Study Guide

Long Day's Journey Into Night Symbolism, Imagery, Allegory

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Symbolism, Imagery, Allegory

Fog and Foghorns

Fog can represent a number of different things (estrangement, retreating into one's self, blindness) in Long Day's Journey, but generally, for all of the characters, fog is dark, isolating, and unstoppable. Both Edmund and Mary attempt at various moments to escape or transcend reality, and both use fog as a metaphor or mechanism for doing so.

It's interesting to note that the fog itself isn't enough to generate a mind-altering experience. Edmund experiences his retreat into the fog with the help of alcohol, while Mary relies on morphine. These effects are also by no means limited to Mary and Edmund. James and Jamie may not reference fog explicitly; nonetheless, they both feel as though they've "drowned long ago," and both hide from the world using alcohol. References to alcohol, morphine, and fog all intensify as the play races towards its conclusion.

What, then, of the foghorns and the yacht bells, which periodically cut through the fog? It's Mary who points out that she hates the foghorn: "It won't let you alone. It keeps reminding you, and warning you, and calling you back" (3.1.9). To pursue our analogy of fog and addiction further, the sounds of the harbor act as periodic intrusions of reality into each character's fantasy life. Addiction isn't enough to hold reality at bay forever; there are always the other Tyrones hovering around, ready to chime in and remind each other of their many, many failings.

The Car

The family car makes for an interesting symbol because it is intended to mean one thing but works out to mean another: James buys the thing as proof of how much he cares for Mary. He also wants to show the whole neighborhood that, while he is frugal, he has good taste and knows how to spend. Unfortunately, the car he buys is a lemon that James picked up used. Mary just sees it as a symbol of her husband's thoughtlessness, long absences, and miserly ways.

Morphine and Alcohol

Alcohol and morphine function (as drugs often do in literature) as symbols of retreat. Basically, no one in the family has anywhere to go – literally or metaphorically – so they have two options: fight or flight. They fight often (especially the male characters), but they also spend a whole lot of time fleeing, turning to drugs and alcohol to hide from reality. We talk about Mary's particular dependence on morphine in her "Character Analysis," so let's get specific with what the Tyrone men are up to.

The Tyrones don't just drink any alcohol; they drink bonded bourbon. Bonded means the bourbon is really good (aged four years and distilled by one brewer for a season at a distillery) and, thus, more expensive. This is some seriously high quality bourbon, and it's another hint – along with all those real estate deals – that James is willing to spend extra money, so long as he is the primary beneficiary. It's also a social class symbol – poor people don't drink bonded bourbon.

Bourbon is also an important choice because bourbon is basically the American alcohol. This stuff is classic Americana, a whiskey made from corn and named after the county in Kentucky where it was invented.

So here's our question: why Jim Beam instead of Jameson's? Let's not forget that James is all about Irish patriotism, yet he doesn't drink Irish whiskey. While there may be a significant difference in flavor between bourbon and Irish whiskey, Ireland obviously has its own illustrious history of whiskey brewing. We don't want to push this too hard, because there may be issues of price and availability, but with all of his posturing about his roots and his defense of all things Irish, it's surprising that James only ever drinks the American stuff.

Does this have any symbolic meaning? Looks like it to us. James has "made it," has assimilated successfully into American culture. He's a representative of the American dream, and, just as he's ditched his childhood of impoverishment and labor, he's ditched the liquid representative of his abandoned culture – Irish whiskey.

Day and Night

The cyclical movement of time, as represented by the progress of day to night, is one of the central symbols of Long Day's Journey. The Tyrone family is caught in a similar cycle. They attack each other, they feel bad, they apologize, they say something mean, they feel bad, they apologize…it's the family feud that never ends. The whole play is built around these cycles.

Think also about the nature of addiction, and of Mary's morphine addiction in particular. Abuse, regret, back on the wagon, fall off the wagon, abuse, regret…The play might draw to a close, but we have a feeling the cycles are never-ending. We talk about all this in greater detail in "What's Up with the Title?" Check it out.

The Wedding Dress and Booth's Praise

Both of the Tyrone parents have a carefully hidden object that they used to look at every once in a while to remind themselves about what they've lost. Mary's wedding dress brings to mind her happiness with her father, innocence, youth, beauty – what you will. James keeps a piece of paper printed with praise from famous actor Edwin Booth of James's performance of Othello.

The dress and the paper each stand in for a history that's dead to the Tyrones, leading to the loss of the objects themselves. The wedding dress, however, is recovered in the final scene, as Mary regresses back to childhood – crazily and artificially, but still, she does seem to recover her lost history, for a time.

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