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Jeruba's avatar

Theatrical themes in Long Day's Journey into Night?

Asked by Jeruba (47670points) September 29th, 2010

I’ve just watched Sidney Lumet’s knockout 1962 film version of Eugene O’Neill’s play Long Day’s Journey into Night, with Katharine Hepburn and Ralph Richardson.

In addition to the dark autobiographical themes of addiction, family dysfunction, denial, and bitter blame, it seems to me that there is a strong theme pertaining to the theatre itself, and literature in general. I wondered if O’Neill might have even intended the family as a symbol of the decadence of literature in his time.

This turns out to be a very difficult subject to look up online. Searches for “theatre” in connection with the play bring up information about the play and productions of it, synopses, etc. I can’t seem to construct the right kind of search to find out if analysts think the play is (in part) about theatre or if this is just a delusion of my own.

If you’ve ever studied the play in school, or if you have references on the great moderns dramas, etc., and can point me to a discussion that might prove or disprove my thinking here, that’s what I’m looking for.

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3 Answers

janbb's avatar

See if you can access some of the specific literature journal databases at a college library and try searching for “theatre as theme in LDJIN.” I don’t have my library handy right now so I can’t test it, but I would think that would be your best approach.

Jeruba's avatar

Ah—good idea, @janbb. I do have online library access through the community college where I’m taking classes. That approach might succeed. Thanks.

I was hoping one of our theatre people might jump right in here with an answer already formed.

Kayak8's avatar

I found a book of literary commentary on the play edited by Harold Bloom and available on google books but it seems that every time you reload the page, you get a different excerpt. The first excerpt I read likened the play to a piece of music with four movements. When I went back to find it, I got a different selection of pages to peruse.

In one commentary David McDonald is quoted as having described the play as “watchers being watched” which seems to be on the same line of thinking as you described.

Another quote said, “In short, by embracing spectacle, by putting the ‘right kind [of histrionics] in the right place,’ O’Neill counters panoptic constraint, transforming the perpetual past of the Tyrone’s home into the perpetual present of the theatre.” Michael Selman in the chapter “Like . . . So Many Small Theatres”

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