The American Modernism (VI) (1914 - 1945) Lecture Fifteen
I.The Fugitives From the Civil War into the 20th century, the southern United States had remained a political and economic backwater ridden with racism and superstition, but, at the same time, blessed with rich folkways and a strong sense of pride and tradition. It had a somewhat unfair reputation for being a cultural desert of provincialism and ignorance. Ironically, the most significant 20th-century regional literary movement was that of the Fugitives -- led by poet-critic- theoretician John Crowe Ransom, poet Allen Tate, and novelist- poet-essayist Robert Penn Warren. This southern literary school rejected "northern" urban, commercial values, which they felt had taken over America. The Fugitives called for a return to the land and to American traditions that could be found in the South. The movement took its name from a literary magazine, The Fugitive, published from 1922 to 1925 at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee, and with which Ransom, Tate, and Warren were all associated. 6.The Fugitives and New Criticism
Fugitive Poets Group of poets and critics centered at Vanderbilt University in the early 1920s. The group included John Crowe Ransom, Allen Tate, and Robert Penn Warren and first gained a degree of prominence for The Fugitive, the magazine they published from 1922 to 1925 as an outlet for their writing. According to critic J. A. Bryant, the group's goal was simply to "demonstrate that a group of southerners could produce important work in the medium, devoid of sentimentality and carefully crafted, with special attention to the logical coherence of substance and trope."
II.New Criticism New Criticism, an approach to understanding literature through close readings and attentiveness to formal patterns (of imagery, metaphors, metrics, sounds, and symbols) and their suggested meanings. New Criticism became the dominant American critical approach in the 1940s and 1950s because it proved to be well- suited to modernist writers such as Eliot and could absorb Freudian theory (especially its structural categories such as id, ego, and superego) and approaches drawing on mythic patterns. Ransom, leading theorist of the southern renaissance between the wars, published a book, The New Criticism (1941), on this method, which offered an alternative to previous extra- literary methods of criticism based on history and biography. Other representatives include Allen Tate and Robert Penn Warren.
New Criticism - School of criticism which emerged primarily in the South and which argued that critics had for too long paid too much attention to the biographical and historical contexts of a work of literature. New Critics advocated a focus on "the thing itself"--the language and the structural and formal qualities of the poem, novel, play, or story with which the critic was concerned. The foundation of New Criticism was, and remains, the exercise of "close reading," which for poetry often means a word-by-word or line-by-line analysis of the poem, the goal of which is to discern the most coherent meaning within its language and form. Although the New Criticism had become the dominant critical practice by the mid-twentieth century, most contemporary critics merely use it as a starting point for various other critical approaches. Many southern writers are closely associated with New Criticism, including John Crowe Ransom, Robert Penn Warren, and Cleanth Brooks.
American drama imitated English and European theater until well into the 20th century. Often, plays from England or translated from European languages dominated theater seasons. An inadequate copyright law that failed to protect and promote American dramatists worked against genuinely original drama. So did the "star system," in which actors and actresses, rather than the actual plays, were given most acclaim. Americans flocked to see European actors who toured theaters in the United States. In addition, imported drama, like imported wine, enjoyed higher status than indigenous productions. During the 19th century, melodramas with exemplary democratic figures and clear contrasts between good and evil had been popular. Plays about social problems such as slavery also drew large audiences; sometimes these plays were adaptations of novels like Uncle Tom's Cabin. Not until the 20th century would serious plays attempt aesthetic innovation. Popular culture showed vital developments, however, especially in vaudeville (popular variety theater involving skits, clowning, music, and the like).
Minstrel shows, based on African-American music and folkways -- performed by white characters using "blackface" makeup -- also developed original forms and expressions. Realism continued to be a primary form of dramatic expression in the 20th century, even as experimentation in both the content and the production of plays became increasingly important. Such renowned American playwrights as Eugene ONeill, Tennessee Williams, and Arthur Miller reached profound new levels of psychological realism, commenting through individual characters and their situations on the state of American society in general. As the century progressed, the most powerful drama spoke to broad social issues, such as civil rights and the acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS) crisis, and the individuals position in relation to those issues. Individual perspectives in mainstream theater became far more diverse and more closely reflected the increasingly complex demographics of American society.
