Long Day's Journey into Night: Can One Successfully Escape Reality?

Tragedy is not a circumstance, or collection of circumstances, that is unknown to most people. It is a painful experience stemming from misfortune and suffering. Some writers choose to recreate this experience on paper. Eugene O'Neill, for example, is one such playwright who took episodes from his own life, disturbing as they were, and shared them with the rest of the world in the form of brilliant and dramatic plays. O'Neill uses tragedy in his plays to pull his audience into the world he has created.

In Long Day's Journey into Night, he turns reality into fiction in that he creates his tragic characters, the Tyrone family, based on his own family and the events of one summer in 1912. This reality, however, is not a bright one, and most people would prefer not to have to go through it, nor does this family want to face all the troubles in their lives. In Eugene O'Neill's play, Long Day's Journey into Night, each of the four members of the Tyrone family attempts to escape from reality in his or her own ways.

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The two brothers, Edmund and Jamie, use similar methods to avoid having to face their significantly less-than-perfect lives. One way is that they use alcohol to drown any thoughts of Edmund's sickness or their mother's addiction that might creep into their heads.

Also Jamie, because he is the older brother, sets an example for, and is idolized by Edmund. Jamie, in his attempt to escape his own failure to make something of himself, takes advantage of the fact that Edmund has modeled himself in his older brother's image, whom he looks up to.

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By making his own drunken binges seem fun and exciting, and by giving to his irresponsible indulgence of prostitutes the appearance of love and romance, Jamie lures Edmund into his own contrived reality. He feels that if his brother, who shows so much promise for the future, were to fail as well, his own lack of achievement would be forgotten. However, Jamie cannot escape his lot in life, nor can he escape the memories of his mother's condition. When thoughts of his mother seem to be the furthest thing from his mind, there are still inescapable parallels in his behavior that suggest he is more upset over his mother than he lets on to anyone, including himself.

Jamie's attempt to escape reality does not accomplish anything but nearly ruining Edmund's future and driving his mother further away from the family.

In keeping with family tradition, James Tyrone, Sr., also turns from the pain of his life to the local barroom. When simply avoiding the controversial subjects in his life, through the use of euphemisms on the rare occasions when he refers to Mary's morphine addiction as 'the poison,' or 'her curse,' no longer has the same effect, Tyrone has to make his brain forget the things he does not want to think about. As opposed to being aware of the situation and not wanting to deal with it, he impairs his brain function with an enough alcohol that he physically cannot deal with it. His denial of reality is so obvious that even Mary, in a stage of her morphine addiction where she is not entirely coherent, recognizes Tyrone's problem.

"But I must confess, James," she admits, "although I couldn't help loving you, I would never have married you if I'd known you drank so much" (O'Neill 113). Even though she loves him dearly and vice versa, as is demonstrated throughout the play, he is driving her away with his drinking. He does not realize that, in blocking out the pain in his life, he is also keeping out all of the wonderful things he needs to experience in order to survive, like the love of his family.

Mary, before completely relying on the morphine to create a new world for her in her head, finds escape in the fog outside. Upon hearing a foghorn in the distance, Mary tells her son, "I really love fog... it hides you from the world and the world from you... It's the foghorn that I hate. It won't let you alone. It keeps reminding you, and calling you back" (O'Neill 92). Mary wants to disappear into the fog; she wants to go where suffering cannot touch her. However, the foghorn, or reality, will not allow her to leave. She belongs with her family. Mary is reduced to returning to her morphine addiction, a place she knows will hide her from life. She suddenly develops a detached and impersonal manner during a conversation with Edmund and Jamie, a characteristic behavior of her return to the drug. Mary tries to rationalize her situation and that of her family when she says, "None of us can help the things life has done to us" (O'Neill 61).

In telling herself that there is nothing humanly possible that can be done to change her life, that it all rests on fate, she is refusing to accept the fact that she might be able to help herself and her family in any way. Mary takes the easy way out, which turns out to be even more difficult than she expected. Her reliance on the drug to save her from the guilt she feels for her family's sufferings is a refusal to take responsibility for her family. She feels guilty about the fact that her family's lives seem to have culminated in despair and turns to the morphine to escape. Not being in her right mind, she is no longer able to perform her duties as a wife and mother. More guilt arises from her lack of responsibility, which causes her to rely on the morphine even more, which creates even more guilt. She is overwhelmed by the vicious circle she is trapped in. The torment she feels at this moment proves that she could not have possibly escaped reality because the real world still has an impact on her and how she lives and feels.

