Irish Stage Drinkers an Analysis Essay

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It is the context of Catholic Ireland (and not so much the Hays Production Code) that allows Ford's characters to enjoy the light-heartedness of the whole situation.

Such context is gone in O'Neill's dramas. O'Neill's Irish-American drinkers have left the Emerald Isle and traded it over for a nation where religious liberty denies the right of any religion to declare itself as true and all others as false. The Constitution, in fact, has been amended to keep government from declaring the truth of any religion. If no religion is true, how can the Tyrone's be expected to know the difference between Baudelaire's "spiritual drunkenness" and "physical drunkenness"?

O'Neill has Edmund quote Baudelaire in Long Day's Journey into Night as an attempt to rationalize his characters' drunkenness: "Be always drunken. Nothing else matters: that is the only question. If you would not feel the horrible burden of Time weighing on your shoulders and crushing you to the earth, be drunken continually. Drunken with what? With wine, with poetry, or with virtue, as you will. But be drunken" (4.1). However, Baudelaire's poem actually advocates (or emphasizes) a transcendental kind of drunkenness -- drunkenness that is steeped in poetry or virtue -- a kind of zealous, religious, mystical drunkenness; in other words, rapturous sanctity that supersedes time -- not depresses one beneath it as O'Neill does in Long Day's Journey.

Such rapturous sanctity, of course, is lost in America. In Hollywood it is sappy and sentimentalized, as seen by Crosby in Going My Way. The priest's piety and holiness is a kind of Hays Code Production parody of the medieval sanctity of a scholastic like St. Thomas, who, it is said, merely had to meditate on Heaven to reach a state of ecstasy. Going My Way offers no satisfactory, realistic alternative to the dark fate of the Tyrone's. Likewise, the Philadelphia Story is a slapstick comedy that has more to do with the American Dream than the religious fervor that underpins Ford's the Quiet Man. Ford, like Hitchcock, was an American Catholic, whose only two Catholic films were not made in America. Something about the land of religious liberty does not allow for serious religious belief. Religion in America is a kind of con: a singing, lounge act that Bing Crosby could bring to life -- or a Billy Graham for that matter (without the tunes, of course).

O'Neill's Irishman, however, is in America and is lost in the fog. "I really love fog…it hides you from the world and the world from you…No one can find or touch you any more," says Mary (100). Then she says, "It's the foghorn I hate. It won't let you alone. It keeps reminding you, and warning you, and calling you back" (101). The foghorn in O'Neill is the spiritual Mary -- the essence of Ireland's morality. That morality, lost in the fog of American religious liberty, is replaced by the negative stereotype of Irish-American drinking -- drinking to escape, to lose oneself in the fog.

The theme of drinking is a response to the theme of the loss of religious foundation and self-restraint in O'Neill's works. However, in the Hollywood films under the Hays Code, the theme of drinking is often treated with light-hearted care. The affects of both treatments on the image of Irish-America, therefore, helps perpetuate the contradiction at the heart of the Irish -- one side light and carefree, and one side dark, stubborn and damned. Neither vision is wholly true or accurate; the fact is that both together are more representative of the plight of the Irish-American. What O'Neill failed to detail in Long Day's Journey into Night is the fact that Mary ended her days in a convent and beat her addiction to morphine and that her son Jamie accompanied her there, tending to her and beating his alcoholism (at least for as long as she lived to beat her addiction).

In conclusion, though drinking has long been connected to a negative Irish ethnic stereotype, that stereotype has seen different representations in books, plays and films. The cause of the stereotype is related to the drunkenness of characters like Cornelius Melody in a Touch of the Poet or the devil-may-care attitude of Jamie Tyrone in Long Day's Journey into Night. Yet, their drunkenness is due to the larger problem of rootlessness -- which is not a problem for Ford's Quiet Man.

Works Cited

O'Neill, Eugene. Long Day's Journey into Night. Yale University Press, 2002.…[continue]

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