The Tyrone Anthology: Authority in the Last Act of Long Day's Journey Into Night‪.‬

Comparative Drama 2003, Fall-Winter, 37, 3-4

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The stage directions for the opening of act 4 of O'Neill's Long Days Journey into Night are The same. It is around midnight. During the act the argument between father and sons reaches full pitch; but the anger of the family is tempered by repeated deference to literary authority, as Tyrone and his sons quote fourteen times from eight writers and make references to seven others. As I shall demonstrate, the act is largely anger and consolation, for the great problem of the play--who bears most responsibility for the family's downfall--has been answered in the third act where we see the wife and mother of the house resort to her own authority, and her own distorted memory of the past, which feeds her embittered personality. Our understanding of the family's defeat at the end of the third act makes the fourth all the more moving, and a consideration of the writers each character quotes, Shakespeare, Rossetti, Kipling, or Baudelaire, and even the writers referred to by O'Neill in earlier stage directions, is an essential element in understanding who speaks with most authority in the play, in discovering who is right and who wrong in its extended argument. Brenda Murphy argues convincingly that the play has two endings, a valuable analysis in explaining the use of quotation, as I shall note. Michael Hinden and Marc Maufort are the only other critics to address this question at length. Maufort concentrates on quotation from Baudelaire alone, and not as an authority quoted but rather as an important influence on O'Neill's thinking. Hinden sees the quotations as representing differences in taste across generations, and as an important part of the family's literary and theatrical background, but again, not as an almost forensic leavening in the play. (1) I shall discuss act 4 first, giving the essential arguments made by the characters in defense of themselves and against others, and then look back at the end of act 3, where the play has its first conclusion.

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Comparative Drama

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