The next evening, Yank makes his way to the “monkey house” at the Central Park Zoo. In the foremost cage sits an enormous gorilla, who is in the position of Rodin’s “The Thinker.” As Yank enters, “a chorus of angry chattering and screeching breaks out” from the many surrounding monkeys, though the gorilla barely looks up. Going to his cage, Yank begins to speak to him in a casual voice with “a deep undercurrent of sympathy,” saying that he’s a “hard-lookin’ guy.” As if he can understand, the gorilla stands and beats his chest. “Sure, I get yuh,” Yank says appreciatively. “Yuh challenge de whole woild, huh?” He then says that the gorilla understands what he’s saying even if he doesn’t quite understand the words themselves. “And why wouldn’t yuh get me?” he adds. “Ain’t we both members of de same club—de Hairy Apes?”
Yank has finally decided to fully accept the idea that he is a “hairy ape.” This is, of course, a ridiculous thing to think about oneself, but Yank feels so alienated from the rest of humanity that he simply resigns himself to the idea. As such, his stupidity combines with his need to belong, ultimately driving him to the zoo and inspiring him to try to talk to a gorilla, who he believes understands him because they have had similar experiences in life. The fact that Yanks journey has taken him away from the ship—where he actually felt a sense of belonging—and led him to this miserable end demonstrates the tragic effect that vanity can have on a person’s sense of self. After all, if Yank wasn’t so hell-bent on taking revenge on Mildred in order to prove his self-worth, then he would have stayed on the ocean liner and would still be leading a happy—albeit naïve—existence.
Looking at the gorilla, Yank considers the idea that this is what Mildred imagined when she saw him in the stokehole. “I was you to her, get me?” he says. “On’y outa de cage—broke out—free to moider her, see? […] She wasn’t wise dat I was in a cage, too—worser’n yours—sure—a damn sight—’cause you got some chanct to bust loose—but me—” Faltering for a moment, he grows confused and says, “Aw, hell! It’s all wrong, ain’t it?”
Even though Yank would be happier if he had stayed on the ocean liner instead of trying to prove himself, it’s worth pointing out that he has at least become capable of recognizing the nature of his own oppression. This is clear when he admits that he was in a metaphorical “cage” when he was working as a stoker. As such, O’Neill intimates that Yank has become somewhat enlightened. However, he doesn’t have anybody with whom he can talk about these ideas, and so he finds himself floundering and confused. “Aw, hell! It’s all wrong, ain’t it?” he says, a sentiment that indicates that his intellectual awakening has perhaps troubled him more than it has liberated him.
Frustrated that people like Mildred visit the zoo to gape at the gorilla, Yank hits the cage, which prompts the gorilla to shake the bars and roar alongside him. “Dat’s de way it hits me, too,” Yank says. “On’y yuh’re lucky, see? Yuh don’t’ belong wit ’em and yuh know it. But me, I belong wit ’em—but I don’t, see? Dey don’t belong wit me, dat’s what. Get me?” Pausing once again, he says, “Tinkin’ is hard.” Going on, he looks at the gorilla and says, “You belong! Sure! Yuh’re de on’y one in de woild dat does, yuh lucky stiff!” The gorilla roars at this, and Yank says, “Sure! Yuh get me.”
In this moment, Yank expresses exasperation regarding the fact that he can’t find a sense of belonging in society. Unlike the gorilla—whom he envies because the creature doesn’t have to pretend to “belong” with the humans who oppress him—Yank is expected to fit into a world that is rigged against him. Of course, what he fails to recognize is that he hasn’t always been so out of place, since he was widely accepted by his peers in the stokehole.
Maintaining that he and the gorilla belong to the same “club,” Yank decides to let the creature out of its cage. Asking the gorilla if he wants to “git even,” he says, “Dey’ll have to make de cages stronger after we’re trou!” With this, he opens the cage door and lets the gorilla out. Once the animal isn’t in its cage anymore, it looks at Yank, who holds out his hand for a handshake, but the gorilla takes him in his “huge arms” and squeezes him in a “murderous hug” that cracks his ribs. “The gorilla lets the crushed body slip to the floor,” O’Neill’s stage note reads, “stands over it uncertainly, considering; then picks it up, throws it in the cage, shuts the door, and shuffles off menacingly into the darkness at left.”
Yank’s quest to find a sense of belonging—which began as a quest to prove himself to people like Mildred—appropriately ends in a gorilla’s cage. This is a perfect representation of his inability to fit into society. Too unintelligent and aggressive to safely navigate his way through the world, he seeks camaraderie with an animal that is incapable of showing him affection. The fact that he goes from the metaphorical “cage” of capitalist exploitation to an actual cage suggests that he has achieved nothing. In fact, he has regressed since the beginning of the play—whereas the nature of his imprisonment was chiefly abstract when he worked in the stokehole, now he is literally trapped in a cage. As such, it’s clear that he would have been better off if he’d remained on the ocean liner, even if this existence kept him from recognizing his own oppression. After all, he’s now capable of identifying the ways in which capitalism has suppressed him, but this realization has only brought him sadness, misery, and a feeling of helplessness.
From the floor of the closed cage, Yank says, “Even him didn’t tink I belonged.” As the monkeys around him begin to screech, he desperately says, “Christ, where do I get off at? Where do I fit in?” Then, as if hearing himself, he decides to fight the pain and, standing up with his hands clutching the bars of the cage, forces a laugh. “Ladies and gents,” he says in a false tone, “step forward and take a slant at de one and only—one and original—Hairy Ape from de wilds of—” With this, he crumbles to the ground and dies. “The monkeys set up a chattering, whimpering wail,” writes O’Neill. “And, perhaps, the Hairy Ape at last belongs.”
When O’Neill suggests that “the Hairy Ape at last belongs,” he alludes to the fact that Yank was never capable of fitting into society when he was alive. As such, his death offers him the only sense of belonging he might ever hope to experience, essentially putting him out of his misery and sparing him from an exploitative world that is unable to accommodate him.