Study Guide

Long Day's Journey Into Night Family

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You never knew what was really wrong until you were in prep school. Papa and I kept it from you. But I was wise ten years or more before we had to tell you. (2.1.55)

Here we can see clearly that Jamie and Edmund have very different roles in the family. Jamie is ten years older and, from the beginning, he was expected to treat Edmund like a baby while he was becoming an adult. You might even sense here a touch of resentment, that Jamie has had to deal with Mary for so much longer than Edmund.

Goes worriedly to Edmund and puts her arm around him.
You mustn't cough like that. It's bad for your throat. You don't want to get a sore throat on top of your cold.
She kisses him. He stops coughing and givers her a quick apprehensive glance, but if his suspicions are aroused her tenderness makes him renounce them and he believes what he wants to believe for the moment. On the other hand, Jamie knows after one probing look at her that his suspicions are justified. His eyes fall to stare at the floor; his face sets in an expression of embittered, defensive cynicism. (2.1.59)

Why, exactly, does Edmund give up his suspicions that Mary's back on drugs? Perhaps because real tenderness like this, which doesn't seem in any way mechanical, is in short supply in the Tyrone household. Edmund hasn't been nurtured all that much, so when he does receive affection, it's really effective.

Even more importantly, why does Jamie set his face in embittered, defensive cynicism? Sure, on one hand he's upset that his mom's back on morphine, but is that why he's "embittered"? Isn't it possible that he's jealous of the affection Mary's giving his little brother? Tenderness is in short supply around this place, and we know that Edmund gets pretty much all of what there is. In fact, there's no point in the play in which either parent is really, genuinely tender toward Jamie, and this moment suggests that he resents the lack of family support in his life.

It's you who should have more respect! Stop sneering at your father! I won't have it! You ought to be proud you're his son! He may have his faults. Who hasn't? But he's worked hard all his life. He made his way up from ignorance and poverty to the top of his profession! Everyone else admires him and you should be the last one to sneer – you, who, thanks to him, have never had to work hard in your life!
Stung, Jamie has turned to stare at her with accusing antagonism. Her eyes waver guiltily and she adds in a tone which begins to placate.
Remember your father is getting old, Jamie. You really ought to show more consideration. (2.1.73)

Are these really the reasons Jamie ought to respect his father? Maybe if James were a neighbor down the street – but are hard work, mortality, and monetary support the basis of a stable, respectful relationship between a son and his father? Note that Mary never uses the word "love" here. There's no question of Jamie loving James or vice-versa. Mary is, of course, right that Jamie's rude to his father, but they fail to get at the underlying issue here – Jamie can't respect and admire his father all that much because he knows him too well. These superficial traits like work, age, and money don't define who James is as a person, and so they don't define the person Jamie refuses to respect.

Oh, I'm so sick and tired of pretending this is a home! You won't help me! You won't put yourself out the least bit! You don't know how to act in a home! You don't really want one! You never have wanted one – never since the day we were married! You should have remained a bachelor and lived in second-rate hotels and entertained your friends in barrooms! (2.1.114)

Mary's diatribe here makes us wonder: why is James even a husband and a father? He doesn't seem to particularly enjoy either role, and he doesn't appear to be very good at either. Should he have stayed a bachelor? Does James enjoy the appearance of a stable family life more than the thing itself? Also, clearly Mary associates the physical structure of the house with the soundness of the family inside of it. A home isn't really a home without a family, and, for all of Mary's complaints about their house's cheapness, what she means more is that the house isn't a home because of the dysfunctional family within it.

I should have insisted on staying with Eugene and not have let you persuade me to join you, just because I loved you. Above all, I shouldn't have let you insist I have another baby to take Eugene's place, because you thought that would make me forget his death. I knew from experience by then that children should have homes to be born in, if they are to be good children, and women need homes, if they are to be good mothers. (2.2.105)

Sticking with the home-as-stable-family theme, Mary argues that, just as a home requires a family, a family requires a home. One isn't whole without the other. She recognizes that, in abandoning her children, leaving the parenting to her mother, and letting James decide when to have another baby, she let go of her role as a mother became instead only a wife. When she ceased to be a mother to them, her children lost the guarantee of a home.

How dare Doctor Hardy advise such a thing without consulting me! How dare your father allow him! What right has he? You are my baby! Let him attend to Jamie! (3.1.97)

Ouch, right? Hard not to feel bad for Jamie here. It's so obvious (and apparently always has been) that Mary loves Edmund way more than she does Jamie. That has to be hard for a kid growing up. No wonder Jamie craves affection outside the house.

Your father is a strange man, Edmund. It took many years before I understood him. You must try to understand and forgive him, too, and not feel contempt because he's close-fisted. His father deserted his mother and their six children a year or so after they came to America. He told them he had a premonition he would die soon, and he was homesick for Ireland, and wanted to back there and die. So he went and he did die. He must have been a peculiar man, too. Your father had to go to work in a machine ship when he was only ten years old. (3.1.85)


As I've told you before, you must take her memories with a grain of salt. Her wonderful home was ordinary enough. Her father wasn't the great, generous, noble Irish gentleman she makes out. He was a nice enough man, good company and a good talker. I liked him and he liked me. He was prosperous enough, too, in his wholesale grocery business, an able man. But he had his weakness. She condemns my drinking but she forgets his. It's true he never touched a drop till he was forty, but after that he made up for lost time. He became a steady champagne drinker, the worst kind. That was his grand pose, to drink only champagne. (4.1.69)

We put these two quotes together because it's important to see that both Tyrone parents come from kind of awful family situations. James's dad was obviously an unsupportive father, abandoning his family with six young kids. Mary, on the other hand, had an alcoholic father and a mother who (we learn elsewhere) was jealous of Mary's marriage and said she'd become a bad wife. Not to get too psychoanalytical here, but it's clear that both James and Mary didn't have great role models as parents, and their inexperience shines through.

I suppose I can't forgive her – yet. It meant so much. I'd begun to hope, if she'd beaten the game, I could, too. (4.1.92)

This passage gives us an angle on Jamie's suffering that we really didn't have before. In addition to finding out that Jamie thinks he has an addiction he wants to beat, we also discover that he was really counting on his mother as a role model, and she let him down. It's interesting to see Jamie admit that he hadn't completely forsaken his family and the idea that his mother could be an inspiration to him. Now, though, it seems like all hope is lost.

You reflect credit on me. I've had more to do with bringing you up than anyone […] Hell, you're more than my brother. I made you! You're my Frankenstein! (4.1.198)

After this passage, Jamie lists all the ways in which he helped Edmund growing up, and then on the next page, he lists all the ways in which he tried to stunt Edmund's growth to make himself look better. Whatever Jamie was planning to do, the fact of the matter is that he really was a parental figure to Edmund, since Mary was usually on morphine and James was rarely around. Most importantly, though, Jamie was saddled with a role he clearly wasn't prepared for. The cycle of poor parenting, which may have begun even before Mary and James's parents, goes on.

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