I.General Introduction: 1)Eugene (Gladstone) O'Neill (October 16, 1888 - November 27, 1953) was an American playwright best known for explorations into the darker aspects of the human condition. Frequently, his plays show people on the outer edges of society or begin in a situation of ennui and despair and move dramatically downwards to a grim finish. 2)While he was born in a New York City hotel, his family and his early life were intimately connected to New London, Connecticut. They had owned property in New London since before his birth, and he would have summered there with them virtually from his first memory until they made it the family home. 3)From boarding school he entered Princeton in 1906 but remained there only a year. During the next few years he traveled widely and held a variety of jobs, acquiring experience that familiarized him with the life of sailors, stevedores, and the outcasts who populate many of his plays.
4)ONeill was stricken with tuberculosis in 1912 and spent six months in a sanatorium, where he decided to become a playwright. In the next two years he wrote 13 plays. 5)Connecticut College there maintains a major O'Neill archive, and the Eugene ONeill Theater Center, with its major facilities there and in the adjacent town of Waterford, fosters the development of new plays under the aegis of his name. 6)In 1929 he moved to the Loire Valley in France where he lived in the Chateau du Plessis in St. Antoine-du-Rocher, Indre et Loire. 7)He received the Pulitzer Prize four times and received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1936 for the power, honesty and deep-felt emotions of his dramatic works, which embody an original concept of tragedy, making him the first US dramatist to do so. 8)He was married three times. His daughter Oona married Charlie Chaplin on June 16, 1943. Oona was 17; Chaplin was 54. Despite the tremendous gap in their ages, the marriage was a happy one, producing eight children.
9)ONeills final years were spent estranged from much of the literary community and his family. Though he was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1936, most of his later works were not produced until after his death. His failing health did not prevent him, however, from writing two of the greatest works the American stage has ever seen. Both "The Iceman Cometh", a story of personal desperation in the lives a handful of barflys, and "Long Day's Journey into Night," a view into the difficult family life of his early years, were profound insights into many of the darker questions of human existence. Produced posthumously, these were to be his two greatest achievements. 10)In 1953 he died and was buried in Forest Hills Cemetery in Boston
II.His Major Works: Desire Under the Elms (1924) Mourning Becomes Electra (1931) The Iceman Cometh (1946) 1920s Pulitzer Prize for Beyond the Horizon 1921s Pulitzer Prize for Anna Christie 1928s Pulitzer Prize for Strange Interlude 1956s fourth Pulitzer Prize posthumously for his autobiographical, and to an extent, darkest play and his apex, Long Day's Journey into Night
III. His masterpiece: Long Day's Journey into Night
1.About the play: 1)Long Day's Journey into Night was never performed during O'Neill's lifetime because this deeply autobiographical play would have been too painful to produce during O'Neill's life. 2)On his twelfth wedding anniversary with his wife Carlotta, O'Neill gave her the script of the play as a gift. 3)The play was first performed in 1956, three years after O'Neill's death. It won a Pulitzer Prize and has often been hailed as O'Neill's greatest play. 4)Certainly, the play is invaluable for scholars seeking to understand O'Neill's work; It reveals the most formative forces of O'Neill's life, as well as the values and virtues he valued most. The play also represents an established artist making peace with his troubled past, forgiving and understanding his family and himself.
2.Short summary of the play: 1)The play is set in the summer home of the Tyrone family, August 1912. The action begins in the morning, just after breakfast. We learn as the first act unravels that Mary has returned to her family recently after receiving treatment in a sanatorium for morphine addiction. Edmund, meanwhile, has in recent weeks begun to cough very violently, and we learn later on in the play that, as Tyrone and Jamie suspect, he has tuberculosis. Throughout the course of the play, we slowly find out that Mary is still addicted to morphine, much to the disappointment of her family members. 2)The gradual revelation of these two medical disasters makes up most of the play's plot. In between these discoveries, however, the family constantly revisits old fights and opens old wounds left by the past, which the family members are never unable to forget.
