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The Hairy Ape   By: (1888-1953)

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The Hairy Ape, a play written by Eugene O'Neill, is a gripping and thought-provoking piece of literature that dives deep into the theme of identity crisis and class struggle. Set in the early 20th century, the story follows the journey of Yank, a muscle-bound laborer aboard an ocean liner, as he grapples with his place in society.

One of the most striking aspects of this play is O’Neill’s masterful portrayal of the divide between the upper and lower classes. Yank, who identifies himself as a stoker and prides himself on his physical strength, is abruptly confronted with the stark realization that he is seen as nothing more than a hairy ape by the upper-class passengers. This clash of identities leads to an intense struggle within Yank, as he embarks on a quest for belonging and self-discovery.

O’Neill’s writing style is captivating, with powerful monologues that delve deep into the inner workings of Yank's mind. The raw emotions expressed throughout the play make the audience empathize with Yank's alienation and frustration. The intense sense of alienation is heightened by the symbolic use of a caged gorilla, which serves as a reflection of Yank's gradual descent into disillusionment. O’Neill's use of symbolism adds depth and complexity to the narrative, leaving readers pondering the larger questions of societal hierarchies and individual identity.

Furthermore, the characterizations in The Hairy Ape are truly remarkable. Yank's brutish yet vulnerable nature is portrayed with great sensitivity. The secondary characters, such as the upper-class Mildred Douglas, also contribute significantly to the thematic development of the play. The interactions between the characters reveal the stark contrast between their realities, highlighting the vast disparity between the haves and the have-nots. O’Neill's skillful characterization ensures that the audience becomes fully invested in the characters' lives, making their struggles even more poignant.

While some readers may find the plot of The Hairy Ape somewhat bleak, it is undoubtedly a thought-provoking examination of societal norms and the inherent human desire for belonging. O’Neill’s exploration of class distinctions forces readers to confront their own preconceived notions, questioning the fairness of a society that ostracizes individuals based on their social standing.

In conclusion, The Hairy Ape is a timeless piece of literature that offers a compelling commentary on class struggle and personal identity. Eugene O’Neill's powerful writing and effective use of symbolism leave a lasting impression on the reader, opening discussions about societal inequality and the consequences of alienation. This play undoubtedly stands as a remarkable contribution to the realm of theater and remains relevant in contemporary society.

First Page:


A Comedy of Ancient and Modern Life

In Eight Scenes






SCENE The firemen's forecastle of a transatlantic liner an hour after sailing from New York for the voyage across. Tiers of narrow, steel bunks, three deep, on all sides. An entrance in rear. Benches on the floor before the bunks. The room is crowded with men, shouting, cursing, laughing, singing a confused, inchoate uproar swelling into a sort of unity, a meaning the bewildered, furious, baffled defiance of a beast in a cage. Nearly all the men are drunk. Many bottles are passed from hand to hand. All are dressed in dungaree pants, heavy ugly shoes. Some wear singlets, but the majority are stripped to the waist.

The treatment of this scene, or of any other scene in the play, should by no means be naturalistic. The effect sought after is a cramped space in the bowels of a ship, imprisoned by white steel. The lines of bunks, the uprights supporting them, cross each other like the steel framework of a cage. The ceiling crushes down upon the men's heads. They cannot stand upright... Continue reading book >>

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