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Connor Gleason

Mr. Price

AP Literature, Period 1

5 December 2016

A Long Days Journey Into Night

A Long Days Journey Into Night by Eugene ONeill portrays the hateful and sick seaside

Connecticut Tyrone family, addicted to drugs, sex, and alcohol. The drama is four acts long and

takes place in a single summer day, spanning from about eight in the morning to midnight. It

follows the morphine addicted mother Mary, and the alcoholic father James, the sex addicted

older son Jaime, and the tuberculosis infected younger son Edmund. Through the use of setting,

characterization, and plot, ONeill is able to put the reader perfectly into the household of this

dysfunctional, early-twentieth-century family.

A Long Days Journey Into Night produces ample amounts of historical context to write

about, and with minimal effort one can find key characteristics that were taken from past

experiences to form the setting. In the early 1900s, life styles were difficult and there was chaos

spreading throughout America. Women had a major increase in illegal morphine intake,

prostitutes were a large part of city life because of the unstable economy, and tuberculosis spread

through the country, being the leading cause of death for several decades. These three elements

of American life, drugs, poverty, and illness, were the causes of many problems in the early

twentieth century.

There were more people addicted to drugs in the beginning of the 1900s than there are

today. According to professionals, the use of injectable morphine as a pain reliever during the

American Civil War led to the first wave of morphine addiction (PBS 1). Its because of this
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first wave, that early America was an incubator for drug addiction; and because of this, the

setting of ONeills play was established. In addition, this adds historical context to the setting

of the story, deepening the realism and relatability to the real world. What adds to the realism is

the fact that the mother is the morphine addict: In the late 1800s into the early 1900s, the

largest population of addicts was women (James Place Inc 1). Women who went through

childbirth often became addicted to painkillers like morphine, and Mary is no exception,

becoming addicted after the birth of her second son. The historical context in the setting of the

play adds to the realism and demonstrates to the reader what kind of a world the characters live

in. In the third act, Mary and her house maid go to pick up her prescription of morphine, you

could go to the general store and get more of it and it could be sold to you directly over the

counter (Schaffer Library of Drug Policy 1). The availability of morphine in the play leads to

the first major trouble in the story, and the context reinforces the believability that the mother

can feed her addiction with very little trouble. Had it not been for the lack of medical drug

regulations, the mothers antagonist throughout the story would not have been present. People

who were troubled mentally turned to medication to forget their troubles, however people who

were challenged financially had to turn to selling themselves or become extremely miserly to

make ends meet.

The major characters who face problems relating to poverty is the sex addicted older son

Jamie, and the miser father James. The poverty James and Jamie share stems from what Larry

Berman and Bruce Murphy remark on in Approaching Democracy, While poverty has existed

in the United States since the early colonial days, it first reached the public agenda in the early

1900s... (568). This quote is a perfect example for the setting of 1912 America, some people

were poor and others would do anything to avoid being poor. These circumstances brought out
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both prostitutes and misers alike. Jamies addiction stems from others need for money, most

notably prostitutes, [who] made, by far, the highest wages of all American women (Russell 1).

Women needed money and they were very rarely hired to work in factories, so the easiest and

most effective way to attain what they needed was to sell themselves. This addition to the

Tyrones setting impacted Jamie and brought flaws upon him. As for James, during the

property boom of the early 1900s, most sites changed bands at least once, partly reflecting the

desire of recent immigrants to obtain property (Dennis 1). James, being both in great lust for

money, and a landlord, hops on the opportunity to purchase and sell houses for more than theyre

worth to make profit. The property boom was shaped who he was, once again adding to the

validity of the setting for the Tyrone family. However, while poverty shaped the lives of many

citizens, illnesses were at large and many hundreds of people died every day due to them.

The most prominent sickness that near every US citizen was susceptible to, was

tuberculosis, an infectious bacterial disease that causes swelling in the lungs. As for diseases in

general, in the late 1800s and early 1900's, infectious diseases were the most serious threat to

health and well being. The most common causes of death were the respiratory diseases, much

like pneumonia, and in this case, tuberculosis. They cause symptoms like loss of breath and

frequent coughing fits, as seen in the story. As for setting, During the nineteenth and early

twentieth centuries, tuberculosis (TB) was the leading cause of death in the United States

(University of Virginia 1). With over four hundred citizens dying per day, people were

terrified of the ailment. To add on, with such a large number of infected individuals, there is no

wonder why at least one member of the Tyrone family had contracted it. This was the problem

that the youngest brother Edmund had to face, and what is worse is that There was no reliable

treatment for tuberculosis most often, doctors simply advised their patients to rest, eat well,
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and exercise outdoors (University of Virginia 1). Tuberculosis was a major part of

everyones life, and with no cure for it very few people actually survived. In addition, the first

valid cure for the disease wouldnt come around for another decade, this in turn caused the final

aspect of the setting during the Progressive Era. Illnesses plagued the cities of early modern

America and caused trouble for citizens, but it was the sickness accompanied by drugs and

poverty which lead to the downfall of the Tyrone family.

