Eugene O’Neill

THE LAUREATE: Eugene O’Neill was born in a hotel room on Broadway in 1888 (there’s a Starbucks there now). He went to a Catholic boarding school and then spent a year at Princeton. He joined the merchant marine and then the IWW and caught tuberculosis. He was part of the Greenwich Village scene and a lifelong radical.

WHAT I’M READING: “The Hairy Ape”REVIEW: “The Hairy Ape” starts in the bowels of a cruise ship, where the coal loaders are expressing their discontent with their lot in life. One in particular, Yank, emerges as their leader, and his belief is that, despite his individual poverty, the mighty, mechanized strength of all of modern industry is his to command because he is the guy who does the actual work. While they go to work, the rich daughter of an industrialist above the ship talks with shining eyes about the plight of the workers and her duty to them. She convinces a skeptical engineer to take her down to the furnaces so she can look upon these noble laborers, and she is utterly disgusted by their filth and raw, brute strength. She sees Yank and calls him a “filthy beast.” Upon hearing this, Yank’s confidence in his identity is sapped, and he goes out to 5th avenue with the ill-formed understanding that he might actually see this girl and show her what a filthy beast really is. He ends up babbling about how beastly he is to a rich man and gets thrown in jail. While in jail, he hears about the Industrial Workers of the World, and how hard they are going to tear down the capitalist infrastructure that keeps the little man down. So as soon as he gets out, he heads down to the local IWW recruiter, images of blown up bridges and sabotaged factories dancing in his head. The IWW is afraid that he might be a spy and, after giving him a few pamphlets, drives him away. In despair, Yank seeks consolation in the monkey house at the zoo, where the great gorilla breaks free from his cage and kills him.

RECOMMENDED: I suppose so. I’ll read some other stuff by O’Neill at a later date, but this was okay.

WHAT’S NEXT: John Steinbeck’s awesome propaganda novella, The Moon is Down


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