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Eugene O’Neill’s The Hairy Ape: An Expressionistic Study

Author WangWei
Tutor LvChangFa
School Henan University
Course English Language and Literature
Keywords Expressionism Hairy Ape O'Neill Psychological externalization American Drama Acoustics Internal monolog German Expressionism Subjectivity Inner world
Type Master's thesis
Year 2003
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Expressionism is an important literary movement in 20th-century literary history. It originated in painting and then influenced novel, poetry and drama and sweeps quickly through Russia, Sweden, Czeck, Germany and America etc. But it made the greatest achievement in drama. Eugene O’Neill is the most outstanding representative of expressionist dramatists in the United States of America. The Hairy Ape is the representative of his expressionist plays. The protagonist of the play, Yank, is a stoker on a liner. He is considered the "most highly developed individual" because of his strength and superiority. Yank is also satisfied with his present condition. However, his encounter with Douglas Mildred, the daughter of the liner’s owner’s, who labels Yank as "the filthy beast," destroys his inner calmness. Yank feels insulted in his heart. Since then, he starts his painful experience of seeking his "belonging" and social identity. But each time his attempt proves futile and each time he takes a further step towards death. He is driven from his confidence in his strength to frustration, to despair, and to death. Yank is finally killed in the hug by the ape. The primary features of expressionism are: emphasis on subjectivity, emphasis on abstraction, and the use of various kinks of expressionistic<WP=10>techniques such as dream, chorus effect, interior monologue, etc. By using these techniques, Eugene O’Neill enables the audience to see Yank’s inner mind. His feelings are externalized on the stage. This thesis, through an introduction to expressionism and Eugene O’Neill, attempts to analyze in detail the expressionistic devices used in The Hairy Ape and show how O’Neill expresses Yank’s depress, frustration, inner pain and bewilderment in his process of searching for his identity and his position in the social ladder, thus deepening our understanding of the theme "alienation." This paper consists of four chapters. Chapter 1 first introduces the origin and development and background of Expressionism, pointing out that Germany is the center of Expressionism and its appearance has its cultural and social background, and then describes people and ideas influencing Expressionism, especially Nietzsche’s emphasis on will and self-awareness, self-realization etc can be traced in the subjectivity of Expressionism. Finally, this part introduces its primary characteristics. Chapter 2 tells about Eugene O’Neill’s life and his writing career and his contribution to American drama. O’Neill has a very rich life experience, which provides him ample materials for his later writings. His contributions to American drama include two points: first, he made American drama a serious one; second, he is a bold experimenter, not only with dramatic skills and techniques, but also with contents and forms.<WP=11>Following that, this part introduces O’Neill’s artistic credo and expressionistic influence received. Chapter 3 is the main part of the paper, which analyzes in detail the expressionistic techniques used in each scene of the play, pointing out that by using such devices as expressionistic setting, sound effect, chorus, masks, interior monologue, symbols, contrasts etc, Eugene O’Neill presents Yank’s inner and psychological activities to the audience: his restlessness, his pain, his frustration, his despair and thus O’Neill’s "alienation" theme is well embodied in this play. Chapter 4 is conclusion, summarizing the main points of this paper, and making a brief analysis of the structure of the play.

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