Eugene O’Neill makes the problem of isolation one of the central themes of his Long Day’s Journey into the Night. Both Mary and her husband James Tyrone, the main characters of the play, isolate themselves due to their addiction, disillusionment and hopelessness.
Years of Mary’s addiction to Morphine are one of the main reasons for her disconnection from her family and friends in the attempt to escape her depressing reality. Her consciousness is constantly clouded, and the symbol of fog used by the author may be related to her state. Mary herself admits that “[the fog] hides you from the world and the world from you” (O’Neill 98). She is not able to accept the reality as it is, her disillusionment and dissatisfaction with her life are the second reason for her isolation. Though she loves her family, she concentrates on dreams of her youth which did not come true and regrets her marrying James and not becoming a concert pianist. It is after her marriage that her friends found her company no longer agreeable, and she was left lonely without friends and husband spending more time in a bar than with his family. The third reason for Mary’s isolation is her burning feeling of guilt and desire to shift the responsibility on others. She accuses her son of her addiction admitting that she was “so healthy before Edmund was born… bearing Edmund was the last straw” (O’Neill 87). These three reasons are interconnected and it is almost impossible to establish the cause-and-effect relations between them.
The main reasons for James’ isolation are his alcoholism and greediness, both interconnected with problems of his wife. Being ashamed of his wife’s addiction to Morphine, for which in some extent he is responsible, he tries to find refuge in alcohol. The second problem is his attitude towards money, he is fixated with it, and this obsession separates him from others. Describing their house, Mary admits that “I’ve never felt it was my home. It was wrong from the start. Everything was done in the cheapest way” (O’Neill 44). He does not pay attention to the house décor, turns off the lights to save on the electrical bill, and chooses the cheapest medical care for his family. Giving preference to commercial and lucrative roles, he deprives himself of opportunities for professional growth. Thus, the main characters find themselves in an endless circle of their attempts to hide from reality.
Waiting for Godot by Samuel Becket and Long Day’s Journey into the Night, by Eugene O’Neill share few similarities and differences. In the context of similarities both plays are performed in a single location by five characters plagued by their pasts, while in the realm of differences dissimilar use of symbols and props is clearly noticeable.
The first similarity of both works is the authors’ decision to stick their characters in a single location. For example, in Long Day’s Journey into the Night the scene is laid in Tyrones’ house. In Becket’s play the scene is not changed throughout both acts as well. Estragon and Vladimir do not change their location waiting for Godot by the same tree. This choice might be explained by the authors’ focus on the inner life of the characters, they are detached from reality and it is not worth readers’ attention. The second common feature is the quantity of characters involved in the development of actions and appearing on the stage. These are Mary, James, Jamie and Edmund Tyrone and their maid Cathleen for Long Day’s Journey into the Night, and Vladimir, Estragon, Pozzo, Lucky and Boy for Waiting for Godot. Both authors mention other characters which do not appear on the stage throughout the play. The third common peculiarity is emphasis on the pasts of the characters, the authors do not fill the plays with any significant events. Estragon and Vladimir seem to be stuck in their pasts as their present is empty and future disillusions them, while Godot never arrives. The Tyrones are lost in their memories, detached from the current moment and concentrated on their past looking for the roots of their problems.
The first difference between the two works is the system of symbols used by the authors. Being one of the most prominent plays of the Theatre of the Absurd, Waiting for Godot contains some symbols which cannot be adequately interpreted, such as, for example the tree. As opposed to it, Long Day’s Journey into the Night includes several meaningful symbols, such as the fog, the foghorns, and the wedding dress. The most significant amongst these symbols is the fog, symbolizing the main characters’ separation from the rest of the world. Mary admits that “[the fog] hides you from the world and the world from you” (O’Neill 98). The wedding dress symbolizes dreams of Mary’s childhood.
Another difference between Waiting for Godot and Long Day’s Journey into the Night is the use of props. In Long Day’s Journey into the Night the props, such as the books and the bottles of bonded bourbon inform the audience on the time and place of the play, while in Waiting for Godot the props (hat, luggage, bottle of wine, boots, etc.) are minimal and are not helpful for identifying the time and location.
The similarities and the differences in the authors’ decisions might be explained with the originality of their styles and ideas.
Beckett, Samuel. Waiting for Godot: A Tragicomedy in Two Acts. London: Faber and Faber, 2006. Print.
O’Neill, Eugene. Long Day’s Journey into the Night. Madison, WI: Demco Media, 2003. Print.