’Neill:

      “A man wills his own defeat when he pursues the unattainable. But his struggle is his success. He is an example of the spiritual significance which life attains when it aims high enough, when the individual fights all of hostile forces within and without himself to achieve a future of nobler values. Such a figure is necessarily tragic. But to me he is not depressing; he is exhilarating. He may be a failure in our materialistic sense. His treasures are in the other kingdom”.


      O’Neill’s tragic hero possesses spiritual nobility or nearly comes to possess it at the time of his undoing. There is the courageous affirmation of life in the face of individual defeat and his efforts become ennobled and his defeats become victories in the march of eternity. O’Neill’s protagonist clings to his position tenaciously, “He is “says Egil Tornqvist, “therefore only seemingly defeated; spiritually he is triumphant He rises in our estimations and his struggle never goes unrewarded. His is not a way of peace and resignation. O’Neill believes that the only thing that should matter in life is the struggle “the individual life is made significant just by the struggle. The struggle of man is to dominate life, to assert and insist that life has no meaning outside himself where he comes in conflict with life, which he does not at every turn; and his attempt to adopt life to his own needs, in which he does not succeed, is what I mean when I say Man is the Hero”.


      Tragedy is concerned with suffering, and apparent defeat. It is only through sacrifice and suffering that courage and greatness of soul can be made manifest. It shows the beauty of human character fighting against Fate and cruel circumstances. Tragedy snatches a spiritual victory out of inevitable defeat. Though the hero is defeated, yet he remains great, sublime, in dramatic fall. The greatness of the hero’s opponent is the greatness of physical power, but his own greatness is the greatness of spirit. The dramatist stirs in us more admiration for the human spirit than awe for the powers of necessity. The tragic fate of the hero gives us rare satisfaction. The heroic characters in O’Neill’s tragedies suffer defeat, but they do achieve exultation by remaining true to their favorite dreams. There is the courageous affirmation of life in face of individual defeat. As O’Neill puts it; “A man will defeat when he pursues the unattainable. But the struggle is his success”. The heroes accept their failures ungrudgingly. As the struggle reaches the end, they appear more defiant than submissive. Robert’s struggle Beyond the Horizon, is for the realization of his unattainable ideals. Although he is defeated in his mission, yet he has not abandoned his search of “beyond the horizon”. Ephraim Cabot, in Desire Under the Elms, fights with his son, Eben, for retaining full control over his third wife, Abbie, who begins to take interest in Eben. Nina, in Strange Interlude, struggles with the adversities of circumstances and gains a victory that only heroic courage and great fortitude can guarantee. She has shown a definite edge over her opponents in her heroic struggle for survival.


      O’Neill’s tragedies have their usual tinge of pessimism in them. O’Neill has been dubbed as a “dark writer”, and his plays are often exceedingly pessimistic in nature. The dramatist presents a grim futility of human existence and the world depicted by him is essentially one of sorrows and suffering. It is tragic because it is sadly lacking in any intelligent social organization. As a prophet of “gloom and doom school”, there runs a brooding atmosphere of tragedy in his plays. O’Neill’s characters are mostly seized with despair. In the words of Janis Klavsons: “Failure to O’Neill was observed tangible; success was abstract.” His fundamental pessimism lies in regarding life as utterly meaningless and without foundation. Edwin Engel feels that for O’Neill the world “belongs to the insensitive and unperceptive, unselfconscious brute”. O’Neill is regarded as a pessimist who sees everything as predetermined for the worst. Beyond the Horizon shows that Robert’s dream of going “beyond the horizon” ends in his ultimate destruction. Strange Interlude describes the purgatory of human experience and the dead average of humanity. Mourning Becomes Electra is clearly an inferno of human depravity. In Long Day’s Journey Into Night, the characters are caught in a “web” of frustration and misery and are seen gradually heading towards an inevitable destruction.


      O’Neill’s pessimism is not without its tinge of optimism. The gloom that pervades his tragedies is not purely intended as an end in itself The so-called “prophet of doom” turns out to be a “prophet of hope”. It is quite clear from his plays that there is no outright rejection of life in the broader sense of the term. The dramatist has shown no undue curiosity in idealizing the darker and sinister aspects of life. As O’Neill rightly put it: “A work of art is always happy; all else is unhappy ... I don’t love life because it’s pretty. Prettiness is only clothes-deep. lama truer lover than that. I love it naked. There is beauty even in its ugliness”.


