Because Long Day’s Journey into Night is a play about addiction and vice, O’Neill is interested in the ways in which his characters conceive of their own predicaments. Although most of the members of the Tyrone family effectively deny their shortcomings by refusing to acknowledge their substance abuse problems, they also seemingly accept their addictions in a morbid, fatalistic way. For instance, James Tyrone technically claims he isn’t an alcoholic, but he has no problem fully embracing the lifestyle of a boozer, spending the majority of his time in bars and the lion’s share of his money on liquor. Similarly, Mary gives herself over to an opiated existence, one in which “reality is but an appearance to be accepted and dismissed unfeelingly.” This mentality—which enables a person to “dismiss” reality—is problematic because it keeps one from grappling with and fully acknowledging his or her troubles. This, it seems, is the kind of thinking that enables people like James and Mary to indulge their addictions. As such, their acceptance of this lifestyle is unhealthy and self-defeating, and is ultimately better described as a pessimistic resignation to fate. Whereas a true acceptance or acknowledgement of vice might empower a person to change the way he or she lives, this bleak embrace of the worst-case scenario only makes it harder for a person to improve him- or herself. By emphasizing the deleterious effects of this kind of thinking, then, O’Neill effectively shows the audience that fatalistic resignation leads to disempowerment.
Even though James Tyrone argues against anyone who insinuates that he’s an alcoholic, he throws himself with reckless abandon into the lifestyle of a drunkard. Constantly looking for an excuse to drink, he pours himself glasses of whiskey throughout the day until he’s almost too drunk to play cards with Edmund at midnight. In other words, he gives himself over to living like a drunk even as he refuses to admit he’s an alcoholic. There is, he seems to think, nothing to be done about his drinking, so he simply drowns himself in more alcohol. This pessimistic approach to addiction also brings itself to bear on the way he conceives of his wife’s morphine habit. In a conversation with his sons about Mary’s addiction, he concludes, “But what’s the use of talk? We’ve lived with this before and now we must again. There’s no help for it.” This notion that there is “no help” for addiction is exactly the kind of attitude he himself apparently embraces when it comes to his drinking, considering that he continues to pour himself large glasses of whiskey even as Mary and his sons criticize him for being an alcoholic. Simply put, he has resigned himself to a bleak reality, one in which he can go on drinking because he believes there’s no remedy or alternative choice.
Mary, for her part, also welcomes the fatalistic idea that there is “no help for” her addiction. In fact, the very act of relapsing is in and of itself one of resignation, since Mary relents and gives herself over to her vice despite knowing that doing so will undo the hard work she’s done to get sober. When James pleads with her to stop, she 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.” In this moment, she frames her addiction as something that no one can “understand” or “help.” She also suggests that “life has done” things to her and James that can’t be undone. In turn, she gives herself an excuse to live in a way that is blatantly self-destructive, portraying her situation as hopeless and unchangeable.
Like the rest of his family, Edmund also appears unwilling to take control of his addiction. However, he is perhaps the only member of the Tyrone clan who recognizes the harmful effects of resigning oneself to a bleak reality. In a conversation between James, Edmund, and Jamie about Mary’s relapse, James says, “I wish she hadn’t led me to hope this time. By God, I never will again!” This pessimistic outlook bothers Edmund, who replies, “That’s a rotten thing to say, Papa! Well, I’ll hope! She’s just started. It can’t have got a hold on her yet. She can still stop. I’m going to talk to her.” This is the hopeful perspective the rest of the Tyrones lack, a form of optimism that encourages Edmund to confront his mother rather than simply making a morbid kind of peace with the idea that she will succumb to her addiction. Rather than resigning himself to this dismal outcome, Edmund acknowledges that his mother is a morphine addict without plunging himself into helpless nihilism, and this is why he has the strength to try to help her.