Had it not been for drugs, poverty, and illness, the setting of this incredible story would

not have been what it was. The mass morphine addiction that eventually got hold of the mother,

poverty which both the father and older brother fell victim to, and Americas deadliest epidemic

which took hold of the youngest member of the family. Each of these elements of early 1900s

America added immensely to the setting, and ultimately quality, of the story. However, setting

alone cannot create a masterpiece, it takes many components, including but not limited to


The use of characterization in A Long Days Journey Into Night puts the reader in the

characters shoes and allows them to experience every part of the Tyrone family. Everything

from the characters flaws, to what brings them together is touched on. And more than anything,

the reader experiences what tears the family apart. It is shown throughout the beginning and at

the very end of the book just how real each one of these family members are, and how they

contribute to one anothers personalities. At each point in the book, the audience discovers

something new about each character, starting with who they really are and the flaws they face.

The first established element of characterization is the personalities of each one of the

family members. Beginning with the mother, What strikes one immediately is her extreme

nervousness... her hands are never still (ONeill 718). From both ONeills direct description
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and Marys actions, one could conclude that she either has something particularly stressing her at

the moment, or that she could have some type of mindset or disorder causing her to be this way.

Throughout the next few passages, it is revealed that she is immensely insecure about the way

she looks, and is constantly fiddling with her hands because of this mindset. The husband

however, is much less obvious, he is described to have a soldier like quality about him, steady

and squared shoulders, a handsome profile, and finally [he] doesnt give a damn how he

looks (ONeill 718). From the quotes, it appears that ONeill is displaying a well rounded

citizen who doesnt mind what others think of him, but that wouldnt be completely accurate. As

stated before, James is a miser, hes a slave to money and prefers it over others well being,

including that of his wife and sons. James characterization is done throughout the span of the

story and isnt fully realized until Mary talks about it much later. Finally there are the two sons,

Jamie and Edmund: the two, throughout the book, are talked about as having somewhat similar

attitudes and thoughts towards subjects that James or Mary might disagree on, this being mainly

to do Jamie having an influence over Edmund. However there are key differences between

them, Edmund is shown to be more aware of other feelings, we couldnt have had people here-

(He flounders guiltily). I mean, you wouldnt have wanted them (ONeill 736). In this scene,

he accidentally upsets his mother, but quickly back steps as to not hurt her. Jamie on the other

hand is much more cynical and sarcastic, I hope he doesnt forget lunch listening to himself

talk Im hungry (He sits across the table from Edmund - irritably) (ONeill 745). This is just

one of the many quotes throughout the book that Jamie is depicted as rude or annoyed, with little

concern for others he carries on with life. The personalities established in the beginning of the

story are important and carry on throughout the book, but personalities often change due to

others influence.
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Each character has their flaws and the characterization in this story would not be what it

is without them. The first person to be presented with their problem is James, he is described

early on as being a miser. He possesses a great need for money, and goes as far as to buy poorly

made clothing to save it, throughout the book he is ridiculed by his wife and children because of

this mindset. From these actions, an inference can be draw on the greed that James possesses;

his greed has pushed him to the point where he disregarded most of his familys needs to do

nothing but keep hold of his profit. James is a greedy, self centered, miserly old man, who greed

is stirring the hatred of his family. Just like his father, Jamies problems stem from money,

Did I actually hear you suggesting work on the front hedge you must want pocket money

badly... When dont I? (ONeill 736). This is the first time Jamies problem with money is

presented, and it seems that its quite apparent to the audience that his family knows all about his

financial issues. The need for money has caused the older sons personality to negative and

resentful, being described most notably as cynical, arrogant, and rude. He has a hatred towards

his father for mistreating him and forcing him into work. Finally, the cause of Marys

nervousness and anxiety comes to light with her own major flaw, she settles back in relaxed

dreaminess, staring fixedly at nothing her arms rest limply along the arms of the chair, her

hands with long warped, swollen-knuckled, sensitive fingers drooping in complete calm

