Constant Changes in Technology, the Industrial Revolution and Modern Society

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Eugene O’Neil spent time aboard a ship and with time word would arrive that a shipmate named Driscoll had killed himself. O’Neil frequently contemplated why exactly did Driscoll commit suicide. O’Neil’s was always to progressive social theories and politics and with those in mind O’Neil concocted a reasonable explanation as to why Driscoll killed himself. Driscoll was feeling hopeless because he was lodged in the middle of modern society which made him have feelings of misplacement and a sense of not belonging—a feeling of ennui.

The reasoning that O’Neil made stuck with him for a long while never quite fading away. Which lead the playwright’s imagination to go wild. Making O’Neil ponder the possibility that everyone at one time or another struggled with the sense of ennui and the only way to become comfortable both internally and externally is to know oneself.

Knowing oneself allows a person to attain a truth and knowledge about themselves that would lead to them gaining a feeling of belonging.

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This leads to the groundwork that starts O’Neil off exploring Darwinian ideas in regard to the nature of man. O’Neil was sympathetic when it came to the struggles of the modern industrial workers and how they were victims and slaves of their social class. The Hairy Ape is known for not using realism and naturalism as other plays have because O’Neil is trying to using the essence of a classic Greek tragedy with a completely modern storyline.

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The storyline includes a sailor named Yank who is said to resemble an ape who is trying to find a place of belonging and identity. The modern twist that Greek tragedies do not have to face is the constant changes in technology, the industrial revolution, and modern-day society. O’Neil’s views on politics and primarily being the father of modern drama adds into The Hairy Ape as modern twist to a classic Greek tragedy.

Darwinian Capitalism suggests that a capitalist society have people who are constrained to be put wherever their natural born talents lead them. Those who have muscles as their talent are sent to work with machinery, machinery that provide wealth to those that happen to be born in wealth or with a brain that could actually be used—in other words those of the upper class. O’Neil is not just saying that the connection between physical strength is just stupidity, but he is suggesting that smart people have ways to use their influence and use it to their benefit by commanding others to do their bidding. Which mostly served as the interest of those with natural gifts like strength, dexterity, or focus. The Industrial Revolution is taking place in the setting of The Hairy Ape and that involves advances in technology that doesn’t just rely on strength of men but the strength of machinery.

Continuing off od Darwinian Capitalism, is how humans are deteriorating because industrialization which you can see by the way Yank progresses through the play. It is a significant themes in the play The Hairy Ape because of its because of the way that technological advances and increasing industrialization effect workers. The industrialization makes society see them as machines rather than as human, dehumanizing them. Then there are the men who are tasked with having one main focus and are meant to remain fixated on that sole task which does not allow them to think for themselves making them mindless robots. The workers are being forced into physical labor jobs that lead to the deterioration that makes Yank seem like a Neanderthal—a hairy ape. O’Neil uses stage direction to make the image of apes clear to the audience, for example the Firemen and Paddy who is especially “monkey like”. The Hairy Ape is an investigation into the pattern of regression through the main protagonist Yank. The play depicts the regression by contrasting Yank to his life on the ship to his journey of self-awareness and the ending with the ape at the Zoo.

O’Neil’s drama touches on the effects that pride can have on a person’s sense of self. In the beginning of the play Yank is prideful of his work as stoker in the ocean liner and even goes so far as to brag about being part of the engines. Although, his pride does not stand up to the blow it receives from Mildred—the heiress of a steel tycoon—who visits the engine room and calls Yank a “filthy beast”. That blow to Yank’s self-esteem ruins him and leads him to question whether or not anyone really values him. His ego becomes fragile because of that fact and leads him on a journey of revenge which takes him away from the ship which was the only place where he was truly accepted by he’s peers. Furthermore, he eventually happens to search for a feeling of belonging which ultimately leads to his death. It is sad how he left the ship which was the one place where he could actually belong and instead ended up fruitlessly trying to find his place in the world, but instead ended up dying. This leads to the conclusion that it is rather dangerous to allow vanity to corrupt the way people see themselves in society.

Yank has been rejected by society which explains his sense of ennui. He feels as though he does not belong in the world of man when in fact he did. Yank belonged in ship where he was respected but because of social class frustrations it lead him into thinking that he was inferior. Which leads to his search of identity that takes over his being and consumes him. This leads to Yank going to the zoo and facing the gorilla in its cage. Since Yank was called an ape he believes that its kin and they belong in the same category. He means to set is free as he wishes to be free from social constraints but is instead crushed to death.

The symbol of apes appear everywhere in The Hairy Apes, even in the title, which gives a hint of foreshadowing. The main protagonist, Yank, is called an ape and that insult brings him down a path that makes him believe that he is in fact an ape. Senator Queen who was mentioned by a gang is said to have said something about the America going “back to the ape”. The ape symbolizes a time before the industrial revolution and technology and when men just followed instincts. The ape also signifies how free they were of societal classes and the many elements of modern society the ape main concern is surviving to the next day and is not concerned with menial societal norms. It is not surprising how Yank is constantly compared to the ape throughout the play, because of the way he struggles with thinking for himself, the class system. Yank has a very particular way of talking, his words come out choppy and strangled which immediately rules out his acceptance into a higher class of society. His lack of proper language makes proper communication nearly impossible.

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Constant Changes in Technology, the Industrial Revolution and Modern Society. (2023, Feb 21). Retrieved from

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