Long Day's Journey into Night is a play written by Eugene O'Neill. About it, he wrote this commentary: “At the final curtain, there they still are, trapped within each other by the past, each guilty and at the same time innocent... understanding and yet not understanding at all, forgiving but still doomed never to be able to forget.” (1939) This essay will explain how this commentary helps to understand the conflicts in the play.
Firstly, we have to distinguish which are the major conflicts in it. There are four main problems, each one related with each character. In the first place, we have Tyrone's stinginess, or as he calls it, money prudence, that is shown through several examples along the play. Since the beginning, when the character is introduced, it is said that “he believes in wearing his clothes to the limit of usefulness”. After that, we learn that he likes to spend money on real estate speculation. Mary complains that Tyrone never hires any good servants. She is dissatisfied with Cathleen, and she blames Tyrone for not hiring a better maid. We also learn in the play that Tyrone has bought a car to Mary, but she hardly uses it. He considers this a waste of money. In addition, at the beginning of the act IV he has an argument with Edmund about turning off the lights. The consequences of his stinginess affect the whole family, who will accuse him of getting the cheapest doctor, firstly for Mary, which caused her addiction to morphine, and then, for Edmund to treat his consumption. Jamie demands that Tyrone send Edmund to a good sanatorium, not to a cheap one. Jamie says that Tyrone thinks consumption is fatal and, therefore, it is not worth spending money on trying to cure Edmund since he is guaranteed to die anyway. It is later shown that Edmund shares the same opinion about Tyrone as his brother. When his father gives Edmund money to pay Doc Hardy's visit, he mentions that Tyrone may regret giving him money as Tyrone thinks Edmund is going to die. Tyrone is hurt by this comment, and Edmund inmediately regrets doing it and makes amend with his father. In the act IV he justifies his financial prudence to Edmund with the story of his terrible childhood. According to him, Jamie and Edmund do not understand it because money has never been a problem to them. However, he was abandoned by his father when he was little and had to work since a very young age. This made him understand the “value of a dollar” as he says and the importance of hard work, something that he thinks Jamie and Edmund lack.
The second problem is Edmund's sickness. Since the beginning of the play, it is implied that it is consumption. Later, in the Act III, it is confirmed. In order to cure himself, he has to go to a sanatorium. This revelation affects the whole family in a different way. Her mother, Mary, is unable to accept it, she keeps insisting it is only a “bad cold”, while the men let her lie to herself. Not even when Edmund tells her directly she believes it, instead she begins discrediting Doc Hardy. She claims that Edmund is just exaggerating his illness in order to get more attention. Nevertheless, along the play, she cannot help being worried about his heath and fearing Edmund's illness is consumption. According to her, this causes her to start again with her addiction. However, Edmund thinks she is just using it as an excuse. In the Act III, Mary suddenly bursts out that Edmund will die, just as her father did, but Tyrone assures her that he will be cured.
His father, Tyrone, does not want to pay an expensive sanatorium, as he, according to Jamie, thinks consumption is fatal and spending money trying to cure will be a waste of money. However, finally, Edmund and Tyrone agree in Edmund going to a more expensive sanatorium than the one Doc Hardy recommended. This conflict seems to be one of the few resolved in the play.
The third one is Mary's addiction to morphine. At the beginning of the play, we learn she has just come back from a treatment program, but as soon as she is back with his family, the addiction starts again. As with Edmund's sickness, she refuses to admit there is a problem, and neither of the men will confront her about that, even if they know that she has taken her addition again. This shows the communication problem the family has. Finally, Edmund tells her to quit morphine, which put Mary on the defensive, denying that she still uses it and then making excuses for herself. She admits that she is always lying to herself, and she says she can “no longer call my soul my own”. She hopes for redemption through the Virgin, however, she thinks that she cannot pray anymore because the Virgin will not listen to a “dope fiend”. To some extend, her religious faith seems like a new version of her drug.