However, everyone in Edmund’s life is so committed to their fatalistic outlooks that it’s unlikely he himself will ever be able to turn his optimistic proactiveness onto himself to address his own alcoholism. Indeed, in a conversation in which he criticizes his brother, his mother tells him, “[Jamie] can’t help being what the past has made him. Any more than your father can. Or you. Or I.” Under this interpretation, a person can do nothing to change him- or herself, and it is this idea that is responsible for Edmund’s inability to quit drinking. Indeed, he recognizes the danger of resigning oneself to fate, but he doesn’t have the power to face his own troubles. He has, it seems, internalized his family’s pessimistic worldview, rendering him incapable of improving himself. In turn, O’Neill illustrates how difficult it is to fight against apathy and resignation, especially when a person is surrounded by people who don’t believe in meaningful change.
Fatalism and Resignation ThemeTracker
Fatalism and Resignation Quotes in Long Day’s Journey into Night
Because he’s always sneering at someone else, always looking for the worst weakness in everyone.
Then with a strange, abrupt change to a detached, impersonal tone.
But I suppose life has made him like that, and he can’t help it. None of us can help the things life has done to us. They’re done before you realize it, and once they’re done they make you do other things until at last everything comes between you and what you’d like to be, and you’ve lost your true self forever.
The family are returning from lunch as the curtain rises. Mary is the first to enter from the back parlor. Her husband follows. He is not with her as he was in the similar entrance after breakfast at the opening of Act One. He avoids touching her or looking at her. There is condemnation in his face, mingled now with the beginning of an old weary, helpless resignation. Jamie and Edmund follow their father. Jamie’s face is hard with defensive cynicism. Edmund tries to copy this defense but without success. He plainly shows he is heartsick as well as physically ill.
You ought to be kicked out in the gutter! But if I did it, you know damned well who’d weep and plead for you, and excuse you and complain till I let you come back.
A spasm of pain crosses his face.
Christ, don’t I know that? No pity? I have all the pity in the world for her. I understand what a hard game to beat she’s up against— which is more than you ever have! My lingo didn’t mean I had no feeling. I was merely putting bluntly what we all know, and have to live with now, again.
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!
It was my fault. I should have insisted on staying with Eugene and not have let you persuade me to join you, just because I loved you. Above all, I shouldn’t have let you insist I have another baby to take Eugene’s place, because you thought that would make me forget his death. I knew from experience by then that children should have homes to be born in, if they are to be good children, and women need homes, if they are to be good mothers. I was afraid all the time I carried Edmund. I knew something terrible would happen. I knew I’d proved by the way I’d left Eugene that I wasn’t worthy to have another baby, and that God would punish me if I did. I never should have borne Edmund.
But some day, dear, I will find it again—some day when you’re all well, and I see you healthy and happy and successful, and I don’t have to feel guilty any more—some day when the Blessed Virgin Mary forgives me and gives me back the faith in Her love and pity I used to have in my convent days, and I can pray to Her again— when She sees no one in the world can believe in me even for a moment any more, then She will believe in me, and with Her help it will be so easy. I will hear myself scream with agony, and at the same time I will laugh because I will be so sure of myself.
It wasn’t the fog I minded, Cathleen. I really love fog.
It hides you from the world and the world from you. You feel that everything has changed, and nothing is what it seemed to be. No one can find or touch you anymore.
It’s the foghorn I hate. It won’t let you alone. It keeps reminding you, and warning you, and calling you back.
She smiles strangely.
But it can’t tonight.
You’re a sentimental fool. What is so wonderful about that first meeting between a silly romantic schoolgirl and a matinee idol? You were much happier before you knew he existed, in the Convent when you used to pray to the Blessed Virgin.
If I could only find the faith I lost, so I could pray again!
She pauses—then begins to recite the Hail Mary in a flat, empty tone.
“Hail, Mary, full of grace! The Lord is with Thee; blessed art Thou among women.”
You expect the Blessed Virgin to be fooled by a lying dope fiend reciting words! You can’t hide from her!
She springs to her feet. Her hands fly up to pat her hair distractedly.
I must go upstairs. I haven’t taken enough. When you start again you never know exactly how much you need.
