Eugene O'Neill's work "Long Day's Journey into Night" has been critically described as an autobiographical work, a tragedy with universal appeal and a Taoist manuscript among other descriptions. Long Day's Journey into Night might indeed be described as the autobiographical work of one of the most well-known dramatists, who incorporated aspects of every day living and the nature of human instinct and despair into his work. Clearly O'Neill attempts to describe the longing and tragedy that is inherently part of the human psyche. What better way to do this than to pull from true life experiences. These ideas and the critics that support or refute them are described in greater detail below.
Winther (1961), one of O'Neill's earlier critics, suggests that O'Neill deals with tragedy from a universally appealing standpoint. O'Neill according to Winther, deals with the fall of man from prosperity into adversity in a manner "that is shocking and through causes that lie within man himself in relation to the outward forces o his world" (p.298). In Long Day's Journey into Night, O'Neill displays man as brought to disaster by "forces that are stronger than he is" (p.298). Mary for example, in his work Long Day's Journey into Night, struggles for years in a state of inescapable despair. In the work Mary is struggling to conquer forces of life she has no control over. Winther (1961) points out that each character has its flaw or failure, and is also a combination of his inner self and the circumstances of a world that is uncontrollable.
Winther tries to make the point that O'Neill is appealing to the idea that man is powerless to deal with life in any way that would be universally good; rather as a human, man goes through life in a state of fog, which in Long Day's Journey into Night, is the "dominant atmosphere. This is a very accurate perception, as in this work the characters seem to be struggling to find a path or golden road that does not exist in the midst of the fog.
Among the emotions presented in Long Day's Journey into Night include sentiment, sorrow and pathos, present in both characters and in action (Winther, 1961:300). Winther's critique focuses on observation of characters, who suffer a variety of conditions including Edmund who suffers tuberculosis. The characters elicit a sense of pathos and sympathy from the reader. The emotional appeal of characters according to Winther is virtually irresistible.
Winther's main purpose in his critique is arguing that O'Neill is a successful builder of irresolvable conflicts that are part of a modern world and that are truly inevitable. He aims to point out that O'Neill does and exceptional job at building tragedies that the audience can relate to on a personal level. Winther attempts to prove that O'Neill is able to successfully elicit emotions and sympathy from his characters.
Winther seems to want to clearly communicate the idea that O'Neill is set on depicting characters that at best, are lost wanderers seeking their yellow brick road or path to escape the fog and reach the "Garden of Eden" yet all the time knowing that their quest is futile and that no such garden exists (p.306). Pfister (1995) supports Winther's premise that O'Neill understood the human condition, and sought to create a work that included depth and the passion that encompasses human nature, as well as culture and the oppressive roles some individuals are subjected to.
Winther supports his argument by comparing Long Day's Journey into Night with other plays written by O'Neill. In fact, he points out the tragedy "The Moon for the Misbegotten" picks up on the story of James Tyrone, presented in A Long Day's Journey into Night, approximately nine years after the ending of the work. In this follow up work Winther points out that the whole play forces the character to see the faults of the people formerly immortalized, and recognize the worth of the man driven to "disaster by the fates" which are "relentless in their determination" (p.311).
Winther attempts to critically describe the work of a man who writes of haunting tragedies. Perhaps these tragedies are the results of hardships experienced in O'Neill's own life, as many a time the best works of drama are those derived from true to life experiences. Winther's arguments are grounded in sound principle and factual basis. The examples he provides are of characters in the text. For example, he points out when discussing the tragedy of Mary, her statements related to her despair. He quotes "It's wrong to blame your brother. He can't help being what the past has made him...Or you. Or I...If I could only find the faith I lost, so I could pray again." (p.298). He uses these quotes as an example of the characters realization that her will nor the will of any other has the ability to conquer the forces of life that imprison her and any other man/woman.
On a similar note, critic Harold Bloom (1987) suggests that O'Neill may be described as a dramatist who "is not exactly to be regarded as a celebrator of the possibilities of American Life." Rather, Bloom suggests that O'Neill is the complete opposite of many popular authors including Emerson. Bloom attempts in his criticism to prove that O'Neill followed a "spiritual quest" of sorts to undermine Emerson's "American religion of self-reliance." He attempts this by including several different critiques of O'Neill's work in his book.
Bloom's argument related to negativity is powerful, more so than some of the other critiques he includes in his work. He points out that O'Neill's identifications particularly that of Edmund are "astonishingly negative, particularly in the American context." Bloom attempts to compare O'Neill to other authors as well including Whitman. Though Whitman might also bee seen as anti-Emerson as Bloom points out, the primary characters in O'Neill's Long Day's Journey into Night are different. They do not "long for death" in the "mode of Whitman and his descendants" according to Bloom (p.2). Bloom supports this argument by comparing O'Neill to Wallace Stevens, T.S. Elliot, Hart Crane, and Theodore Roethke, who all also incorporate the image of despair and death, but do so by portraying death as desired, and attainable. However Edmund Tyrone and Larry Slade in O'Neill's work, though desiring of death, find that it is unavailable, at least in the sense of a respite from the tragedies of the world.
Bloom further attempts to prove the idea that O'Neill's work is against the American universal idealisms and spiritual traditions because his main idea is "an everlasting game of trying to possess your own soul by the possession of something outside it" (O'Neill, 1987:3). Bloom attempts to suggest that O'Neill depicts the nightmare realities "that can afflict American family life, indeed family life in the twentieth century" (p.7) better than any dramatist of his time. However too often, Bloom appears to go off on a tangent, discussing innumerable other matters including his perceived observations of what he describes as O'Neill's "genius." Early on Bloom discusses O'Neill's genius while at the same time attempts to discuss his ability to depict the afflictions of American society as described by O'Neill. The criticism may almost be described as confusing at best, and unconvincing at worst.
Doris V. Falk is cited in Bloom's work, making many claims without initial support from the literature. For example, Falk on page 10 of Bloom's work describes Long Day's Journey as "excruciatingly powerful because it is so painfully and consistently realistic" (Bloom, 1987). What exactly however, is realistic about the work? Her argument related to this is confusing. She goes on to discuss when the elder Tyrone in Long Day's tells his son he has the "makings of a poet" and Edmund replies that he has not, that he just stammers." Falk is attempting to make a comparison of an inarticulate child speaking with eloquence, and subsequently relating this to reality, but the argument doesn't seem as powerful as it could be.
Further Bloom moves on to discuss symbolism in O'Neill's work. Bloom does successfully point out that symbols are key to O'Neill's depiction of man's inability to know himself or his destiny. For example, Bloom again cites Falk points out that the fog in the work is the first and last symbol used by O'Neill to depict this reality (Man's inability to know himself, other men, or his destiny) (Bloom, 1987:10). This argument is similar to that of other critiques of Long Day's Journey into Night, including that of Winther (1961) who also notices the symbolism of disparity and fog.
Bloom is successful pointing out O'Neill's successes and failures using the critiques of other authors. Bloom also cites Raymond Williams, who suggests that O'Neill's manuscript has a 'haunting effect' similar to the commentary made by Winther previously. Williams's points out that men are dramatized as being "lost, frustrated, and isolated, in a world of illusion and…