3)Tyrone, for example, is constantly blamed for his own stinginess, which may have led to Mary's morphine addiction when he refused to pay for a good doctor to treat the pain caused by childbirth. Mary, on the other hand, is never able to let go of the past or admit to the painful truth of the present, the truth that she is addicted to morphine and her youngest son has tuberculosis. They all argue over Jamie and Edmund's failure to become successes as their father had always hoped they would become. As the day wears on, the men drink more and more, until they are on the verge of passing out in Act IV.
4)Most of the plot of the play is repetitious, just as the cycle of an alcoholic is repetitious. The above arguments occur numerous times throughout the four acts and five scenes. All acts are set in the living room, and all scenes but the last occur either just before or just after a meal. Act II, Scene i is set before lunch; scene ii after lunch; and Act III before dinner. Each act focuses on interplay between two specific characters: Act I features Mary and Tyrone; Act II Tyrone and Jamie, and Edmund and Mary; Act III Mary and Jamie; Act IV Tyrone and Edmund, and Edmund and Jamie. 5)The repetitious plot also helps develop the notion that this day is not remarkable in many ways. Instead, it is one in a long string of similar days for the Tyrones, filled with bitterness, fighting, and an underlying love.
3.Major Themes 1)The Past, as refuge and burden: The Past, along with forgiveness, is one of two dominant themes in the play. At different parts, the Past plays different roles. On one hand the past is a burden. Mary speaks with a terrible fatalism, claiming that nothing they are can be helped: past sins and mistakes have fixed their present and future irrevocably. The past also takes the form of old hurts that have gone unforgiven. We hear the same arguments again and again in this play, as the Tyrone's dredge up the same old grievances. Letting go is impossible, and so the Tyrones are stuck. The past also becomes a refuge, but not in a positive way. Mary uses an idealized recreation of her girlhood as escapist fantasy. As she sinks further and further into the fog of morphine, she relives her childhood at the Catholic girls' school. The past is used to escape dealing with the present.
2)Forgiveness: Forgiveness is the other pivotal theme of the play. Although old pains cannot be forgotten and the Tyrones are, in a way, a doomed family, Edmund is able to make peace with his past and move on to what we know will be a brilliant career. His ability to do so is based in part on his capacity for forgiveness and understanding. The four Tyrones are deeply, disturbingly human. They have their jealousies and hatreds; they also remain a family, with all the normal bonds of love, however troubled, that being a family entails. Unlike his brother, Edmund is able to forgive and understand all of the Tyrones, including himself. 3)Breakdown of communication: Breakdown of communication is a very apparent theme. We are forced to listen to the same arguments again and again because nothing ever gets resolved. The Tyrones fight, but often hide the most important feelings. There is a deep tendency towards denial in the family. Edmund tries to deny that his mother has returned to morphine. Mary denies Edmund's consumption. Often, avoidance is the strategy for dealing with problems.
4)Religion: Although Tyrone professes to keep his faith, his two sons have long since abandoned the Catholic religion. Tyrone's religion spills over into his taste in art. He considers Edmund's favorite writers to be morbid and degenerate. Mary's loss of faith also recurs as an issue. Although she still believes, she thinks she has fallen so far from God that she no longer has the right to pray. 5)Drug and alcohol abuse: Mary's morphine addiction is balanced by the men's alcoholism. Although the morphine is perhaps a more destructive drug, alcohol does its fair share of damage to the Tyrone men. It is Tyrone's great vice, and it has contributed to Mary's unhappiness. Drunkenness has been Jamie's response to life, and it is part of why he has failed so miserably. And Edmund's alcohol use has probably contributed to ruining his health.
6)Isolation: Although the four Tyrones live under the same roof this summer, there is a deep sense of isolation. Family meals, a central activity of family bonding, are absent from the play. Lunch happens between acts, and dinner falls apart as everyone in the family goes his separate way. Mary's isolation is particularly acute. She is isolated by her gender, as the only woman of the family, and by her morphine addiction, which pushes her farther and farther from reality.