The American Dream and Eugene O’Neill


The present study attempts to scrutinize Eugene O’Neill’s The Iceman Cometh and Long Day’s Journey into Night. Here, the critical overview is based on “The American Dream” as a national myth; it is the myth of success or a fulfilled life for all Americans. The theoretical framework is based on the ideas of some critics such as Lewis, Carpenter, and Pradhan on “The American Dream”.

This study follows a historical perspective and states that “The American Dream” has been with Americans from the beginning of the history of America. And later shows that this particular dream has turned to be a myth for centuries.

For this research, first, a comprehensive study is done on the history of America as well as on the concepts such as “The American Dream” and “American myth”. Then, the elements of “The American Dream” are traced on The Iceman Cometh and Long Day’s Journey into Night. Next, these elements are considered as inaccessible myth. Totally, it is shown that how O’Neill depicts “The American Dream” in his two plays.

When O’Neill began to write plays, in the American drama there was an unreasonable acceptance of materialism and traditional values, and the presentation of life and character was hackneyed. O’Neill’s plays from the first reveal better and truer understanding of man and his life. Tilak Raghukul (1975) believes that:

From the beginning O’Neill saw life as something not to be neatly arranged in a study, but as terrifying, magnificent and often quite horrible, a thing akin to tornado, an earthquake or a devastating fire (p.20).

O’Neill considers the mythical characters that have come to America and have been looking for their dreams and a fulfilled life. He writes about forty plays that most of them are about American family. O’Neill started and ended his dramatic career in realism. All his important plays depict a tragic vision of America. Some dozen violent deaths and over two dozen nonviolent deaths, as well as causes of insanity in his drama are an indication of the consistency of his tragic vision. H. Clark Barrelt (1947) says:

When America was close to victory in World War II, O’Neill told his countrymen I’m going on the theory that the United States, instead of being the most successful country in the world, is the greatest failure (p.152).

This quotation shows how much O’Neill was aware of the failure of American values. In both The Iceman Cometh and Long Day’s Journey he represents the failure of American man. He shows the man who is looking for a fulfilled life but he cannot find it in reality, so the reality becomes painful for him. Metaphorically, in both plays O’Neill reveals the lie of “The American Dream” and considers it as a way escaping from reality.

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