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Hairy Ape Character Analysis Essay

Style “The Hairy Ape” was done in the expressionist style of theater. Expressionism is the theatrical technique which will use the staging and setting to show the characters inner emotion or the keep the theme constantly within the audience’s sight. In Expressionism, characters do not act or talk the way they really would, everything is extreme to prove a point. In Expressionism plausibility is deliberately altered by the author to make the theme clear.

Characters Yank Yank represents the lower class. He depicts the manner in which it is the force at the bottom of society that allows society to run. Yank also represents how people can be trained and persuaded to be comfortable in a situation that may not be best for their personal development and become unable to fit in elsewhere. Yank is depicted in the play as “Neanderthal” and “ape-like”, not only in his speech, but also in his physical description. Yank and his shipmates are initially described as “?hairy-chested, with long arms of tremendous power, and low, receding brows?” The ship’s crew is kept in constant hunched over position due to his quarters on the ship Yank, at the outset of the play is even proud of his position. Yank is so comfortable in his position that he lives in false security that he controls his surroundings. He feels that it is he who is better. He repeatedly states how it is he who makes the ship run. Not even realizing that he has mentally dehumanized himself; he states that he is the ship.

Yank seemingly has no issue with his position, has never given it any thought and criticizes other shipmates who do, until he is observed by Mildred Douglas, who proclaims upon seeing him “Oh, the filthy beast”. It is at this point that Yank realizes he not simply a part giving the ship motion, he is more than an animal or creature, he is a man. He is infuriated by Mildred’s comment and seeks to prove his worth.

Yank’s desire to prove himself throws him into conflict; he is no longer able to fit in as he did in his prior position on the ship and finds he does not belong in society outside the ship either.

During Yank’s moments of thought, of attempting to find himself and his position in life O’Neill depicts him in the same position as Rodin’s sculpture “The Thinker”. This particular sculpture was Rodin’s depiction of what he saw as a brutish, almost Neanderthal type man, contemplating his existence and place in the world, which describes Yank’s position quite well.

Mildred Douglas Mildred Douglas is the upper class of society. She claims sociological interest when she requests a tour of the stokehole, but does not truly perform any kind of social work in the play. She claims herself a by-product of her wealthy society. Mildred served as a tool to bring about Yank’s personal dilemma.

Paddy Paddy is a nostalgic character. He speaks of when he was a sailor as a young man and being at one with the sea. Paddy represents when man and nature were one. Paddy is resigned to the position he is in now, but longs for his good old days. Yank is unable to relate to this perspective, as he views himself as part of the ships’ mechanics.

Long Long is a glimpse to the future; towards social change. Unlike Yank, Long is aware of the inhumane treatment of the ship’s stokers. He speaks of the separation of the classes and its unfairness. Long speaks of ideas such as the men on the ship being “voters and citizens” and how the ships crew are more than merely slaves. Yank is unable to understand Long’s point of view or his class-consciousness, instead, Yank considers him a preacher and a wimp.


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