“All romance,” of the domestic tragedy of which we

“All happy families are alike;
each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” is a famous Tolstoy quote that
comes to mind when reading (or seeing) Eugene O’Neill’s play Long Day’s Journey
into Night. The Tyrones suffer intensely from the vague, nameless guilt
associated with their lost ideals and the family dynamic is unique to them.

O’Neill “is
the elegist of the Freudian “family romance,” of the domestic tragedy of which we
all die daily, a little bit at a time”. (Bloom, 5) The atmosphere of the play is
depressing from the beginning and will become more and more suffocating as the
action evolves. The Tyrones are on vacation between seasons and spend their summer
in a house built by them with great “sacrifices” and savings because
of the fear of the elderly asylum of “some” of the house’s men. The
tension is visible because none of the family members rested the night before
our intrusion into their lives. The fog lamp that ‘accompanies’ the light of
the oceanfront lighthouse sounded all night, covering even Tyrone’s snoring. The
sound of the siren is nothing but the alarm signal for both Mary and the men in
the house that something important will happen. It is a sinister sound, a
scream of horror. Mary, barely returning from the detoxification clinic, has
resumed the old habit of “haunting” the cameras in search of peace.

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The men realize, one by one, through the conversation with Mary, the
detached shimmering of her eyes, her nervousness that the inevitable happened
and that they lost her again. This is the moment when all the characters,
including Mary, live a lot of disillusionment and feel betrayed and guilty. In
the meantime, Mary finds the reasons for her weakness: the loneliness and
distrust of others around her, which she feels constantly watching. This
presumption of guilt pushes her and actually leads her to the fall. Everyone in
the house is, however, guilty towards Mary – James for the endless tours of
hotels with insidious and depressing rooms, for the stinginess manifested on
many occasions, the worst being an incompetent doctor to treat the pain caused
by the birth of Edmund and prescribing morphine to the sick. Mary’s emotional
instability and dependence on “happiness” is largely due to Jamie. He
was the reason why little Eugen, just two years, died. Although he was sick of
measles and had been warned not to enter the small room, Jamie entered his
brother’s room, causing his death after two weeks of suffering. There was
perhaps, since then an evil desire in Jamie to do harm to his brothers. Eugen’s
death had a strong impact on Mary. Mary loved Edmund, but he was hated to the
same extent. This contradictory reporting to the third son is also found in
Jamie. Even if she loved her baby, Mary could not forget that because of him she
had pains for which morphine was recommended. Little by little, the
“fog” falls over the present and allows Mary to make more and more
frequent stops in her past, to remember the youth, the emotions of the first
encounter with James, the temptation to be a nun.

The fog is a symbol and
occasion of concealment, a screen, and everybody in the house uses it – those
masks they confuse for real faces, deceiving, first of all, themselves, and
then those around them. These masks will fall one at a time and reinstall
themselves on their faces because people do not feel safe at all when they are
themselves and do not feel protected when their souls are open and soaked in
alcohol. It is alcohol that binds and unties the tongues ??and the Tyrones are
no exception to the Irish stereotype of heavy drinkers. Mary’s addiction is
balanced by the men’s alcoholism. Although the morphine is maybe a more damaging
drug, alcohol does its fair share of harm to the Tyrone men. It is Tyrone’s
great vice, and it has contributed to Mary’s unhappiness. Drunkenness has been
Jamie’s response to life, and it is part of why he has failed so miserably.
Moreover, Edmund’s alcohol use has possibly contributed to ruining his health.

For the most part, Tyrone family members are only concerned with
themselves. It is as if everybody stood in his own world and shut up there
carefully, as if he locked the door of his own room, separating himself from
those around him and cutting all the connections to the environment. Each
individual’s existence is marked by suffering, but all of them try to escape
the guilt they feel by throwing each other new accusations as if they are full
of regret and resentment and looking at their own reactions and attitudes as
superior to others. The Tyrones do not even need each other to carry on an
argument; each is so consumed by guilt that he can play both parts. When Tyrone
praises Edmund’s success as a reporter, for instance, Jamie’s jealous response
is typical:

A hick town rag! Whatever bull they hand you, they tell me he’s a

pretty bum reporter. If he weren’t your son—

Ashamed again.

No, that’s not true! They’re glad to have him, but it’s the special

stuff that gets him by. Some of the poems and parodies he’s written

are damned good.

Grudgingly again.

Not that they’d ever get him anywhere on the big time.

Hastily

But he’s certainly made a damned good start. (O’Neill, 63)

The drama of this unforgiving and unforgettable family is great. You cannot
really forget if you forgive. If you remember, you did not forgive and you did
not get away. That is what the Tyrone family does – they remember, they recall,
dissolving in their continuous journey between what was, what it is and what it
could have been. We do not have exemplary characters, but we have a devastating
and unequalled inner suffering.

O’Neill writes the play to free himself of painful memories, past
reproaches, he writes in the dedication: ”I mean it as a tribute to your love and tenderness
which gave me the faith in love that enabled me to face my dead at last and
write this play—write it with deep pity and understanding and forgiveness for
all the four haunted Tyrones.”(27) It is a play in which he confesses his
forgiveness to his own family, the attempt to forgive himself and, at the same
time, all the families who lead their lives into the tortures of
misunderstandings, lies and indifference.

It is a play that leads the
audience to that ancient catharsis, for they cannot be indifferent to Mary’s
emotional exhaustion, James’s illusoriness, or the failures of Jamie and
Edmund. All of them fail to communicate to themselves and others. Except for
the last scene, the drama is one of silence and concealment of true faces. It is
a drama theatre in the long road of the day to the night. There are people who
play their roles in a scene flooded by the tense time that does not want to be
forgotten and ignored. The Tyrone family is a ship that sinks slowly, but
surely.

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