Long Day’s Journey into Night

by

Eugene O’Neill

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Long Day’s Journey into Night: Act Two, Scene Two Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
It is half an hour later, and the Tyrone family has just finished lunch. Mary is once again incredibly nervous, “as if the strain of sitting through lunch with [her family] ha[s] been too much for her.” And yet, she is also even more “aloof” than she was before. As they enter the parlor, she is speaking without paying attention to her words, complaining about the servants and saying that this summer home isn’t really a home. “No, it never can be now,” James says. “But it was once, before you—” Mary interrupts, “Before I what?” Then there is a long silence, which she eventually breaks by insisting that her husband is wrong: the summer house has never home because he has spent the majority of his time in bars and clubs. Indeed, he has left her alone on many nights in cheap hotels.
The fact of the matter is that not very much actually happens in Long Day’s Journey into Night. The characters have the same arguments in the same place, and the only thing that truly changes is that they all become increasingly inebriated as time goes on. However, this is exactly the point of the play: O’Neill is interested in exploring the ways in which these family members—who do indeed love each other—can’t avoid the same old disputes. When Mary and James come onstage in Act Two, Scene Two, then, it’s unsurprising to hear them bickering about Mary’s relapse and about James’s cheapness. What’s important, of course, is not necessarily the points they’re making, but the cyclical way that they circulate between blaming one another and denying their own shortcomings.
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Switching tracks, Mary tells Edmund she’s worried about him because he didn’t eat lunch, and he sullenly promises he’ll eat more in the future. Just then, the phone rings, and James steps into the hall to answer it, lying by saying he’s expecting a call from McGuire. “He must have another piece of property on his list that no one would think of buying except your father,” Mary says to her boys. “It doesn’t matter any more, but it’s always seemed to me your father could afford to keep on buying property but never to give me a home.” From the hall, James can be heard saying hello to Doctor Hardy. In a sad voice, he concludes his conversation and returns. “That didn’t sound like glad tidings,” Edmund says, but James simply tells him that the doctor wanted to remind Edmund to see him at four in the afternoon.
While Mary complains about James’s unwillingness to provide her with a real home, she says, “It doesn’t matter anymore.” This is a noteworthy phrase, since it shows that she has given up on trying to get what she wants. This is partly because she thinks she’ll never be able to change James, but it’s also because she’s using drugs again. As such, she doesn’t care very much about the things that used to bother her.
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Mary uses this opportunity to say she doesn’t trust Doctor Hardy because he’s so cheap, suggesting that the only reason James likes him is because he’s inexpensive. “He understands nothing!” she says. “And yet it was exactly the same type of cheap quack who first gave you the medicine—and you never knew what it was until too late! I hate doctors!” When she’s finished with this tirade, Edmund tells her to stop talking, and she apologizes for being angry. “I’m going upstairs for a moment, if you’ll excuse me. I have to fix my hair,” she says. “Mary!” James says, desperately. “Yes, dear? What is it?” she answers. “You’re welcome to come up and watch me if you’re so suspicious.” In response, James says, “As if that could do any good! You’d only postpone it.” 
When Mary references the doctor who “first gave” James “the medicine,” she hints at the fact that James hired a cheap doctor who gave them the very medication to which she would eventually become addicted. In doing so, she subtly blames him for her entire addiction, which is why Edmund tells her to stop talking. 
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“Another shot in the arm!” Jamie says once his mother has gone upstairs, and Edmund tells him to “cut out that kind of talk.” Even his father tells him not to be so harsh, but Jamie insists that what he said didn’t mean he doesn’t empathize with her. “I was merely putting bluntly what we all know, and have to live with now, again,” he says. “The cures are no damned good except for a while. The truth is there is no cure and we’ve been saps to hope—They never come back!”
Jamie wants to be “blunt” about the fact that Mary has relapsed, most likely because he has seen how futile it is to deny such matters. However, instead of empowering him, this acknowledgement of Mary’s relapse only leads him toward resignation, causing him to believe there’s nothing that will ever save his mother from her addiction. This, it should be noted, is hardly better than denial itself, since both emotional approaches fail to address the problem at hand.
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Edmund scolds Jamie for his pessimistic attitude. In turn, Jamie says that Edmund isn’t so optimistic himself, pointing out that the young man loves morbid poetry and philosophy. At this point, James interrupts and says that both their lifestyles pale in comparison to religious devotion, though he himself is a bad Catholic. Still, he upholds that Mary might have been able to beat her addiction if she hadn’t “denied her faith.” “But what’s the good of talk?” he says after a moment. “We’ve lived with this before and now we must again. There’s no help for it. Only I wish she hadn’t led me to hope this time. By God, I never will again!”
