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Eugene O’Neill Points of Departure. Critical Assessment Literary critics and theatre historians generally place O’Neill at the forefront of American dramatists.

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Presentation on theme: "Eugene O’Neill Points of Departure. Critical Assessment Literary critics and theatre historians generally place O’Neill at the forefront of American dramatists."— Presentation transcript:

1 Eugene O’Neill Points of Departure

2 Critical Assessment Literary critics and theatre historians generally place O’Neill at the forefront of American dramatists.

3 Experimental Drama O’Neill experimented with realism, naturalism, expressionism, comedy, tragedy, and myth Brings psychological realism to the stage, highly influenced by Freud and Jung

4 O’Neill sought to deal with man’s inner strengths and his subconscious and quickly found, like the naturalists, that realism failed to probe deeply enough. Thus, Expressionism became a major technique, complementing his earlier naturalistic bent. O’Neills experimented with monologue, trilogies, symbolism, divided characters, and masks.

5 Expressionism Definition: This is an early 20 th century art movement which held sway from about 1905-1940. It is a style which intends not to reproduce a subject accurately, that is objectively, but instead seeks to portray the subject in such a way as to express the inner state of the artist. Practictioners of Expressionism sought to convey the artist's subjective expression of inner feelings above objective observations. The movement is especially associated with Germany, and was influenced by such emotionally- charged styles as Symbolism, Fauvism, and Cubism.

6 Expressionism in Literature Expressionism, in a literary sense, is often seen as a revolt against the realism and naturalism of the previous generation. Expressionist writers sought to achieve a psychological or spiritual reality rather than an objective reality recorded objectively in logical sequence Expressionism in literature arose as a reaction against materialism, complacent bourgeois prosperity, rapid mechanization and urbanization,

7 “In forging a drama of social protest, Expressionist writers aimed to convey their ideas through a new style. Their concern was with general truths rather than with particular situations, hence they explored in their plays the predicaments of representative symbolic types rather than of fully developed individualized characters. Emphasis was laid not on the outer world, which is merely sketched in and barely defined in place or time, but on the internal, on an individual's mental state; hence the imitation of life is replaced in Expressionist drama by the ecstatic evocation of states of mind”. Encyclopædia Britannica Online.

8 Characteristics of Expressionism In painting the use of intense colour, agitated brushstrokes, and disjointed space inner feelings expressed through a distorted rendition of reality distortion and exaggeration used for emotional effect reflect the artists‘ or characters’ state of mind rather than the reality of the external world. tends to dwell on the darker, more sinister aspects of the human psyche

9 Some Points of Departure In what ways, is Elmer Rice’s play, “The Adding Machine”, expressionistic? The Adding Machine by Elmer Rice is a funny and terrifying look at the dehumanization of society in the technocratic age.

10 Points of Departure Written in 1922, Elmer Rice’s The Adding Machine represents one of the earliest works of American expressionistic drama. What is the life of Rice’s protagonist like? As the name suggests, Mr. Zero is a nothing. He is at once every man and no man, caught up as a cog in the great social machine of conformity and adherence. Are we merely cogs- sorts of automatons with no hope of liberation from the roles society has given us? Or is there more to humanity? How can we escape the machine and become true individuals? These are just a few of the questions explored in Elmer Rice’s The Adding Machine. (

11 The Trial Scene from The Adding Machine by Elmer Rice

12 Points of Departure What’s the significance of names in the play? Emperor Jones, Brutus Jones What is the significance of the setting? How is the play structured and why? What is the significance of the costuming and the disintegration and ultimate disrobing of Brutus Jones? In what ways does O’Neill use expressionism in his early plays? Where and how do you see it functioning in “The Emperor Jones”? In what ways does “Emperor Jones” present the conflict between good and evil? In what ways does the play present “the illusion of reality”? How does O’Neill present illusion in the drama? Consider the ways in which O’Neill uses day/night, sunlight/moonlight, reality/illusion How does memory function in “Emperor Jones”? How does O’Neill move beyond Brutus Jones’ illusions to discussion of ideas of the “collective unconsciouss”?

13 More Points of Departure Jones runs in a circle. Smithers sees in this only a simple fact, but can one say that the symmetry is meaningful? Do you think it is appropriate, for instance, to see in it a return to our inarticulate and mysterious origin? Explain. If you don’t recall the time scheme of the play, look again to see at what time of day the play begins and at what time it ends. What do you make out of this structure? The Emperor Jones has eight scenes, a large number for a short play. What is the effect of so large a number? After all, the six central, expressionistic scenes between the realistic opening and closing scenes could, with a little rewriting, have been one long scene, but O’Neill chose to put the material into six scenes. Why? Hint: expressionistic drama often uses lots of scenes—but why?'neill.html

14 "Sometimes these (O'Neill's major works) involve what appears to be a criticism of society. Sometimes they make use of a Freudian pattern. But at their most successful, they are tragic, rather than either sociological or psychological, because at the bottom the problem is, always, not what O'Neill himself has called the problem of man's relation with man, but the problem of man's relation to something outside himself, to that something to which he must "belong" if he is to feel himself more than the cleverest of the apes." Discuss with specific references to the plays. "The essence of O'Neill's dramatic output is the grim futility of human existence, cursed by alienation from self, society, and the Source-of-all-life, and made bearable only by illusion." - William R. Thurman. Do you agree? Discuss with reference to his plays.



17 Emperor Jones’ descent into madness, from an azure-tinted hallucination sequence.

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