      Affirmation or re-affirmation of life is another universal element of a tragedy. It shows the dignity of man and human value of life, which in a great tragedy issues from the spectacle of suffering itself and the knowledge the suffering yields. The tragic heroes of Shakespeare suffer and die, and yet they never make us feel depressed. They are forced to face terrible calamities, and yet their deaths mean a bold affirmation of positive values of life. Each of the Shakespearean heroes remains a colossus. The dramas of O’Neill are positive, noble expressions of man’s understanding of the human dilemma; as he has affirmed man’s hope for beauty and meaning in life. O’Neill accepts life with all its tragic defeats and out of it creates a beauty that is sufficiently fascinating in itself. In his plays, there is the Nietzschean will to power i.e. the glorification of life. He has mostly depicted the affirmation of the greatness of the human spirit. O’Neill’s pessimism is always colored by a ray of hope-even a “hopeless hope”. His tragedies are quite optimistic, exulting rattier than depressing. O’Neill has always followed the Greeks who believed that tragedy brought exultation, an urge toward life, and even more life. The Straw shows life is a hopeless hope and it is not to be straightaway rejected as meaningless. Desire Under the Elms affirms man’s faith in love. Anna Christie shows that love and mutual trust can make life meaningful and worth living. The final dramas of O’Neill’s later years describe man’s confrontation and acceptance of his tragic lot.


      Tragedy deals with the fundamental questions of moral values, both immediate and ultimate. It raises metaphysical issues, but it has no metaphysics of its own. Its moral structure is firmly based on a general ethics. Of all artistic forms, only tragedy offers no apologies for its incidental didacticism. O’Neill believed that tragedy should induce a kind of religious experience. Often he aims at “the discovery of meaning” through transcendence of all hopes and selfish illusions. As a mystic, O’Neill has always analyzed the relationship between man and God. O’Neill informed J. W. Krutch: “Most modern plays are concerned with the relations between man and man, but that does not interest me at all. I am interested only in relationship between man and God”. O’Neill has a monolithic vision of the universe, with God and man as parts of its unity. He has no faith in negation of living or the fear of death. In Beyond the Horizon, Robert’s death gives him a long-awaited outlet from this life. Lavania, in Mourning Becomes Electra, sees beyond death and faces it in a heroic manner. She wants to live and face death and not to bring a hasty end to her life like her mother or brother. Lazarus Laughed is one of the finest dramas of pure mysticism in the language. The plot follows the life of Lazarus after his resurrection from the grave. The greatness of this drama is that it translates the dream of divine perfection into human terms.


      A tragedy wherein character is deeply stressed and the inward is consciously or unconsciously stressed and it has an atmosphere or spirit which tinges the characters with a peculiar and dominating hue, this spirit or atmosphere is called universality. It is this spirit of universality that marks out every great drama. Under the particulars of any tragedy lies the universal principle that soul-killing catastrophes are a part of the human situation in a universe not committed to indulging the individual will, Individuals who have the power to defy and rise above the catastrophic repudiation of their will exalt mankind. O’Neill deals with universal emotions and his plays are known for their metaphorical and symbolical intentions. His tragedy is familial and consequently, social, and ultimately universal. O’Neill’s success lies in transcending the particular and immediate while simultaneously recording and celebrating it. He has the true artist’s power of imagination necessary for the creation of a significant drama. Thus his tragedies are both American and universal


      In the greatest tragedy, what is stressed is something more than the dignity of map and the value of human life. We are made to feel, through the affirmation of man and the life of man, thee is at the same time being affirmed an order of values transcending the values of the human order. The order of values is not, or is not left to be, a mere projection of human mind. It is felt to have a real, objective existence. Surely, it has an existence independent of order. It is an objective moral order which at once incorporates the human and also transcends it. This is what is finally affirmed in a great tragedy. It is equally true of classical tragedy. There the transcendent order is most often palpably manifest in the shape of gods and goddesses, which play a vital part in the tragic action. To O’Neill, Nietzsche suggested the element of transcendence implicit in all tragedies. The transcendental philosophy which Nietzsche professed was, of course, tragic and it suggests that through tragedy salvation may be achieved.