At one point in the play, she narrates the origin of her addiction. After giving birth to Edmund, Mary suffered from childbirth pain. Tyrone hired Doc Hardy, who knowing no better way to cure her, prescribes her morphine. Mary blames Tyrone of what happened and accuses him of hiring the cheapest doctor, which causes her addiction. However, she also blames herself for breaking her vow of never have another baby after the death of Eugene, her second son, something that Tyrone insisted on doing in order to replace his loss. According to her, Edmund's weakness is God's punishment for having another child. Remembering the past, she feels guilty for not staying with Eugene, and instead going on the road with Tyrone to keep him company. She also accuses him for not providing her the ideal of home she wants as she hates the house they live in. She says she never liked the theater, she did not feel at home with the theater crowd. In fact, she hates Tyrone's idea of home because it reminds her of the death of Eugene, as he died when Mary was traveling with Tyrone. She blames herself for always doing what her husband wants and not fulfilling the dreams she had as a young girl: becoming a nun or a great pianist. She regrets marring Tyrone as that made her giving up her dreams. (However, later in the play, Tyrone says that Mary is deluding herself, that she did not have the willpower for being a nun or the talent for being a pianist.) It seems she blames Tyrone of every disgrace happened in her life. However, when he says that he loves her in the act III, she responds, “I love you dear, in spite of everything.” This is one of the many contradictions in the play. Despite all the suffering they have made to each other, they still keep themselves together, as a family, because they love each other. Because of this, they try to forgive each other, although they cannot forget.
Mary, of the four characters in the play, is the one who is more unable to forget the past. The more Mary uses morphine, the more she tends to delve back into the past. In fact, her addiction to drugs is partly caused by her desire to leave the present and come back to a time when she was happier and was full of hope. Indeed, she hates the present so much, that in the act III, she admits that she secretly hopes to overdose and die, but she cannot do it intentionally because suicide goes against her religious beliefs. In the last act, the excessive doses of morphine she takes do not kill her, but instead she falls into a mental state in which she cannot distinguish between the past and the present.
When Tyrone asks her to forget the past, she replies, “Why? How can I? The past is the present, isn't it? It's the future too. We all try to lie out of that but life won't let us.” Mary has a fatalistic view of life, which makes her think that most events are predetermined by the past and humans have little control over their own actions. She says to Edmund: “Jamie can't help what the past has made him. Any more than your father can. Or you. Or I.” Applying this view to herself, she removes the responsibility of her actions and mistakes, in this case, her addiction. According to this theory, she also thinks that the family would have been happier if they have lived in a real home. In addition, Mary's comment that “the past is the present” suggests the repetitive nature of life in the Tyrone family. The events of the past are repeated in the present, just as the events of each day are repeated in a cyclical fashion. Even the title Long Day's Journey into Night suggests that the day is not different from the others, it is just another day in the life of the family, only different because today they learn that Edmund has consumption.
The fourth problem is Jamie's lack of ambition in life. Tyrone frequently argues with him because of his laziness. Jamie has been expelled from several colleges and has failed to succeed at anything. He spends his money in alcohol and whores. Mary thinks Jamie was very intelligent before he started drinking and she blames Jamie's drinking on Tyrone, calling the Irish stupid drunks. Truth is, all men are addicted to alcohol. As Mary with morphine, they all drink to escape their problems. This cycle of alcoholism implies that this day is not different from the others, but it just one day more in the life of this disgraced family.
Mary says that Jamie is a “hopeless failure” and warns that he will drag down Edmund with him out of jealousy. The fact is that Jamie is not so bad as it would seem. He truly cares about her mother's addiction and he is also worried about Edmund. He even states that he loves him. However, what Mary says is true, as he himself admits that he has been a bad influence, and he says that he did it on purpose, because he has been always jealous of Edmund. He wants Edmund to fall along with him: “I'll do my damnedest to make you fall.”
The play ends on a note of resolution, that resolution comes from confessing the faults in order to make better the future. Firstly, Jamie warns Edmund to watch out for his jealousy, and before that, Tyrone admits his own stinginess and agrees to send Edmund to a high-class sanatorium in hopes of curing him. Thus, two of the major family conflicts are at least partially resolved by the end of the play.