(ONeill 779). Its revealed in this scene that Mary is under the influence of morphine and has

given herself a high enough dosage to calm her twitching. It becomes clear that Mary doesnt

have arthritis or any other sort of disability, she is afraid. Afraid of what will inevitably happen

to Edmund, what with his tuberculosis infection. Like most drug addicts, she is simply trying to

escape reality, specifically the fact that the child she cares so much for will die, and there is very

little she can do to prevent it. Mary is a scared and nervous wreck who has turned to drugs for
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help. Flaws create character, they control what an individual becomes and how their future plays

out; but it is the combination of an individual's personality and flaws that create a character.

An individuals personality and the problems they go through are what builds a character.

It lays a foundation of morality that can be altered through obstacles and hardships to form a

unique person. The mothers personality was fearful and nervous, and through her troubles,

those qualities were only increased. Same goes for the father, a greedy man whose family only

increased his hateful and miserly attitude. Then finally, the brothers, both without definitive

personalities, and molded purely from the problems that they faced. Character construction is a

major part of storytelling, but the ultimate purpose of a character is to live through the story: that

is where plot is introduced.

Throughout A Long Days Journey Into Night, the audience is introduced to four family

members, and while they play major roles of the main story, each character has a plot of their

own. Mary leads a morphine addicted life, James is an alcoholic who has no respect for his son,

Jamie has been arrogant and jealous since childhood, and Edmund is the unfortunate peace

keeper. Each one of them has a past and a future that is hinted on throughout the story.

Everyone in the play, Mary, James, Jamie, and Edmund have their own plot.

Marys story is the most depressing one of the group, having been addicted to morphine

so long and her admitting that its so close to her end. Her story begins with the birth of her

actual second son, Eugene: after Jamie, Mary gave birth to another child named Eugene who

died as a toddler. This alone doesnt explain what drove Mary to her addiction, but it was the

first step and the exposition to her story. As stated before, Mary was introduced to morphine

when she used it as a pain medication after she gave birth to Edmund, she states that before

Edmund was born there wasnt a nerve in [her] body (ONeill 765). Obviously afterwards
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she becomes addicted and takes it frequently because of her fearful tendencies. The audience

could infer that if not the weight of one childs death was enough, then two would surely crush

her. With the inevitability of Edmunds end, she needs a way to escape reality. However, her

problems dont end there, after being indirectly accused of taking drugs by Jamie, she attempts to

play it off as if she wasnt sure what he was talking about; still, he responds with oh for Gods

sake, do you think you can fool me, Mama? Im not blind (ONeill 750). Along with the deaths

of her younger sons hanging over her, and now a constant ridicule from her first born, Mary is

pushed to her limit. The remark from Jamie symbolizes her personal Rising Action, ONeill has

established her fear and has now moved onto the current trouble she faces. With no end in sight

she continues to drug herself deeper and deeper into bliss, and all the while James is facing a

challenge of his own.

James is the infamous, penny-pinching, rude, man that would rather have another glass of

whiskey than to bother with his eldest son. James plot is probably the simplest and earliest in

the book, hes an actor that gloats about his heavy Irish heritage and his success in the property

business. Act I and IV serve as his background and exposition, in these sections of the play he

discusses his past and his ancestry. His character is laid out more directly than that of his other

family member, almost all information about him comes directly from his own mouth. Though

as stated before he is not a straight cut character, his flaws fall with his first born Jamie. Jamie

isnt quite what James wants him to be, Jamie has no money and a poor job, as James puts it, At

the end of each season youre penniless! Youve thrown your salary away every week on

whores and whiskey (ONeill 730). The two constantly butt head and rarely ever agree on

something, Jamie serves as James Rising Action. While his Irish upbringing was the beginning

to his story, it ends up being his son that is the real problem he faces. By the end of the story, he
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feels beaten, there is nothing he can do for Jamie and obviously nothing for Edmund, his wife is

a wreck who will die soon and he is shown sitting on the couch drunk: he looks as he appeared

at the close of the preceding act, a sad, defeated old man, possessed by hopeless resignation

(ONeill 792). This is the beginning of the end, he drinks the pain away and feels like hes lost.

There is nothing more he can do to help his son, though perhaps there is more to Jamies story

than his father believes.

