Study Guide

Long Day's Journey Into Night

By Eugene O'Neill

Long Day's Journey Into Night Introduction

Long Day's Journey Into Night is the story of one devastating day in the Tyrone family. The play depicts the family members' downward spiral into addiction, disease, and their own haunted pasts. It is generally regarded as Eugene O'Neill's masterpiece.

O'Neill (1888-1953) was a major figure in the international drama scene. Before he came along, the rest of the world didn't give a flip about American plays. In the rest of the world's defense, there really wasn't much going on in the way of American play writing. Our buddy Eugene wasn't having that. He busted up on the scene and became the first American playwright to gain a real and lasting international reputation. In 1936 he became the first and only American playwright to win the Nobel Prize for literature.

O'Neill also has the distinction of winning the Pulitzer Prize more times than any other playwright. He did so three times during his life – for Beyond the Horizon, 1920; Anna Christie, 1922; Strange Interlude, 1928. As if that wasn't enough, he went and won a fourth Pulitzer for Long Day's Journey Into Night in 1957. The thing is – he was already dead.

O'Neill's wife, Carlotta, published the play after his death. This went against his wishes. He gave instructions that the play not be published until 25 years after his death. Carlotta, for whatever reason, couldn't wait that long. At first she tried to get Random House to publish it, but they felt bad about going against O'Neill's wishes. Yale Press, however, didn't seem to mind and published the play in 1956. This was only three years after O'Neill's death.

Whether or not it was cool of Carlotta to go against O'Neill's wishes is up for debate. Whatever the case, the play premiered in Stockholm, Sweden, on February 2, 1956. The Swedes went nuts over it, and everybody else did too. The play went on to cement O'Neill's reputation. He is now considered to be one of the world's greatest dramatists.

What is Long Day's Journey Into Night About and Why Should I Care?

We're willing to bet that you don't have much trouble relating to the Tyrones. Don't believe us? Check out this list and see if anything sounds familiar:

  • Do you ever get frustrated with your family?
  • Does your family ever blame you for things you haven't done?
  • If you are guilty of something, will your family keep reminding you of it?
  • Has your family ever done you wrong? Did you perhaps do them wrong in turn?
  • In spite of family issues, do you still find yourself wanting to forgive them? In spite of it all, do you still feel love?

Admittedly, many families aren't as troubled as the Tyrones. This family, in particular, has all kinds of problems – substance abuse, depression, disease, and a seemingly endless supply of shattered dreams.

Even if your family isn't plagued by the same troubles as the Tyrones, the broader themes of the play will most likely ring true. At its core, Long Day's Journey Into Night is about love and loneliness.

We're willing to go out on a limb and say that most everybody has experienced these emotions at one time or another. The play's richly textured characters are no different. Each one is wracked by desperate love and aching loneliness.

O'Neill 's portrait of these fundamental human emotions is masterfully drawn. Perhaps this is why the four tormented Tyrones continue to find sympathy with audiences. Chances are there's a little emotional truth to be found in the play for every member of every family.

Long Day's Journey Into Night Resources

Movie or TV Productions

Long Day's Journey Into Night (1962)
This is really powerful stuff, with a killer performance by Katharine Hepburn. Sidney Lumet directs, and Jason Robards, who is basically the most accomplished O'Neill actor of all time, plays Jamie.

Long Day's Journey Into Night (1973)
This one features Sir Laurence Olivier, which is, you know, pretty sweet. Directed by Peter Wood.

Long Day's Journey Into Night (1982)
This is cool – the Irish-American family is substituted with an African-American family. The always-awesome Ruby Dee stars as Mary.

Long Day's Journey Into Night (1987)
Nominated for a Golden Globe and boasting a stellar cast: Peter Gallagher (Edmund), Jack Lemmon (James), and Kevin Spacey (Jamie). Directed by Sir Jonathan Miller.

Videos

Clip from the Lumet Film
So, some awesome YouTube user put up a bunch of clips from Lumet's 1962 film. Here, James finds out Edmund has tuberculosis from Act II, Scene Two. You can see most of Act IV, actually.

Clip from the Lumet Film
Edmund talks about the fog in Act IV.

Clip from the Lumet Film
Edmund talking about his time on the sea from Act IV.

Clip from the Lumet Film
James talks about Mary's Father in Act IV

Clip from the Lumet Film
Jamie's confession from Act IV.

Clip from the Lumet Film
Mary's final scene.

Documents

Review of the Play's World Premiere
This is a fantastic review of the premiere performance of Long Day's Journey. It was first performed in Stockholm, Sweden. The review is worth checking out just for the commentary on how the Swedes reacted to O'Neill's work and to his relationship to Swedish playwright August Strindberg (who's mentioned in the play). Basically, some critics thought O'Neill was the best thing since Shakespeare, and others were horrified that his reputation could beat out those of Scandinavian dramatists like Strindberg and Ibsen.

Preview of the play's Broadway premiere
Some interesting stuff on the play's early life.

Brief O'Neill Autobiography
This is pretty cool – a short autobiography O'Neill wrote when he accepted the Nobel Prize for Literature.

Other

Eugene O'Neill Archive
This is a terrific first resource for all things O'Neill, including a link at the bottom to a great Britannica biography. Hard to imagine what you'd need to know about O'Neill that you couldn't find through this website.