The play Long Day’s Journey into Night by Eugene O’Neill is a play set out in the early nineteenth century, with the storyline revolving around a middle-class family on the brink of collapse. There are four family members who are the main characters of the play. There is James, who is the man of the family. James is consumed with pride and is also a frugal man. Mary, his wife, is a morphine addict who is in denial of her addiction, which came as a result of long-term medication after a painful childbirth. They have two sons; Edmund and Jamie. The theme of the play can be depicted to show how James significantly contributed to the fall of the family. Should James take the most significant responsibility for the breakup of the family through his actions, which he does out of pride, deniability, and being an extremely thrifty individual?
The Frugal Man
James is depicted as an economical man in the play, a character that sets out the tone for the destruction of his home. He is a wealthy man who will not spend on his wellbeing hence leading him to live a miserable life. He has money stuck in property, but he is holding to it despite the impending financial crisis he is facing. This leads him to drinking in the attempt of putting himself out of his misery. The idea of drinking was picked up by his sons, leading them to their miserable lives too. James’ consumption of alcohol has accelerated the breakdown of communication between the family as he is not around to guide them.
James’ most absurd frugal moment was when he decided to take his son Edmund to an inexperienced doctor for a diagnosis. The results were inconclusive; hence Edmund was not treated in a proper way. This thrifty moment by James showed that he cared for his money more than his son getting a qualified diagnosis from a competent doctor as they thought he had been infected with tuberculosis scourge (O’Neill). His son, Jamie, confronted him about the decision while describing the place as a cheap dump. Edmund’s continued sickness has significantly contributed to the family having domestic issues. Edmund’s illness has led to unhappiness in the family as everyone tries to cover up their concerns about his health. Mary, his mother, relapses and starts abusing morphine again. The men in the family resort to drowning their fears in alcohol.
Another instance of James expressing his frugal characteristics is showcased by the house they live in. The family members loathe the house as Mary states that the place is a summer dump, which she hates. James being the economic man had refused to spend money on the house; hence it looks shabby and impermanent. James could have refurbished the house to be more comforting to his family as this would have brought a sense of enjoyment in the home, especially for Mary, who is the most disgruntled living in a shabby place. The family is distraught that James, the man of the house, will not give in to build the family a decent home, accelerating the mood for the eventual breaking of the family.
The Proud Man
James’ excessive pride also contributes to the family problems getting out of hand and threatening to break his family (O’Neill). One such situation is where, instead of accepting that the family has issues and hence dealing with them, he chooses to ignore them and sometimes to avoid them altogether. James does this by getting himself drunk almost all the time hence avoiding his responsibility to his family.
James decided to ignore his wife’s addiction rather than trying to get her to overcome the vice. James took her to a rehabilitation clinic, but Mary soon relapsed, but he refused to accept the imminent downfall of his wife. He knowingly let her abuse the addictive pain reliever. This is one of the most important challenges in his life, but he failed to live up to the expectations of helping his wife. This was a crucial moment in the play, as James would have swallowed his pride and addressed his wife’s addiction. The family would have been better off with Mary being the constructive will of the family.
The second instance is addressing the drinking issue in the household. James himself is so much consumed by pride that he refuses to acknowledge that he is an alcoholic. The drinking problem has also consumed Jamie and Edmund as they both cover up their shortcomings by engaging in consumption of alcohol. James knows that Jamie has wasted his life, but he refuses to accept the fact and hence avoids him when he hears him coming his way. James could have done away with his pride and helped his son to be a better person by guiding him. He could have saved Jamie from a life where he is portrayed as a failure, and this could have helped the family bond to grow tighter as Jamie would be one less problem for the family.
The Man in Denial
James is a man in denial of the shortcomings of his family. He denies that his family is not a complete one and is in need of revival as it’s on its death bed. He denies that his wife is still an addict and insists that she is doing well; hence no cause for alarm to put her under rehabilitation care once again. He denies that the family has underlying suicidal thoughts when Edmund tells him that he tried to commit suicide very well, knowing that his father in law had committed suicide. He could have engaged his son to know the reason for the thoughts and hence helped him become a better man. He is also in denial that he is impoverished because of the poor decisions he made in real estate rather than blaming his financial status on the family expenditure, for example, having lamps on after dark. This deniability towards the issues of his family accelerated the collapse of the family unit as he was unwilling to address the issues.
James’ actions led to the breaking of the family unit as he caused the two main problems the family faced, Mary’s addition and Edmund’s health issue. By creating these problems, he can be described as the protagonist whose influence was crucial in determining the fate of his family. The blame falls squarely on him as he had the capacity to prevent these situations from escalating, but he chose not to and hence ran away from his responsibilities as the man of the house.
O’Neill, Eugene. Long Day’s Journey into Night: Critical Edition. Yale University Press, 2014.