Study Guide

Long Day's Journey Into Night Lies and Deceit

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Lies and Deceit

Yes, forget! Forget everything and face nothing! It's a convenient philosophy if you've no ambition in life except to – (1.1.45)

It's interesting that this attack should be directed at Jamie, since throughout the first act, he's the only character in the play who won't forget or back down from Edmund or Mary's problems. True, in Jamie's own life he tries to forget anything inconvenient, but he's passionate about making sure no one forgets his mother's addiction or the severity of his brother's illness.

I want you to promise me that even if it should turn out to be something worse, you'll know I'll soon be all right again, anyway, and you won't worry yourself sick, and you'll keep on taking care of yourself –
I won't listen when you're so silly! There's absolutely no reason to talk as if you expected something dreadful! Of course, I promise you. I give you my sacred word of honor! But I suppose you're remembering I've promised before on my word of honor. (1.1.226)

Here's the first comment that we know is a straight-up lie. When Jamie asks Mary to take care of herself, he obviously means not to turn back to morphine, and she responds with an oath on her sacred word of honor – which she has no intention of abiding by. Those are awfully strong words that make it impossible to trust Mary as the play goes on.

Mary! For God's sake, forget the past!
With strange objective calm.
Why? How can I? The past is the present, isn't it? It's the future, too. We all try to lie out of that but life won't let us. (2.2.103)

Here Mary makes the connection between memory, the past, and deceit explicit. A life spent trying to battle against the constraints of the past is a life spent lying, according to Mary. We have to remember the context, though, since Mary is high on morphine in this scene. When she isn't on morphine, she wants to move forward and forget about the nasty parts of the past. But which is right? Just because Mary's high, doesn't mean that she's inherently wrong.

I don't blame you. How could you believe me – when I can't believe myself? I've become such a liar. I never lied about anything once upon a time. Now I have to lie, especially to myself. But how can you understand, when I don't myself. I've never understood anything about it, except that one day long ago I found I could no longer call my soul my own. (2.2.132)

On the broadest level, this conversation sounds like one of those brain-teasers where someone says, "I always lie" – but then, how can they be telling the truth about the lying? Did we just blow your mind?

Anyway, here, we realize that everything Mary says is suspect. Is she manufacturing an excuse, using James and Doctor Hardy, for her drug taking? Is she blaming them for her deceptiveness? Still, in this passage we also see that Mary's denial of her morphine use isn't just something she's manufacturing to tell the guys. On the contrary, she's been struggling with herself to acknowledge that she's back on morphine.

Yes, facts don't mean a thing, do they? What you want to believe, that's the only truth! (4.1.8)

In addition to being kind of funny (James insists that every great Englishman was secretly Irish Catholic), this is another moment where criticism of one character by another doesn't totally make sense.

Obviously, James's Shakespeare argument is an extreme case, but every member of this family says things categorically, as though his or her personal convictions are the only possible truths. Plus, at a fun pop-philosophical level, don't we sometimes believe things to be true because we want them to be true? Food for thought…

And several other times in my life, when I was swimming far out, or lying alone on a beach, I have had the same experience. Became the sun, the hot sand, green seaweed anchored to a rock, swaying in the tide. Like a saint's vision of beatitude. Like the veil of things as they seem drawn back by an unseen hand. For a second you see – and seeing the secret, are the secret. For a second there is meaning! Then the hand lets the veil fall and you are alone, lost in the fog again, and you stumble on toward nowhere, for no good reason! (4.1.148)

Sure, the whole experience of sitting on a sailboat is beautiful, and we're all in favor of the environment, but let's be honest with what's going on here: Edmund's saying that the best high he ever got was from nature. His out-of-body experiences in nature have done all that the Tyrones want their drugs to do and so much more. Instead of just forgetting the present reality, this high demolishes the entire idea of reality, and takes you one step further outside the box of your life. Literally, Edmund's experience with nature establishes the entire reality of the world as an elaborate lie, a deceit, and an obscured secret that only a lucky few can see. (If this idea is interesting to you, read up a bit on Plato's "allegory of the cave" and Schopenhauer's The World as Will and Representation. They're big inspirations here).

I couldn't touch what I tried to tell you just now. I just stammered. That's the best I'll ever do, I mean, if I live. Well, it will be faithful realism, at least. Stammering is the native eloquence of us fog people. (4.1.150)

Edmund makes another huge, meta-philosophical claim here. Just as he said during his sailboat epiphany, that the real world is something different and way less confusing and stressful than what we all experience, Edmund also argues that language is inherently confusing, obscuring the true message of what the speaker's trying to say. This may be tough, but it's interesting to think about the ineffectiveness of language in this play (thesis statement alert). If everyone in the family is a "fog person," can they ever express themselves properly? When Mary's on morphine, can she escape the fog and finally express herself as she wants?

You can't keep any secrets from her. You couldn't deceive her, even if you were mean enough to want to. (4.1.240)

Mary associates deception with meanness here. While in regular life we might think of deceiving people as not something particularly nice, is deception necessarily mean? For instance, look at Edmund's model of stammering fog people. Deception, for Edmund, is just the way everyone works, and no one can help it even if he wants to.

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