Follow TV Tropes


Theatre / Long Day's Journey Into Night

Go To
Long Day's Journey Into Night is the story of a day in the life of a loving but dysfunctional Irish-American family as it is torn apart by addiction, resentment, and regret. It is also Eugene O'Neill's most autobiographical play, hence his insistence that it not be published until after his death. Winner of the 1957 Pulitzer Prize. Fredric March won a Tony Award for his performance in the original Broadway production.

The play's been adapted to film several times. A well-regarded 1962 adaptation was directed by Sidney Lumet, and stars Katharine Hepburn as Mary (who won Best Actress at Cannes and was nominated for an Oscar), Ralph Richardson as James, Jason Robards as Jamie (reprising his role from the Broadway production), and Dean Stockwell as Edmund. A more recent adaptation is Jonathan Kent's 2023 film with Ed Harris as James and Jessica Lange as Mary.

O'Neill's later play A Moon for the Misbegotten is a sequel focused on the final ill-spent and drunken days of Jame Tyrone. Jason Robards again played Jamie both on Broadway and in a television movie of the play.

Not to be confused with Louis Ferdinand Celine's novel Journey to the End of the Night.

This play provides examples of:

  • The Alcoholic: James, Jamie, and Edmund all get progressively more drunk as the play goes on, especially as they try to open up to one another. It's implied that this is a common occurrence among the family. Out of the three, Jamie is easily the biggest drunk, and seems to revel in it.
  • Author Avatar: O'Neill spent a great deal of his early adulthood at sea, battled with alcoholism and depression, and suffered from tuberculosis, just like Edmund.
    • There are also references to a third Tyrone brother, whose name was Eugene, but was stillborn. This might have been another way O'Neill saw himself: the one who never even had a chance.
  • Being Human Sucks: One of the more widely-quoted lines is Edmund's monologue, which begins "It was a great mistake, my being born a man. I would have been much more successful as a seagull or a fish."
  • Cutting Corners: Jamie points out that while James is more than willing to spend lot of money on dubious land deals, he found the cheapest doctors and clinics for Edmund and Mary.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Jamie's standard response in nearly every conversation with his father James.
  • Delicate and Sickly: Edmund, arguably the most well-adjusted member of the family, is suffering from an apparent case of tuberculosis that steadily worsens as the play progresses.
  • The Disease That Shall Not Be Named: Literally. Edmund tries not to speak about his illness, as he believes it could be his mother's final breaking point.
  • Downer Ending: It is implied that the end scene has been and will be repeated many, many more times.
  • Dr. Feelgood: The doctor who first prescribed Mary Tyrone morphine, as well as the doctors who continue to do so while she's Off the Wagon.
  • Drugs Are Bad: Mary is a recovering morphine addict who is slowly relapsing due to her use of opioids to numb the rheumatic pain in her hands. By the end of the play, she’s fallen completely off the wagon.
  • Dysfunctional Family: The Tyrones are this, to put it mildly. Mary is addicted to morphine, Jamie is a self-destructive alcoholic whose career and life are in a slow downward spiral, Edmund seems to have little direction in life and is stricken with tuberculosis, and James, the overbearing patriarch of the family, lives in denial over just how bad his family life is. It doesn't help that neither Mary's drug addiction nor Edmund's TB can be openly discussed.
  • Extremely Short Timespan: The play takes place between morning and midnight on a single August day in 1912.
  • False Friend: Jamie has secretly been hoping that Edmund turns into a failure like himself and has negatively influenced him to achieve this. However, whilst admitting this he makes it clear that he still loves his brother above all else and warns Edmund to stay away from him before he ruins him.
  • Generation Xerox: Perhaps one of the morals of the play, sad as it may be.
  • Hair-Trigger Temper: James is very short-fused and will frequently start arguments with his family members at the slightest provocation.
  • Hooker with a Heart of Gold: Jamie tells Edmund of his exploits with the overweight prostitute Violet, who was so grateful for a customer and attention that she made up for her lack of looks with lots of affection.
  • I Coulda Been a Contender!:
    • James was an acclaimed up-and-coming actor, but he eventually found a play that he could successfully do over and over and bring in the money without actually challenging himself. Once he realized he had wasted his talents, he tried to get out of it but found he lost his touch and nobody wanted him in another role.
    • Jamie is said to have the potential of a strong actor but his vices have repeatedly ruined any chance of a prosperous career.
  • Incurable Cough of Death: Actually Tuberculosis.
  • It's All About Me: James is rather selfish, as evidenced when he tries to save money by sending his ill son Edmund to a questionably-qualified doctor. Indeed, he seems aware that his sons think he’s a “dirty miser”, but he rarely provides evidence to the contrary.
  • Jaded Washout: Both James and Jamie Tyrone. James because he gave up acting in serious plays in favor of a steady paycheck for doing the same role in the same play ad nauseum for decades, Jamie because he never liked acting to begin with, much preferring to spend his time getting drunk at the local pub or whorehouse.
  • Lampshade Hanging: "What a bastard to have for a father! Christ, if you put him in a book, no one would believe it!"
  • Lazy Bum: Jamie is excessively lazy, and often inconveniences his family in pursuit of a hedonistic lifestyle. He seems to have few ambitions other than booze, women, or instant gratification, and he seems unwilling to find a job. As his father put it:
    “You made no effort to find anything else to do. You left it to me to get you a job and I have no influence except in theater. (…) You never wanted to do anything except loaf in barrooms! You'd have been content to sit back like a lazy lunk and sponge on me for the rest of your life!”
  • Nostalgia Ain't Like It Used to Be: Mary is so overcome by nostalgic thoughts of the greener past she let slip away that she is unwilling to confront reality as it is. She muses about her failed former dreams (to be a nun or a concert pianist) that came to a halt when she married James, seems to show nothing but regret for how her life turned out, and is obsessed with what could have been - even if, as James points out, her dreams wouldn’t have worked out anyway, and she’s seeing her past exclusively through a rose-colored tint.
  • Only Sane Man: Edmund's not without his own issues, but he's clearly far more stable and adjusted compared to his family.
  • The Ophelia: Mary, especially in the last scene. Mostly due to the morphine.
    Jamie: The mad scene. Enter Ophelia!
  • Parents as People: Mary and James are depressingly human.
  • The Scrooge: James is seen as something of a cheap miser by his sons, with some justification (most notably, he routinely hires second-rate doctors for Edmund and Mary because they're the least expensive).
  • Shout-Out: Edmund compares himself to a seagull.
  • Shout-Out to Shakespeare: Too many to count; the Tyrones are a family of actors, after all.
  • Typecasting: Happened to James In-Universe. See I Coulda Been a Contender! above.