Like Jamie, James has given himself over resignation. Although he implies that he thinks religious faith might have the power to help him and his wife, this belief is clearly not strong enough to convince him that Mary will ever be able to stop using drugs. “There’s no help for it,” he says, vowing never to “hope” again.
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Once more, Edmund takes issue with his family members’ pessimism, suggesting that they shouldn’t give up on Mary. “She can still stop,” he says. “I’m going to talk to her.” “You can’t talk to her now,” Jamie says, and his father agrees, adding, “Every day from now on, there’ll be the same drifting away from us until by the end of each night—.” Cutting him off, Edmund tells him to be quiet. “I’m going to get dressed,” he says. “I’ll make so much noise she can’t suspect I’ve come to spy on her.” He then stomps upstairs.
In this moment, the name of the play begins to make sense. Indeed, James says that—from now on—Mary will drift away throughout the day, getting higher and higher until she’s essentially unresponsive by night’s end. This, it seems, is the “long day’s journey into night.” And though Edmund most likely has witnessed this before (alongside James and Jamie), he refuses to resign himself to this fate.
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“What did Doc Hardy say about the Kid?” Jamie asks his father once they’re alone. When his father tells him that Edmund does indeed have consumption, Jamie is distraught, realizing that his brother will have to go to a sanatorium. James agrees, saying that Hardy told him Edmund will be cured in six months to a year “if he obeys orders.” He then tells James that he’s meeting Hardy later that afternoon to talk about where to send his son. “Well, for God’s sake, pick out a good place and not some cheap dump!” Jamie says, urging his father not to tell Hardy he wants to save money. “I’m no millionaire who can throw money away!” James replies.
Despite the fact that James must know his reputation as a cheapskate, he can’t help but try to save a dollar. Indeed, even when it comes to sending Edmund to a sanatorium, he insists that he can’t “throw money away.” On another note, this is one of the few straightforward conversations that take place in Long Day’s Journey into Night, as both James and Jamie find themselves capable of talking about Edmund’s illness without denying the severity of the situation.
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After their conversation about the sanatorium, Jamie and James decide that Jamie ought to accompany Edmund to Hardy’s, though James warns him against using the outing as an excuse to go drinking. Pointing out that he doesn’t have money to spend at a bar, Jamie leaves to get dressed, and Mary enters once more and asks her husband if he’s seen her glasses. O’Neill’s stage note indicates that her eyes look even brighter than before, and her “manner is more detached.” When Jamie tells her that he hasn’t seen her glasses, she asks what’s the matter with Jamie, and before waiting for answer, says that he would have been better off if he’d been raised “in a real home.” Moving on, she notes that it’s going to be foggy again that night. “Oh, well,” she adds. “I won’t mind it tonight.” 
Once again, Mary reveals her resignation, which has come about as a result of her relapse. Whereas the fog bothered her before she started using drugs, now she says that she “won’t mind it.” In turn, the audience understands—in a certain way—why she had so much trouble refraining from relapsing in the first place.
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When James starts to leave for his “appointment at the Club,” Mary tries to stop him, saying she doesn’t want to be alone. She then says she’s glad Jamie’s accompanying Edmund to Hardy’s, though she knows he’ll be drunk when he returns—which, she points out, James probably will be, too. “I won’t,” he says defensively. “I never get drunk.” Proudly, he reminds her he’s never missed a performance in his entire life. At the same time, he points out that if anyone ever had a good reason to get drunk, it would be him. “Reason?” Mary responds. “What reason?” After this exchange, James finally gets up to leave, and as he does so, he tells Mary she ought to go on a drive.
This conversation is rife with denial and blame. First, James claims that he never gets drunk. This is clearly a lie, considering the fact that he has already been drinking whiskey rather steadily and it’s only the afternoon. When this denial fails, he tries to blame Mary for his drinking problem, suggesting that he’s an alcoholic because drinking helps him deal with her addiction. In turn, Mary denies that she gives him a “reason” to drink, pretending that she hasn’t relapsed. As such, O’Neill once again shows the audience the cycle of denial and blame that the Tyrones use in order to avoid taking responsibility for their actions. 
