Study Guide

Long Day's Journey Into Night Society and Class

Advertisement - Guide continues below

Society and Class

Harker will think you're no gentleman for harboring a tenant who isn't humble in the presence of a king of America.
Nevermind the Socialist gabble. (1.1.58-59)

James doesn't want to look rich, but he certainly doesn't want to look poor. While he laughs at Edmund's joke at Harker's expense, he's upset that Harker might think him low-class for having an impoverished, rude tenant. James also doesn't want to hear Edmund's Socialist rhetoric. In other words, while he resents Harker's airs, James doesn't want to be a part of any revolution that would hurt the rich folk.

The Chatfields and people like them stand for something. I mean they have decent, presentable homes they don't have to be ashamed of. They have friends who entertain them and whom they entertain. They're not cut off from everyone. Not that I want anything to do with them. I've always hated this town and everyone in it. (1.1.192)

Here we can see that the Tyrones aren't the richest people in the neighborhood (they don't have a Mercedes like the Chatfields), and we begin to see the consequences of their social class limbo. Basically, since they're not poor, they don't associate with the lower class, and since James doesn't want to seem like a rich fat cat, they don't associate with the rich people in town. Thus, the Tyrones don't have a class to fit into, and it's part of the reason why Mary's so lonely. What's more, Mary herself seems conflicted about whether or not she wants to be a part of the rich summer folk social group.

I've never felt it was my home. It was wrong from the start. Everything was done in the cheapest way. Your father would never spend the money to make it right. It's just as well we haven't any friends here. I'd be ashamed to have them step in the door. (1.1.194)

Again, Mary shows some resentment that James has made them look like poor people to the rest of the town. The "home" sentence is particularly important, because we're reminded that Mary hasn't had a place to call home since she was a child.

If there was only some place I could go to get away for a day, or even an afternoon, some woman friend I could talk to – not about anything serious, simply laugh and gossip and forget for a while – someone besides the servants – that stupid Cathleen! (1.1.209)

This is the start of a series of lines in which Mary basically dehumanizes the servants in her house, considering them inadequate for real human interaction. Basically, she's acting like a snob, wishing she could be a high society lady for a day.

With a resentment that has a quality of being automatic and on the surface while inwardly she is indifferent. Yes it's very trying, Jamie. You don't know how trying. You don't have to keep house with summer servants who don't care because they know it isn't a permanent position. The really good servants are all with people who have homes and not merely summer places. And your father won't even pay the wages the best summer help ask. So every year I have stupid, lazy greenhorns to deal with. But you've heard me say this a thousand times. So has he, but it goes in one ear and out the other. He thinks money spent on a home is money wasted. He's lived too much in hotels. Never the best hotels, of course. Second-rate hotels. He doesn't understand a home. He's even proud of having this shabby place. He loves it here. (2.1.58)

At first glance, this seems like another one of Mary's rants about the servants, but there's a lot more that we can learn here. Take a look at those stage directions – why isn't Mary's heart in all this nagging? One likely possibility is that she has complained for so long about this that the issue is more habit than criticism with real emotion behind it. But what if she actually is indifferent to these issues of class? What if complaining about social status is just something she thinks a woman like her ought to do? Perhaps Mary's whole spiel about class and the servants is a product of her own desire to be a part of the class that makes these sorts of complaints, even if the issues don't actually matter much to her.

You've both flouted the faith you were born and brought up in – the one true faith of the Catholic Church – and your denial has brought nothing but self destruction! […]
We don't pretend, at any rate.
I don't notice you've worn any holes in the knees of your pants going to Mass. (2.2.32)


I even dreamed of becoming a nun. I've never had the slightest desire to be an actress.
Well, I can't imagine you a holy nun, Ma'am. Sure, you never darken the door of a church, God forgive you. (3.1.27-28)

We've linked the above quotes because we see that both Tyrone parents really want to look like pious, devout Catholics. In reality, though, their Catholicism appears to be more of a social and ethical posture than an actual religious conviction. The Tyrones never, ever go to church, but that doesn't mean they'll cede their families' culture or the ethical high ground.

Starts guiltily when she sees Tyronewith dignity.
Dinner is served, Sir.
Raising her voice unnecessarily.
Dinner is served, Ma'am.
She forgets her dignity and addresses Tyrone with good-natured familiarity.
So you're here, are you? Well, well. Won't Bridget be in a rage! I told her the Madame said you wouldn't be home.
Then reading accusation in his eye.
Don't be looking at me that way. If I've a drop taken, I didn't steal it. I was invited.
She turns with huffy dignity and disappears through the back parlor. (3.1.113)

People say "in vino, veritas": under the influence of wine, we speak the truth. If that's true, we can observe real resentment on the part of Cathleen, the Tyrones' servant, toward her employer. She clearly considers herself his equal, and she refuses to be looked down upon.

A sweet spectacle for me! My first-born, who I hoped would bear my name in honor and dignity, who showed such brilliant promise! (4.1.211)

An easy point to forget is that, if Edmund dies, Jamie will be the Tyrones' only surviving son. The Tyrone name, which James had hoped to elevate to a level of social honor and dignity, is in serious danger, with Jamie a loafer and Edmund at death's door. This moment could spell the end of the legacy James would have liked to create.

Trying to control his sobs.
I've known about Mama so much longer than you. Never forget the first time I got wise. Caught her in the act with a hypo. Christ, I'd never dreamed before that any women but whores took dope! (4.1.194)

This is like that crushing moment kids have, when they realize their parents aren't perfect. Jamie's feelings are further complicated by the issue of social class, since he decides his mother must be no better than a prostitute – a member of his society's lowest class. And this also makes his relationship to "Fat Violet" all the more significant, since he's clearly seeking affection and validation from a woman – or should we say, mother figure?

This is a premium product

Tired of ads?

Join today and never see them again.

Please Wait...