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Long Day's Journey Into Night

Long Day's Journey Into Night

by Eugene O'Neill

Analysis: Booker's Seven Basic Plots Analysis

Christopher Booker is a scholar who wrote that every story falls into one of seven basic plot structures: Overcoming the Monster, Rags to Riches, the Quest, Voyage and Return, Comedy, Tragedy, and Rebirth. Shmoop explores which of these structures fits this story like Cinderella’s slipper.

Plot Type : Tragedy

Anticipation Stage

Right at the beginning of the play, we can already sense that things aren't quite right. From the start, we hear James insisting that Mary has gotten plump and sassy again – so clearly she was ailing before. The main issues are quickly implied: morphine, alcoholism, and James's stinginess. None of these spark anything other than minor bickering at this point.

All of the protagonists seem in some ways incomplete and unfulfilled. The play quickly gets to hinting at a tragedy to come.

Dream Stage

Doesn't really happen – we cut straight from Anticipation to Frustration.

The play moves very quickly from bad to worse, without stopping along the way.

Frustration Stage

We find out that Mary is taking morphine again, and Edmund has consumption. And so begins the drinking and the vicious infighting. Major problems are looming on the horizon.

We skip straight through the Dream Stage because nobody becomes committed to any course of action and things never even appear to be going well; it doesn't get better than the "less bad" we see at the outset of the play, quickly proceeding to "bad" and "worse." The difficulties hinted at earlier in the play take specific shape, and we see that the Tyrones face several troubles that cannot necessarily be resolved. From here on out, there will be no rest.

Nightmare Stage

Mary's conversation with Cathleen reveals a woman in dire straits, and James and Edmund return to the house only to throw down with one another and with Mary. Once Jamie and Edmund come home in Act IV, the most serious fights go down, but the three Tyrone men do seem to achieve some degree of mutual reconciliation.

Act III consists mainly of the unbearable pressure building on the characters. Everyone (readers included) has a mounting sense of threat and despair, as the tragic penny starts to drop: no act, however violent or redemptive, will be likely to save this family. That said, the play doesn't stick with Booker's model here, since it is in this Nightmare Stage that O'Neill decides to introduce the one ray of hope in the play: the small reconciliations between James, Jamie, and Edmund.

Destruction or Death Wish Stage

Mary is completely overcome by a serious morphine-induced hallucination.

Mary Tyrone may not die at the end of Long Day's Journey, but the woman whom the rest of the Tyrones knew as wife and mother appears completely dead to them. By injecting herself with so much morphine, Mary effectively kills herself for the remainder of the play.

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