Symbolism In O'Neill's Long Day's Journey Into Night
Symbolism is used throughout O'Neill's " Long Day's Journey
into Night", a portrayal of the author's life. The three
prominent symbols, the fog, the foghorn, and Mary's
glasses, represent the characters' isolation from reality.
The symbols in "Long Day's Journey into Night" are used to
substitute illusion for reality. Although Mary is the
character directly associated with living in illusion, all
characters in the play try to hide from the truth in their
own ways. 

At the beginning of the second act, O'Neill notes a change
in the setting which has taken place since the play opened.
No sunlight comes into the room now and there is a faint
haziness in the air. This haziness or fog obscures one's
perception of the world, and it parallels the attempts of
each member of the family to obscure or hide reality.
Tyrone, for example, drinks whiskey to escape his son¹s
criticism of how cheap he is. The reference to fog always
has a double meaning in this play, referring both to the
atmosphere and to the family. Much of the activity carried
on by the Tyrone family is under-handed and sneaky; they
are always attempting to put something over on somebody and
obscure the truth. 

This brings us to the second symbol, the foghorn. Mary says
she loves the fog because "it hides you from the world and
the world from you," but she hates the foghorns because
they warn you and call you back. This escape is similar to
the morphine she takes, and the foghorns are the family's
warnings against her addictions. When they discuss the
mother, Edmund resents Jamie's hinting that she might have
gone back to her old habit; and Jamie is angry with Edmund
for not staying with her all morning. Although they both
think that she has started using dope again, they don't
want to have to admit it. Because the men in the family all
try so hard to deny the truth and to blame each other or
the mother for her affliction, it appears that they all
feel some guilt and some responsibility for what has
happened to her , and to themselves. Even when confronted
with the truth (that the mother is using drugs), they all
still try to act as if everything were all right, to deny
the reality and live in illusion. Mary's glasses symbolize
her inability to see things clearly. She frequently
misplaces them, and really doesn't want to find them
because that would force her to face reality, which she
desperately tries to hide from. Hearing the mother moving
around upstairs, Tyrone tells Edmund he shouldn't pay too
much attention to her tales of the past. The father says,
"Remember she's not responsible," and Edmund replies that
it was the father's stinginess that's responsible. When
Tyrone tells Edmund to take the mother's comments about the
past with a grain of salt, we see an example of how two
people can look at the same thing but "see" the thing very
differently. The mother considered her former home
"wonderful," her father "noble," her convent days the
"happiest," her piano playing "outstanding," her desire to
be a nun "sincere." But the father says that she was
mistaken, that she didn't see things as they really were.
O'Neill probably felt that these memories were the illusion
the mother needed to make reality tolerable; as she
remarked earlier, her medicine kills the pain so she can go
back to the past when she was really happy. 

These symbols in this play were very effective; providing
the hazy atmosphere and confusion, or the obscured reality.
They were integral parts of the play, because they were the
root of the family¹s conflict and confusion. O'Neill rarely
misses an opportunity to show in the conversation and
action of the Tyrone family the conflict which each feels
internally regarding the others. It appears that none of
them can do or say anything without hurting the others;
usually on purpose. 


Quotes: Search by Author