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Tragic Triumphs in Vying for the Self - A Study of Female Characters in Eugene O"Neill"s Plays


Most critical studies on Eugene O"Neill stress upon the presence of autobiographical elements found in his dramatic works. This is especially true in the analysis of his female protagonists. The studies seem, at times, inundated with the idea that O"Neill"s female characters were focused in a manner that copied his mother, or other females in his life. While these factors cannot be completely precluded, this essay proposes to examine the women protagonists in O"Neill"s work through textual studies. The approach to the analyses of the plays" heroines will emphasize the female characters themselves, without referring to other critical tools such as psychological or mythic approaches to the text.. With a focal shift onto the analysis of his text and female characters, O"Neill innervates the reader to face up to and ultimately reevaluate the stereotypical, misfitting and harmful roles that society gives to their women. Though there are many other plays that can also work as representatives showing the pursuit of the female voice and ultimately the feminine self, the four plays, Anna Christie, Mourning Becomes Electra, Long Day"s Journey Into Night and A Moon for the Misbegotten, were specifically chosen because they not only appear to show this pursuit with clarity and insight but with a certain developing intricacy. These works also represent and highlight a rough spread as well as the advancement of Eugene O"Neill"s playwrighting career. Anna, the heroine of Anna Christie, is shown as the important, albeit raw, initial semblance of the female self and voice. In Mourning Becomes Electra, through the observation of such characters as Lavinia and Christine, the noticeable evolvement in depth and complexity of this simulacrum is shown. As we move onto the later plays, this study amplifies to include not just the harmful side effects of such socially misconstrued expectations but the dimensional evolvement found in the characters and their relationships with others. Thus, the perlustration of Mary Tyrone from Long Day"s Journey Into Night shows the tragic pains and the touching human dignity of her character. With A Moon for the Misbegotten, an examination conducted on Josie, the play"s heroine, will show the continued growth of the tragic human elements as well as the subtle complexity that were first present in Long Day"s Journey Into Night. A certain evolution can be found in O"Neill"s heroines as one moves into his later works. It is the development of human intricacies in their character. So while they might seem to be too flawed to be model representatives of pure, specific ideals, such as the feminist"s, they, on the other hand, appear much more realistic and human. As evidenced by his last heroines, Mary and Josie, this humanness not only makes the reader empathize with the female protagonists but it adds depth and dimensionality to them.

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