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O'Neill's Views About Avoidance in “Long Day's Journey Into Night"

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The author enjoys reviewing literary works by famous authors and commenting upon various domains of knowledge.


Tyrone Family

In his play “Long Day’s Journey into Night (1956)”, Eugene O’Neill discusses the decline of a family that is trapped by its traumatic past and is unable to confront the truth in the present. Throughout the play the Tyrone family is unable to coexist in harmony, and their relationships suffer from the detachment they feel towards each other. Their feeling of isolation is not aided by being surrounded by each other in a home. They feel trapped in a family. They try to avoid confronting their guilt. Tyrones have a strong desire to be set free from their internal conflicts. They take drugs to create a psychological barrier between themselves and the external world and use addiction as a way to deal with their problems.

Title of the Play

The title of the play is also symbolic as it acts as a metaphor for the disease of addiction, it symbolizes the "journey" through which addicts go on a daily basis. For people with addiction problems, every day is a repetitive process in which they take drug over and over, until night finally brings sleep. The title not only deals with the journey of addiction but also shows how entire family is in denial about their existence and escaping from their reality from morning through to night. For instance, Mary gives herself over to the addiction of morphine and has developed a mentality which makes her to dismiss reality and it keeps her from acknowledging her troubles. She says, “reality is but an appearance to be accepted and dismissed unfeelingly.” She also says, “the things life has done to us we cannot excuse or explain.” Here, she frames her addiction as something that no one can “understand” or “help.” She also suggests that “life has done” things to her and James that can’t be undone. In turn, she gives herself an excuse to live in a way that is blatantly self-destructive, portraying her situation as hopeless and unchangeable. James also shows this correlation of addiction and avoidance as he Constantly looks for an excuse to drink, he gives himself over to living like a drunk and thinks nothing can be done about his drinking, so he simply drowns himself in more alcohol. He has pessimistic approach towards his wife’s addiction as he says, “But what’s the use of talk? We’ve lived with this before and now we must again. There’s no help for it.” This notion that there is “no help” for her addiction is exactly the kind of attitude he himself apparently embraces when it comes to his drinking or his other problems.

Trauma and the desire of Escapism

Trauma can cause the desire of escapism in a person and can have a negative impact on how an individual perceives an experience or reality in his life. For instance, Mary believes that Jamie is guilty of intentionally killing his infant brother, Eugene. This pain and remorse have a traumatic effect on Jamie and he turns out to be cynical and bitter against his family. Jamie is a complicated character who struggles with contradictory feelings of resentment and love for his family. He expresses a wish to hurt his young brother but at the same time he does not want to lose Edmund from his life. His refusal to trust his father and mother anymore and his indulgence in alcoholism to cope with his agitation is another facet of escapism which causes trouble for him because it blocks his healthy attempts to ease his suffering.

Gerardine and Meaney (2009) stated that “this play does not culminate in catharsis, nor even in destruction. It ends instead in a stasis which implies an inexorable continuity without change”.

Failure to Confront Truth or Problems

Their failure to confront truth or problems is the major reason why the Tyrone family is struggling to achieve happiness and have intolerant, dysfunctional relationship with each other. For instance, Mary’s inability to confront unpleasant facts, such as Edmund’s poor health and her own addiction, causes her to seek relief in delusion and prevents her from accepting reality. Her loss of control over her life contributes to the resentment she feels towards her family.James is also traumatized by his experience with poverty. The childhood memories of his family’s suffering have shown him the cruel consequences of being poor in a capitalist society.Edmund’s idea to “be always drunken” in life is also an expression of escapism as his poetic voice highlights the anxiety he experiences at home and at sea.


Characters’ lives; their shared trauma follows them throughout the play, and they are destined to continue in this way if they are unable to deal with their pain through a method that does not include drugs. The play ends with James sitting in his chair, Jamie and Edmund remaining motionless, and Mary staring aloof in a trance. The ending does not inform the reader whether change will be possible or not but it does shows that one cannot easily escape the past, however, it is very important to at least try to forget the past so it will not interrupt ones present with disturbing memories.

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