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Methods Of Characterization In The Hairy Ape

2507 words - 10 pages

Methods of Characterization in The Hairy Ape

Eugene Gladstone O’Neill was born October 16, 1888, to Irish-American parents
in New York City. His mother, Ella O’Neill, reserved and genteel (Sheaffer 15), came
from a prosperous Cleveland family. His father, James O’Neill, from a poor family, was
an actor who became synonymous with Dumas’ Count of Monte Cristo, a role he
performed over 3000 times (Sheaffer 8). Driven by fear of poverty, James worked
nonstop and constantly tried his hand at get-rich-quick schemes, such as buying and
selling real estate. Eugene had one older brother James. During Eugene’s early years,
the family toured around the country with James Sr.’s acting company and spent each
summer vacationing in New London. Eugene grew to hate theater life with its constant
moves and unreliable income. He attended Catholic schools growing up, and he went to
Princeton in 1906. Eugene spent his first year loafing and neglecting his studies, and he
was dismissed for “poor scholastic standing” (Sheaffer 125). In October of 1909, he
secretly married Kathleen Jenkins before sailing to Honduras on a gold-prospecting
expedition. On his return, six and half months later he learned he had a namesake,
Eugene Gladstone O’Neill. He neglected his responsibilities as husband and father,
however, and he was divorced in 1910. For the next two years he served as a
crewmember on various sailing boats and steamships. Those experiences served as
material for his future sea plays.

At the end of 1912, he was diagnosed with tuberculosis
and was admitted to Gaylord Farm sanatorium in Wellingford, Connecticut, for six
months. It was here, away from alcohol and the vestiges of wild living, that he began to
focus on reading and writing. In 1916, the Provincetown Players, a small acting company in Greenwich Village, presented Bound East for Cardiff, O’Neill’s first play. O’Neill
married Agnes Boulton in 1918, and Shane Rudraight O’Neill was born October 20,
1922. O’Neill won his first Pulitzer Prize for Beyond the Horizon (1920). He won two
more for Anna Christie (1922) and Strange Interlude (1928) and one posthumously for
Long Day’s Journey into Night (1957). In 1929, O’Neill divorced Agnes and married
Carlotta Monterey, his third and final wife. O’Neill received the Nobel Prize for
literature in 1936, recognition of his work as possibly America’s most influential
dramatist. Later in his life he developed Parkinson’s disease which severely hampered
his ability to write. In November 1953, O’Neill developed pneumonia. Exhausted, he
was confined to a room in a Boston hotel. Shortly before he died, he sat up and cried, “I
knew it, I knew it! Born in a [hotel room] and dying in a hotel room!” (Sheaffer 24). He
died November 27.

The Hairy Ape (1921) chronicles “the social snobbishness” (Carpenter 31) Eugene
O’Neill encountered during his stints as a crewmember on...

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