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Mary tells James that she doesn’t like driving around in the car, making it clear that his attempt to please her by buying an automobile when she returned from her last sanatorium stay was in vain. Nonetheless, she appreciated his effort, and says, “I knew buying the car was a hard thing for you to do, and it proved how much you loved me, in your way, especially when you couldn’t really believe it would do me any good.” In turn, James breaks down and pleads with his wife, saying, “Mary! Dear Mary! For the love of God, for my sake and the boys’ sake and your own, won’t you stop now?” At first, this appeal reaches her core, but then she says, “Stop what? What are you talking about?”
There are several moments throughout Long Day’s Journey into Night when the characters are capable of expressing themselves without animosity. This is one of them. As James listens to his wife speak pessimistically—saying, “you couldn’t really believe [a car] would do me any good”—he suddenly finds himself incapable of keeping up the vicious cycle of blame that normally characterizes their conversations. Instead, he tries to connect with her on an emotional level. Unfortunately, though, she only pretends she doesn’t know what he’s talking about, and so his attempt at earnestness goes to waste.
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In another reversal, Mary suddenly says, “James! We’ve loved each other! We always will! Let’s remember only that, and not try to understand what we cannot understand, or help things that cannot be helped—the things life has done to us we cannot excuse or explain.” James, for his part, takes this to mean that Mary won’t “even try” to “stop.”
Only moments ago, James tried to appeal to Mary’s emotional side, but she refused to connect with him on this level. Now, she herself attempts to evoke their love as a way of bridging the distance between them. Unfortunately, though, this attempt is a strategic way of convincing him to resign himself to the reality of her addiction. As such, he remains unmoved by her appeal.
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Changing the subject, Mary remarks how lonely she is, maintaining that taking a drive in the car will do nothing to assuage this feeling. “At the Convent I had so many friends,” she says. “Girls whose families lived in lovely homes. I used to visit them and they’d visit me in my father’s home. But, naturally, after I married an actor—you know how actors were considered in those days—a lot of them gave me the cold shoulder.” Then, out of the blue, she remembers that she does need to go on a drive. “There’s something I must get at the drugstore,” she says.
During this moment of reminiscence, Mary shows the audience that she has romanticized the past. Speaking wistfully about her time in the convent, she suggests that she felt a sense of belonging as a young girl—something she hasn’t been able to recapture in her adult life. In turn, she uses her nostalgia and regret about the past as yet another excuse to dull herself to her present reality, which is why she suddenly remembers that she needs to go to stock up on more drugs. 
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“Leave it to you to have some of the stuff hidden, and prescriptions for more!” James says to Mary. “I hope you’ll lay in a good stock ahead so we’ll never have another night like the one when you screamed for it, and ran out of the house in your nightdress half crazy, to try and throw yourself off the dock!” Then, when he sees how badly this remark hurts his wife, he begs for her forgiveness, but she only tells him it doesn’t matter. “Nothing like that ever happened. You must have dreamed it,” she says.
When James references the time when Mary “ran out of the house in [her] nightdress” and was “half crazy” because she needed more drugs, O’Neill lets the audience in on the embattled past the Tyrone family has undergone as a result of Mary’s addiction. However, Mary remains unwilling to admit her own shortcomings, eventually telling her husband that he “must have dreamed” this situation.
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“I was so healthy before Edmund was born,” Mary continues. “You remember, James. There wasn’t a nerve in my body. Even traveling with you season after season, with week after week of one-night stands, in trains without Pullmans, in dirty rooms of filthy hotels, eating bad food, bearing children in hotel rooms, I still kept healthy. But bearing Edmund was the last straw. I was so sick afterwards, and that ignorant quack of a cheap hotel doctor—All he knew was I was in pain. It was easy for him to stop the pain.” At this point, James begs his wife to stop rehashing the past, but she says, “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.”
As Mary relives the past, she underhandedly implies that Edmund’s birth is the reason she has become a drug addict. What’s more, she guilt-trips James for never giving her a true home, suggesting that this made her especially prone to hardship. Then, when she tells James that “the past is the present” and “the future,” she emphasizes her fatalistic mindset, insisting that “life won’t let” her stop being the person the “past” has turned her into.
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Still reminiscing about the past, Mary thinks about her and James’s second son, Eugene, who died as a baby. “I swore after Eugene died I would never have another baby,” she says to James. “I was to blame for his death. If I hadn’t left him with my mother to join you on the road, because you wrote telling me you missed me and were so lonely, Jamie would never have been allowed, when he still had measles, to go in the baby’s room. I always believed Jamie did it on purpose. He was jealous of the baby. He hated him. Oh, I know Jamie was only seven, but he was never stupid. He’d been warned it might kill the baby. He knew. I’ve never been able to forgive him for that.”