Jamie is the child the reader knows the least about, which at the same time makes him

that much more interesting. His backstory is scattered throughout the book and there are few

times when its directly mentioned: it began when he was a child and his first younger brother,

Eugene, was born. He accidentally gave the toddler measles which lead to Eugene's death,

though it was hinted on that Jamie had been jealous of the new younger brother and had given it

to him on purpose. Throughout the book Jamies jealous, arrogant, self-centered nature grows

and become a major part in the familys dysfunctionality. However he is not entirely bad, there

are moments throughout the story when Jamie will defend Edmund, he feels he needs to protect

him. This could be because Edmund is sick and Jamie feels sorry for him, but it could also be

Jamie doing for Edmund, what his parents never did for him. Jamie is truly the mystery and at

first glance the obvious worse brother, where Edmund simply wants what is best for the


Edmund is the unsung hero of the Tyrone family, hes the peacekeeper and the only who

actively tried to keep everyone at bay. This is most likely because of his upbringing, because he

has always been sick everyone has treated him like he needs help, better than everyone else. Due

to this kind of behavior being given to him, he feels its only right to show it back. Ever since

the beginning of the story Edmund says things like, Cut it out, Papa! and Cut out that kind of
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talk (ONeill 758, 760). Because he is so giving, he wants to help everyone, whether it be at the

expense of himself or not. This is what the reader could see as his own exposition, Edmund the

Peacekeeper. He leads himself into a Rising Action later in the book when he continues to drink,

and in Act IV when he discusses life with James. They talk about their problems and have a

moment of reconciliation before the major curtain call. Edmund is the only one to want

everyone to be happy, and he is the one who is always the unluckiest. While his story alone is

powerful and impactful, it is each characters stories that make this play so outstanding.

The father, mother, older, and younger son each have their own plot and story. Mary and

her troubles with following her morphine addiction to the point where she no longer has any will

to live on, James who drinks to forget his own greed and that he cant keep his family safe. Then

the two brothers, Jamie who has been rotten since he inadvertently killed his younger brother,

and Edmund who wants nothing but for the family to survive. Each one of them consume

themselves is drugs and alcohol at the end of the story, at the end of Act IV. They all sit in the

same living room drunk or spaced out as they come to the realization that no matter what they

do, they can help one another. This is the climax of all four stories, as the curtain drops, the

reader is left to believe that it is because of the setting accuracy, character construction, and plot

development, that this play became the masterpiece that it is.

Eugene ONeill prioritized the plot, characters, and setting of Long Days Journey Into

Night to make a one-of-a-kind play that brings the audience into the heat of an early 1900s

Connecticut family. The setting was completely historically accurate, the character had

personality and flaws, and the plot was a beautiful combination of four stories that tied the

family together. In this slow descent into depression and self-loathing, the reader cant help but

take on the pain that each one of the family members feel, the hatred they have to one another,
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but at the same time the love they feel works perfectly. Its confusing and throws the audience in

circles. By the end, there is only one question the one could ask, what happens now?

Works Cited

AdSTSmin. "Historical Tidbits to Broaden the Conversation - Shatter the Stigma." Shatter the

Stigma. N.p., 17 July 2015. Web. 05 Dec. 2016.

"Early Research and Treatment of Tuberculosis in the 19th Century - American Lung

Association Crusade." American Lung Association Crusade. N.p., n.d. Web. 05 Dec. 2016.

@heritage. "Poverty and Welfare in the American Founding." The Heritage Foundation. N.p.,

n.d. Web. 05 Dec. 2016.

"The Situation in 1900 - History of the Non-Medical Use of Drugs." The Situation in 1900 -

History of the Non-Medical Use of Drugs. N.p., n.d. Web. 05 Dec. 2016.

"Some Medical Term Used in Old Records." Some Medical Term Used in Old Records.

Michigan Family History Network, n.d. Web. 05 Dec. 2016.

Sucre, Richard. "The Great White Plague: The Culture of Death and the Tuberculosis

Sanatorium." Http:// Virginia EDU, n.d. Web.

Thaddeus Russell / Free Press/Simon and Schuster. "How 19th Century Prostitutes Were Among

the Freest, Wealthiest, Most Educated Women of Their Time." Alternet. N.p., n.d. Web. 05

Dec. 2016.

Larry Berman and Bruce A. Murphy, Approaching Democracy (Upper Saddle River, NJ:

Prentice Hall, 1996), p. 568.