Eugene O'Neill

Eugene O'Neill: "The Emperor Jones" (1922)

Questions for Discussion

1.   Smithers is essentially a coward.  Why, then, does he talk impudently and even angrily to Jones at the start of the play?

2.  How does O・Neill use Jones・ costume, at the beginning and then later in the play, to say something about Jones (and about all of us)?  Point out the clothes imagery in the play.  How is Jones・ "disrobing" symbolic?

3.  Explain the significance of the name of Emperor Jones: Brutus Jones.

4.  Discuss the organization of the six scenes in the jungle. What does the jungle symbolize? (O・Neill gives us, first, the :little formless fears,; then the memory of the murder of Jeff, the memory of the murder of the prison guard, the slave auction, the slave ship, and the African ceremony.)  How are the last three of these fundamentally different from the first three?  Dramatically speaking, could the last three be given before the first three?  Explain.

5.  How does the sound effect (the sound of the drum) help make the play successful?

6.   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.

7.   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?

8.   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 scenesXbut why?

9.   How relevant to the play do you find the concepts of hybris and hamartia? Explain.

10. The play was enthusiastically received in 1920.  Heywood Broun, however, writing in The New York Tribune, offered one objection in an otherwise ecstatic review: :We cannot understand just why [O・Neill] has allowed the Emperor to die to the sound of off-stage shots.  It is our idea that he should come crawling to the very spot where he meets his death and that the natives should be molding silver bullets there and waiting without so much as stretching out a finger for him.;  What do you think of Broun・s suggestion?



A Greek word variously translated as :tragic flaw; or :error; or :shortcoming; or  :weakness.;  In many plays it is a flaw or even a vice such as hybris (also hubris)Xa word that in classical Greek meant bullying, or even assault and battery, but that in discussions of tragedy means overweening pride, arrogance, excessive confidence.  But in other plays, it is merely a misstep, such as a choice that turns out badly.  Indeed, the tragic hero may be undone by his virtueXhis courage, for example, when others are merely prudent but cowardly.

Eugene O'Neill: Long Day's Journey into Night (1956)
  1. Discuss what O'Neill's character Edmund calls "faithful realism" in Long Day's Journey into Night. Is this play a work of realism? In what ways does it extend the concerns of the earlier realists to include twentieth-century concerns?
  2. What dramatic devices does O'Neill use to reveal the past in the play?
  3. What are the functions of the sea, fog, foghorn, and bells?
  4. How does this play present the universal problems in a family? And what are the problems?
  5. O'Neill suggests that modern life is more difficult for women than for men--if morphine addiction becomes a more extreme response to the modern condition than the alcoholism of Mary Tyrone's husband James. Discuss the role Mary plays in the play.

  6. In the play what does O'Neill say about versions of the American dream; about individual identity; about self-reliance; about social exclusion; and about the development of consciousness?