Study Guide

Long Day's Journey Into Night Guilt and Blame

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Guilt and Blame

I'm not blaming you, dear. How can you help it? How can any one of us forget? (1.1.228)

Mary's argument here is that Edmund can't be blamed for being suspicious of Mary, since the past cannot be forgotten. See the quotes on "Fate and Free Will" for more on the past's influence on the present.

Because he's always sneering at someone else, always looking for the worst weakness in everyone.
Then, with a strange, abrupt change to a detached, impersonal tone.
But I suppose life has made him like that, and he can't help it. None of us can help the things life has done to us. They're done before you realize it, and once they're done they make you do other things until at last everything comes between you and what you'd like to be, and you've lost your true self forever. (2.1.76)

Once again, under the influence of morphine, Mary abandons the blame game, recognizing that getting mad at Jamie logically leads to her blaming herself for poor decisions she made in her past (such as, perhaps, marrying James or having Edmund). That's why she says "you lose your true self": she attributes the blame of her past actions to a self that wasn't essentially her, a self that came about due to bad circumstances.

In a real home one is never lonely. You forget I know from experience what a home is like. I gave up one to marry you – my father's home. (2.2.3)

This is an interesting line – yes, Mary's doing her classic "my life changed when I married James and now it's way worse" shtick, but check out how she's positioning James relative to her father. We see here the makings of another important theme for Mary: James is expected to do the double duty of husband and father for Mary. When Mary married James, he became a stand-in, a replacement for her dead father. This pressure on James is intense, and he (perhaps reasonably) fails to live up to her demands.

I blame only myself. I swore after Eugene died I would never have another baby. I was to blame for his death. If I hadn't left him with my mother to join you on the road, because you wrote telling me you missed me and were so lonely, Jamie would never have been allowed, when he still had measles, to go in the baby's room.
Her face hardening.
I've always believed Jamie did it on purpose. He was jealous of the baby. He hated him. (2.2. 103)

Check out how Mary opens by saying she blames only herself, and then immediately blames not just James but also little Jamie. She pretends to be all noble, admitting that she was responsible for Eugene's death, but in reality she thinks James ruined her ability to be a good mother, while Jamie decided to murder his little brother at the age of seven.

Anyway, I don't know what you're referring to. But I do know you should be the last one – Right after I returned from the sanatorium, you began to be ill. The doctor there had warned me I must have peace at home with nothing to upset me, and all I've done is worry about you.
Then distractedly.
But that's no excuse! I'm only trying to explain. It's not an excuse! (2.2.128)

Mary is amazingly insensitive here, blaming her renewed addiction on Edmund for something he obviously can't control. And she doesn't seem to even realize how hurtful this is. She also gets at a really tricky issue that often dominates the study of history – is explaining an action the same thing as excusing it? Her explanation here sounds an awful lot like an excuse, as she generates a causal link between her relapse and Edmund's falling sick.

But some day, dear, I will find [my soul] again – some day when you're all well, and I see you healthy and happy and successful, and I don't have to feel guilty any more – some day when the blessed Virgin Mary forgives me and gives me back the faith in Her love and pity I used to have in my convent days, and I can pray to Her again – (2.2.132)

Mary's disturbing trend toward blaming others, in spite of her statements to the contrary, is in full force here. She refuses to take responsibility, again holding Edmund responsible for her addiction. She then broadens her criticism really, really far, to the Virgin Mary, who can, if she chooses, give back Mary's faith. There's never a question of Mary searching out that faith again. Instead, the strength has to come from above.

When you have the poison in you, you want to blame everyone but yourself! (3.1.58)

We just want to note that this isn't necessarily true. Mary appears to have an issue with taking responsibility that manifests itself both high and sober. If you look at the second quote in this section you'll see that Mary, when high, also blames fate a lot, instead of criticizing people's actions.

Mary! Can't you forget–?
With detached pity.
No, dear. But I forgive. I always forgive you. So don't look so guilty. (3.1.73-74)

This is an unusual moment for James, asking for the past to be forgotten, though it makes sense considering what a jerk he was during their honeymoon. What stands out even more, though, is Mary's claim that she remembers but forgives all of James's wrongdoing. Is this really true? It seems to us that perhaps Mary can explain James's behavior, but she never really stops feeling resentful toward him.

The hardest thing to take is the blank wall she builds around her. Or it's more like a bank of fog in which she hides and loses herself. Deliberately, that's the hell of it! You know something in her does it deliberately – to get beyond our reach, to be rid of us, to forget we're alive! It's as if, in spite of loving us, she hated us! (4.1.84)

It makes sense, of course, that Edmund would be offended by Mary's morphine-wall-building, because he's spot on – she does it to forget about him and the family. But what he loses sight of here is the fact that he just said he loved doing exactly the same thing when he walks in the fog. See quote six in "Lies and Deceit" for that.

Got to take revenge. On everyone else. Especially you. Oscar Wilde's "Reading Gaol" has the dope twisted. The man was dead and so he had to kill the thing he loved. That's what it ought to be. The dead part of me hopes you won't get well. (4.1. 206)

Cool literary reference here, as Jamie brings up a great poem, Wilde's "Ballad of Reading Gaol." In this poem, Wilde writes about a man threatened to death for killing his wife. He writes: "The man had killed the thing he loved / And so he had to die." Here, Jamie inverts the causality. Instead, once you die on the inside, as Jamie has, you lose control of yourself, and are forced to kill the thing you love (in Jamie's case, Edmund).

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