      A genuine tragedy must excite the feeling of pity and fear. Pity is aroused by unmerited misfortune, fear by the misfortune of a man like oneself. Pity is exercised on behave of the suffering characters, and terror in relation to the doom that befalls them. According to Aristotle, tragedy “through pity and fear affect the proper catharsis of those emotions”. We enter into the kind of pity and fear which will to the purgation of those emotions through extreme identification or empathy with the protagonist. The tragic hero attracts our attention. There is a greatness in his effort to resist, and our pity is for his defeat. Although he must be crushed in his struggle, yet he does not yield the victory on all counts. Tragedy is a form of art, and its pleasure is an aesthetic one. Knowledge is another universal element of tragedy, and the purpose of tragedy is to afford intelligent pleasure.


      Tragedy is known for its emotional contents and therein lays it chief beauty. Emotions are more important than thoughts because they deepen our spiritual understanding. As a dramatist, O’Neill has always preferred emotions to reasons in his dramas. He believes in stimulating emotions rather than intellect of his audience. In an interview published in 1922, he observed:

      “Our emotions are better guide than our thought. Our emotions are instinctive. They are result not only of our individual experiences, but of the whole race through the ages. They are often only small individual surface reactions. Trust goes deep. So it reaches you through your emotion”.

      Again, writing to George Jean Nathan in 1923, he said: “Reason has no business in the theatre anyway, anymore than it has in Church”.


      Melodrama is one of the chief antitheses to high tragedy. The presence of sensational elements makes the tragedy melodramatic in content, neglecting the characterization and the true tragic spirit for the sake of mere effects. Melodrama is full of possible but usually averted disasters for the sympathetic character. It enlists identification rather than detachment! There is the free play of an element of chance, luck, or coincidence in solving intricate situations. But melodrama is devoid of any inward appeal. O’Neill’s tragedies contain a lot of melodramatic elements. In his early plays, he is always eager to introduce into them stereotype violence in the form of murder and suicide. The plays are naturalistic in style, and melodramatic in substance. There are conventional melodramatic villains, melodramatic situations, and strong language. The Web and Where The Cross Is Made are crude melodramatic pieces which combine naturalism and melodrama. Different has a melodramatic ending which is over schematic and melodramatic in its violent ending. Anna Christie is more or less an effective melodrama. The narrative’s stress on murder and incest looks quite lurid and melodramatic in Desire Under the Elms. The most significant melodramatic action is Abbie’s murder of her baby. In Lazarus Laughed, the dialogue is melodramatic and the action is strained to the point of incredibility and the human characters and their actions are not believable and convincing. A Moon for the Misbegotten uses the technique of melodramatic exaggeration and combines the farcical with the tragic. In Dynamo, Reuben’s shooting of Ada and his throwing himself upon the dynamo is highly melodramatic.


      O’Neill possesses a rare tragic sense and his vision of life is characteristically tragic. O’Neill’s tragedies have been universally praised for their tragic intensity and sublimity. They are subjective in their tone and temper and have a direct bearing on his self-felt tragic experiences of life. O’Neill’s ill health and tragic family background have immensely contributed to his desolation and morbidity in life. He has emulated the Greek tragedy for imparting new meaning and depth to the modem dramatic presentation. Being an existentialist, O’Neill approached life from a realistic perspective to unearth its real reality. The main sources of tragedy are man’s sense of alienation from himself, society, Nature and God. There is also the utter lack of any desired faith to console man’s tormented and crisis-ridden mind. The sense of loneliness plays havoc with man’s desire to communicate with others to survive in this hostile world. The mad pursuit of the philosophy of materialism destabilizes man’s life in the modern times. The conflict between reality and illusion produces tragic tensions in man’s life on earth. The disastrous impact of hereditary and environment disrupts man’s quest for achieving peace and harmony in life. The element of Fate or chance looms large in O’Neill’s tragic plays. There is a cosmic anguish arising from a perception of inscrutability of Fate. O’Neill’s fatalism is not absolute because the protagonist fights to the finish in his struggle for survival. Psychological conflicts do lead to tragic consequences in his tragedies. O’Neill’s tragic hero is not a man of eminent social position but his struggle is known for its intensity. As a dramatist, O’Neill has always preferred emotions to reasons in his tragedies. O’Neill’s tragedies are not devoid of melodramatic elements which bring them closer to the realities of life.

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