Characteristically, Mary tries in this moment to blame others for the extreme hardship she has had to endure. First, she not-so-subtlety implies that James was wrong to invite her “on the road” with him. This, of course, is a very cruel thing to say. After all, James only wanted to be with Mary because he missed her—hardly a sentiment he deserves to be punished for. Moving on, Mary then blames Jamie for killing Eugene on purpose, and although she knows he was only a small boy—and thus understands, on some level, that her accusation is inherently ridiculous—she decides to blame him anyway.
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Just then, Edmund enters and tells his parents he’s about to leave for Doctor Hardy’s, mentioning that he doesn’t have money for carfare. Feeling sorry for the boy, James reaches into his pocket and gives him ten dollars—much more than he ever lends his sons. “Did Doc Hardy tell you I was going to die?” Edmund jokes, but when he sees his father’s face, he says, “No! That’s a rotten crack. I was only kidding, Papa.” Shortly thereafter, his father leaves and his mother advances upon him. Having heard his joke, she yells at him for spewing “morbid nonsense.” She then tries to convince him to stay home with her so that she can care for him, but he reminds her he has an appointment.
Edmund’s joke to his father is unsettling because it touches upon the bleak reality that he is indeed in danger of dying, since consumption was at the time a potentially life-threatening condition. However, he only says this as a joke, and his father is able to accept that. Mary, on the other hand, can’t bear to hear such “morbid nonsense.” This is because she is determined to deny the possibility that Edmund has anything more than a “summer cold.”
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Edmund tries to level with Mary, reminding her that she’s “only just started” again, and saying, “You can still stop. You’ve got the will power!” Unfortunately, though, Mary only asks him not to talk about things he doesn’t “understand.” What’s more, she points out that the doctors warned her after she left the sanatorium that nothing at home should upset her. “All I’ve done is worry about you,” she says, but she immediately follows this up by saying, “But that’s no excuse! I’m only trying to explain. It’s not an excuse!” 
When Mary brings up her doctor’s advice to avoid stressful situations, she implies that Edmund’s illness is the reason for her relapse. Once again, then, she tries to blame others for her own troubles. However, she immediately feels remorseful about saying this, taking it back and admitting that she’s only making excuses for herself.
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“I’ve become such a liar,” Mary admits. “I never lied about anything once upon a time. Now I have to lie, especially to myself. But how can you understand, when I don’t myself. I’ve never understood anything about it, except that one day long ago I found I could no longer call my soul my own.” Hearing herself say this, she says she’ll find her soul again someday, when the rest of her family is “healthy and happy and successful” and she doesn’t “feel guilty” anymore. Longing for the innocence of her days in the convent, she waxes poetic about the Blessed Virgin Mary, hoping someday she’ll be able to pray to her again. Pulling herself out of this reverie, she looks out the window and says, “Now I think of it, you might as well go uptown. I forgot I’m taking a drive. I have to go to the drugstore.” 
Once again, Mary romanticizes her past life, which she spent as a young woman in a convent. Indeed, she thinks that finding religious salvation would give her the strength necessary to beat her addiction. She suggests that praying would help her with her troubles, but it’s worth noting that there’s nothing stopping her from getting back in touch with her faith. In fact, the only thing keeping her from committing herself once more to the Virgin Mary is her preoccupation with her addiction. In keeping with this, she suddenly remembers that she needs to go get more drugs, dropping her considerations of the past in order to pursue yet another high.
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Before Edmund leaves, Mary tells him not to give any of the money James lent him to Jamie, who will spend it on alcohol. She then asks him to promise to refrain from drinking, which is dangerous given his condition. When he finally leaves, she looks about the room nervously. “It’s so lonely here,” she says to herself before adding, “You’re lying to yourself again. You wanted to get rid of them. Their contempt and disgust aren’t pleasant company. You’re glad they’re gone.” Then, with a laugh, she says, “Then Mother of God, why do I feel so lonely?”
Mary’s conversation with herself spotlights her internal discord. On the one hand, she is sad when her family members leave her alone, saying, “It’s so lonely here.” On the other hand, though, she admits that she actively enjoys their absence, since this means she can go about her opiated existence without having to consider the fact that she’s hurting them. In turn, she finds herself conflicted between her feelings of love and loneliness and her desire to live without judgement. 
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