Everyone in Long Day's Journey into Night has some major anxiety about the lost Good Old Days and about old mistakes that still show scars. Both parents express real regret over choices they made in their youth: James wishes he could have been a more diverse actor and Mary seems to wish she had never married James. She is also absolutely haunted by the death of one of her children, and clearly feels guilt over it.
Questions About Memory and The Past
What's the point of Edmund's speech in Act IV, Scene One about his life at sea? How does his language in this passage contrast with the language of the other characters? What role do these lyrical moments have in the play as a whole?
Why do you think O'Neill chose to switch his name with Edmund's? (Check out "In a Nutshell for more on the auto-biographical nature of Long Day's Journey.)
Do some close reading on the poem Jamie recites in 4.1.234-240, ending with: Let us go hence, go hence; she will not see. Sing all once more together; surely she, She too, remembering days and words that were, Will turn a little toward us, sighing; but we, We are hence, we are gone, as though we had not been there. Nay, and though all men seeing had pity on me, She would not see. Why does he cite this poem at this particular moment, and what point does he make?
Chew on This
O'Neill switched his name with that of his deceased brother Edmund partly to ensure that the play isn't taken as literal autobiography, but also as a way of giving his brother a life on paper that he never had in real life.
The continual literary allusions provide another way for the Tyrones to avoid confronting current reality.