It is six-thirty in the evening, just before dinner time, on the same day. Mary talks with Catherine, but she doesn't really listen to what the girl says. Catherine's presence is just an excuse to give Mary the chance to go on talking. She offers Catherine another drink of whiskey, and tells her to replace it with some water in the whiskey bottle, so that Tyrone does not notice. Mary still refuses to acknowledge that Edmund is seriously ill. Prompted by a question from Catherine, she reminisces about her life. Educated in a convent, she dreamed of becoming a nun. She has never felt comfortable around acting folk, the people her husband associates with.
Catherine reports that the man in the drugstore insulted her when she got the prescription for morphine. She had to explain it was for the lady she worked for. Mary pretends to Catherine that morphine is the only medicine that can stop the pain from the rheumatism in her hands. Her hands were once beautiful, a musician's hands, she says, and she once had an ambition to become a concert pianist. But after she was married, and had to travel around staying in cheap hotels, it was impossible for her to keep up her interest in music. She thinks back to when she first met Tyrone. Her father was a friend of his and introduced them. Tyrone was a highly successful actor, a matinee idol, and he and Mary fell in love the moment they met backstage after a performance. She forgot all her ambitions and only wanted to be his wife. She tells Catherine that they have loved each other ever since. In thirty-six years, he has never had an affair with another woman. This enables her to forgive him his faults.
After Catherine exits to help Bridget in the kitchen, Mary sits down, in a state of relaxed dreaminess. But then she becomes bitter about her life, saying to herself that she was happier before she met Tyrone, and she longs to recover her faith so she could once more pray to the Virgin, as she did at the convent. She starts to go upstairs to take more morphine, but then she hears the men returning, and she sits down again.
Edmund and Tyrone enter. They have been drinking. They can see that Mary has been taking the drug and they give her a condemnatory look. She does not notice, and pours them a drink. She chatters excitedly and makes derogatory remarks about Jamie, saying he is probably still out drinking. Edmund and Tyrone tell her to be quiet. But she continues as if she has not heard them, with more miserable talk about the past, prompting Tyrone to wish that he had never come home. Mary is fixated on Jamie, recalling how promising he had been as a young boy until he was expelled from school for drinking. She blames Tyrone for giving him whiskey as medicine when he was a child. Edmund says that Tyrone did the same for him. Mary replies that Tyrone is not to blame because he had no education, and his poor Irish family no doubt believed that whiskey was the best medicine for a sick child. Then she apologizes and goes back to reminiscing about her first meeting with her future husband, and saying that she knows he still loves her, in spite of everything, and that she loves him. Tyrone is moved by this, but Edmund is embarrassed by the sentimentality. Mary then says that she would not have married him had she known he drank so much. Tyrone protests, but he is ashamed of himself. She says she forgives him. She then drifts back to the excitement of her wedding day, particularly the trouble she had getting the wedding gown just the way she wanted it. She loved the gown, and wonders where it is now. She kept it wrapped up and in her trunk, and thinks it is still in the attic.
Tyrone drinks some whiskey but realizes it has been watered down. He demands an explanation from Mary, and Edmund answers for her, saying that she probably treated Cathleen and Bridget, which Mary confirms. After a few moments of bickering between Tyrone and Mary, Tyrone goes to the cellar to get a fresh bottle of whiskey. Mary tells Edmund that he must try to understand and forgive his father, and not feel contempt because he is miserly. His father deserted the family when he was ten years old, and Tyrone had to work in a machine shop.
Edmund then tells his mother that Dr. Hardy has told him he must go away to a sanatorium. Mary reacts violently, outraged that Tyrone will allow the doctor to advise such a thing. She rants bitterly about how Tyrone has always wanted to separate her from her babies. Edmund rebukes her for talking like that, saying that he has been away before and it has not broken her heart. Mary continues to insist that Edmund does not have consumption. Edmund reminds her that her father died of consumption, but she refuses to see any connection, and forbids him to speak of it. He speaks bitterly, saying it is hard to have a dope fiend for a mother. Regretting his words immediately, he asks her to forgive him. Edmund exits, leaving Mary alone. She is about to wander upstairs to take more morphine, hoping that sometime she will accidentally take an overdose and die, when Tyrone returns. He is angry that Jamie has been trying to pick the lock Tyrone keeps on the cellar door. Mary finally accepts the truth about Edmund, and sobs to Tyrone that he will die. Tyrone says he will be cured in six months. Mary is full of self-reproach, saying it would have been better had she never given birth to Edmund.
Catherine enters and announces that dinner is served. Mary excuses herself, saying she is not hungry. She wants to go to bed and rest. Tyrone replies harshly, that she is going to take another dose of the drug. She walks away, saying that she does not know what he is talking about.
The emphasis in this Act is on Mary, who is starting to live in the past. The present is simply too difficult for her to deal with. In her long speeches she usually gives the past a romantic glow, as in her account of her life in the convent, and of her first meeting with Tyrone. But she mixes this with self-reproach and guilt, particularly over the death of her infant son, Eugene. And she is not so lost in the past that she cannot make some astute comments about her family. When for example she says that Jamie "will never be content until he makes Edmund as hopeless a failure as he is," the remark sounds cruel, but it is no more than Jamie himself admits, unprompted by anyone, in Act 4.
What shines through in Mary, however, is that despite her resentments and her pain, she does try to forgive. Her attempts to understand her family, especially her husband, are in part responsible for the play's underlying tone of compassion for human weakness. Although her disappointment with her husband's miserliness is clear throughout, there is no doubt that she means what she says to Catherine: "I've loved him dearly, for thirty-six years. That proves I know he's lovable at heart and can't help being what he is, doesn't it?" To understand is to forgive, which can be seen again when Mary tries to excuse Tyrone's behavior in giving Edmund whiskey as medicine when he was a child. She says that Tyrone didn't know any better; he simply adopted the beliefs of his ignorant Irish family. Mary also tries to persuade Edmund to adopt her attitude of understanding and forgiveness; he should remember that Tyrone had a very difficult life when he was a child. It is moments such as these that reveal the ties of affection that still hold this tormented family together.
Long Day's Journey into Night: Novel Summary: Act 3