Maybe it is not possible to escape reality, but the entire Tyrone family works together in an effort to avoid any acknowledgment of its existence. It is violating an unwritten family law to even consider the fact that Mary may have relapsed, or that Edmund's illness could be fatal. When one person is on the verge of crossing that invisible line, another jumps in to remind him or her that what he or she is saying is one of the unmentionable subjects. Jamie begins to see this pattern and tries to break it by forcing the reality of Edmund's danger onto his parents:


Genuinely concerned. It's not just a cold he's got. The Kid is damned sick.

His father gives him a sharp warning look but he doesn't see it.


Turns on him resentfully.

Why do you say that? It is just a cold! Anyone can tell that! You always imagine things!...


You're a fine lunkhead! Haven't you any sense? The one thing

to avoid is saying anything that would get her more upset over

Edmund. (O'Neill 27)

James Tyrone, Sr., is concerned with sparing Mary any unnecessary worry, but at the same time wants himself to believe that Edmund's illness really is just a cold. He reprimands Jamie for not only Mary's sake, but his own as well. He insists that nobody knows for sure what Edmund's illness is yet, proof that he wants to prolong his own ignorance of the subject for as long as possible.

The same situation arises when the family must deal with the first signs that Mary has begun taking the morphine again. Tyrone and Jamie look out the window, and Edmund sits so that he does not have to watch his mother. Love, pity, and helplessness are all emotions that are present, but the one that outweighs them all is resentment. The men resent Mary for slipping back into an old habit and for taking the easy way out, leaving them, in a sense, to fend for themselves. The view they take is a hypocritical one in that each of them wants an easy way out and does his best to find it.

The Tyrone's tiptoe around certain incontrovertible facts such as these. Each of them makes intimations, but does not say what needs to be said. They change the subject whenever possible, or stop mid-sentence, while the bystanders knowingly withhold any comments (Chothia, 90). Avoiding talking about weighty issues is not as drastic a form of escape, but it is a mechanism that is ever-present throughout the play.

Each of the characters in Eugene O'Neill's Long Day's Journey into Night finds that reality is inescapable, no matter how he or she tries to do it. Edmund and Jamie try to escape their problems through drinking, as does James, Sr. Jamie also blocks out the real world by going to prostitutes for solace, while Edmund tries to lose himself in the fog. Mary also wants to disappear into the fog, but uses morphine predominantly to become completely detached. The theme of the play is that there is no way one can avoid dealing with his or her problems and not have it somehow backfire.

Even when the characters are convinced that they have succeeded in escaping their lives, they are only fooling themselves "...because the characters cannot get away from themselves; even when talking about other things, they keep thinking about their own fate" (Tornqvist 52). They constantly wonder things like, "What if these problems never go away?" and, "What will happen to us?" Real life and its problems are always on their minds and there is no way to block out the real world. However, a life without obstacles and challenges really isn't much of a life at all. Therefore, it seems as though the family's entire lives center around trying not to live. Where they "live," or rather, where their address is located, is a perfect example of this.

They spend their days in a summer home, not a real house. They've never had a real house because James has to travel so much, being an actor. A summer home is meant for vacation, in other words, escape from the real world for a little while. Only the Tyrone's aren't there for a little while, this is where they want to exist for as long as possible. While it is possible, and even healthy, to leave life behind for a short time, one must go back eventually. As this play illustrates, ignoring issues in one's life can lead to greater problems and conflicts with loved ones.

Updated: Dec 22, 2021
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Long Day's Journey into Night: Can One Successfully Escape Reality?. (2020, Jun 02). Retrieved from https://studymoose.com/long-days-journey-night-can-one-successfully-escape-reality-new-essay

Long Day's Journey into Night: Can One Successfully Escape Reality? essay
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