Tyrone is seated at the table. He wears his pince-nez, and is playing solitaire. He has taken off his coat and has on an old brown dressing gown. The whiskey bottle on the tray is three-quarters empty. There is a fresh full bottle on the table, which he has brought from the cellar so there will be an ample reserve at hand. He is drunk and shows it by the owlish, deliberate manner in which he peers at each card to make certain of its identity, and then plays it as if he wasn’t certain of his aim. His eyes have a misted, oily look and his mouth is slack. But despite all the whiskey in him, he has not escaped, and he looks as he appeared at the close of the preceding act, a sad, defeated old man, possessed by hopeless resignation.
The fog was where I wanted to be. Halfway down the path you can’t see this house. You’d never know it was here. Or any of the other places down the avenue. I couldn’t see but a few feet ahead. I didn’t meet a soul. Everything looked and sounded unreal. Nothing was what it is. That’s what I wanted—to be alone with myself in another world where truth is untrue and life can hide from itself. Out beyond the harbor, where the road runs along the beach, I even lost the feeling of being on land. The fog and the sea seemed part of each other. It was like walking on the bottom of the sea. As if I had drowned long ago. As if I was a ghost belonging to the fog, and the fog was the ghost of the sea. It felt damned peaceful to be nothing more than a ghost within a ghost.
He sees his father staring at him with mingled worry and irritated disapproval. He grins mockingly.
Don’t look at me as if I’d gone nutty. I’m talking sense. Who wants
to see life as it is, if they can help it?
I lay on the bowsprit, facing astern, with the water foaming into spume under me, the masts with every sail white in the moonlight, towering high above me. I became drunk with the beauty and singing rhythm of it, and for a moment I lost myself—actually lost my life. I was set free! I dissolved in the sea, became white sails and flying spray, became beauty and rhythm, became moonlight and the ship and the high dim-starred sky! I belonged, without past or future, within peace and unity and a wild joy, within something greater than my own life, or the life of Man, to Life itself! To God, if you want to put it that way. Then another time, on the American Line, when I was lookout on the crow’s nest in the dawn watch. A calm sea, that time. Only a lazy ground swell and a slow drowsy roll of the ship. The passengers asleep and none of the crew in sight. No sound of man. Black smoke pouring from the funnels behind and beneath me. Dreaming, not keeping lookout, feeling alone, and above, and apart, watching the dawn creep like a painted dream over the sky and sea which slept together. Then the moment of ecstatic freedom came. The peace, the end of the quest, the last harbor, the joy of belonging to a fulfillment beyond men’s lousy, pitiful, greedy fears and hopes and dreams!
It was a great mistake, my being born a man, I would have been much more successful as a seagull or a fish. As it is, I will always be a stranger who never feels at home, who does not really want and is not really wanted, who can never belong, who must always be a little in love with death!
I suppose it’s because I feel so damned sunk. Because this time Mama had me fooled. I really believed she had it licked. She thinks I always believe the worst, but this time I believed the best.
His voice flutters.
I suppose I can’t forgive her—yet. It meant so much. I’d begun to hope, if she’d beaten the game, I could, too.
He begins to sob, and the horrible part of his weeping is that it appears sober, not the maudlin tears of drunkenness.
Looking around her.
Something I need terribly. I remember when I had it I was never lonely nor afraid. I can’t have lost it forever, I would die if I thought that. Because then there would be no hope.
She moves like a sleepwalker, around the back of Jamie's chair, then forward toward left front, passing behind Edmund.
Turns impulsively and grabs her arm. As he pleads he has the quality of a bewilderedly hurt little boy.
Mama! It isn’t a summer cold! I’ve got consumption!
For a second he seems to have broken through to her. She trembles and her expression becomes terrified. She calls distractedly, as if giving a command to herself.
And instantly she is far away again. She murmurs gently but impersonally.
You must not try to touch me. You must not try to hold me. It isn’t right, when I am hoping to be a nun.
He lets his hand drop from her arm.