Eugene O’Neill’s The Hairy Ape play revolves around Bob Smith, or Yank, showing that the Transatlantic Liner fireman has had an extremely painful past. Having been brought up in an unstable family, Yank nurses feelings of hatred towards society in general and utter desperation. To begin with, Yank’s father was abusive, a situation that forced the son to escape following the death of his mother. Yank also explains that his parents used to fight so hard that they usually damaged the family furniture.
Eventually, Yank is isolated by all persons, a scenario that compels him to seek companionship with an ape that finally kills him. The theme of O’Neill’s play is how Yank – a contemporary man, struggles in an industrial society. To illustrate this theme, Yank sadly realizes that he is unable to transcend existing ideological or class barriers. Moreover, Yank is unable to develop new barriers. In effect, Yank is merely an outsider who finally closely resembles an entity that is caged in a zoo at which people point.
To illustrate Yank’s inability to rise above class barriers, Mildred Douglas becomes so scared of Yank’s physical appearance that she flees in apprehension. Mildred has gone to check on Yank and his fellow Ocean Liner firemen as they feed coal into the sea vessel’s engine. The sight of Yank visible frightens Mildred such that she seeks protection from Yank’ colleagues. Mildred even calls Yank a huge ‘hairy ape’ (O’Neill 154). This incidence thus shows that Yank cannot be socially at par with Mildred despite the fact that he works towards facilitating the continuation of the business interests of people of Mildred’s class.
This struggle continues throughout the play up to the time Yank desperately seeks companionship with an ape that ultimately kills him. O’Neill’s play is set in various locations which serve to demonstrate that low class people like Yank endure get suffering under their upper-class counterparts. Initially, Yank and his colleagues are aboard a sea vessel enjoying themselves by drinking. Yank is however contemplatively quiet, a fact that makes his colleagues to urge him to ‘Drink, don’t think! ’ (O’Neill 142).
Yank also laments that ‘de woild owns me’ alluding to his save-like condition in the sea vessel (O’Neill 278). Mildred also comes in as Yank works on the Ocean Liner alongside his colleagues. Next, Yank accompanies Long as the 2 tour New York. As he tries to capture attention, Yank makes someone miss a bus. Yak is thus arrested and incarcerated on Blackwell’s Island. As he converses with fellow prisoners, Yank explains his desire to revenge in Mildred. He is thus advised to become a member of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW).
Yank thus realizes that Mildred’s father has metaphorically and physically caged him. Afterwards, Yank visits the IWW offices. He is however rebuffed on suspicion that he is spying for the government. He then visits a zoo whereby he tries to seek the companionship of an ape that kills him. Yank’s hopelessness sis reflected in his statement ‘I couldn’t belong in dat’ (O’Neill 298). All these incidences, from the Ocean Liner all the way to the zoo, illustrate Yank’s situation of being segregated and detained by society.
Yank seems to be illiterate based on his mispronunciation of the word ‘think’ whereby he inserted says ‘tink’ (O’Neill 96). In addition hi desire to engage in thought shows that he is a contemplative person. Moreover, through his reaction to Mildred’s unkind gesture and statement, Yank is shown to be very sensitive. The philosophical side of Yank plays out when he tries to informs the ape that both Yank and the gorilla are alike since they are caged. Works Cited O’Neill, Eugene. The Hairy Ape: Anna Christie And The First Man. Whitefish, MT: Kessinger Publishing, 2004.
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