The Hairy Ape

by

Eugene O’Neill

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The Hairy Ape: Scene Six Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
The following night, Yank sits in a jail cell in the position of Rodin’s “The Thinker.” His bruised face is framed by a “blood-stained bandage” wrapped around his head, and as he looks at the bars of the cell, he says, “Steel. Dis is de Zoo, huh?” This statement elicits laughter from a number of unseen prisoners in neighboring cells, who all make fun of Yank for thinking the jail is the zoo. “I musta been dreamin’. I tought I was in a cage at de Zoo,” he says. “But de apes don’t talk, do dey?” The other prisoners then ask him who he is, urging him to tell them his story. “I was a fireman,” he says, “stokin’ on de liners. I’m a hairy ape, get me? And I’ll bust youse all in de jaw if yuh don’t lay off kiddin’ me.”
Despite the fact that his violent proclivities have landed him in jail, Yank once again resorts to aggression when met with adversity, this time threatening his fellow prisoners when they laugh at his stupidity. What’s more, the audience sees that he is slowly beginning to internalize the notion that he is a “hairy ape.” Whereas this idea originally threw him into a blind rage, now he says, “I’m a hairy ape,” strangely accepting this as part of his identity even as he struggles with it.
Themes
Pride, Identity, and Belonging Theme Icon
Aggression and Stupidity Theme Icon
After the other prisoners shout back at Yank for threatening them, one of them tells everybody to calm down and again asks Yank why he’s in jail. “Sure, I’ll tell youse,” Yank says. “Sure! Why de hell not? On’y—youse won’t get me. Nobody gets me but me, see? I started to tell de Judge and all he says was: ‘Toity days to tink it over.’ ’Tink it over! Christ, dat’s all I been doin’ for weeks!” Going on, he explains that he was trying to get even with Mildred. He describes her white dress and says that if he can’t find her specifically, he’ll “take it out on de gang she runs wit.” He tells the prisoners that Mildred’s father is a millionaire whose last name is Douglas. “Douglas?” says another inmate. “That’s the president of the Steel Trust, I bet.”
When Yank says that “nobody gets” him, it becomes clear that he feels like an outcast. Removed from his exalted position in the stokehole, he feels alienated from the world and utterly alone. What’s more, the fact that he can’t “think” through his problems only makes his lonely existence even worse. 
Themes
Pride, Identity, and Belonging Theme Icon
Aggression and Stupidity Theme Icon
A prisoner in a nearby cell says, “Hey, feller, take a tip from me. If you want to get back at that dame, you better join the Wobblies.” By way of explanation, he tells Yank about this “gang of blokes” that he read about in the newspaper. “There’s a long spiel about ’em,” he says. “It’s from a speech made in the Senate.” Rummaging in his cell, he finds the paper and quotes the article, saying, “There is a menace existing in this country today which threatens the vitals of our fair republic—a foul menace against the very life-blood of the American Eagle […]. I refer to that devil’s brew of rascals, jailbirds, murderers and cutthroats who libel all honest working men by calling themselves the Industrial Workers of the World; but in the light of their nefarious plots, I call them the Industrious Wreckers of the World!”
The Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) is a labor union that was established in the United States in 1905. The IWW pushed for the unionization of industrial workers, attempting to organize these laborers to take a stand against exploitative working conditions. In this scene, the prisoner quotes from a newspaper that has reprinted a speech by a senator warning his fellow politicians of the dangers that such an organization poses to the structures of capitalism. It’s worth noting that this organization represents the kind of thinking that Long has already tried to introduce to Yank. However, this article frames the IWW as menaces—a notion that is likely to appeal to somebody like Yank, who wants first and foremost to take revenge on people like Mildred.
Themes
Exploitation, Oppression, and the Individual Theme Icon
Progress and Happiness Theme Icon
“Wreckers, dat’s de right dope!” Yank says. “Dat belongs! Me for dem!” Pushing on, the nearby prisoner keeps reading the article, which upholds that the IWW “must be destroyed” because it threatens democracy. “They plot with fire in one hand and dynamite in the other,” he reads. “They stop not before murder to gain their ends […] They would tear down society, put the lowest scum in the scats of the mighty, turn Almighty God’s revealed plan for the world topsy-turvy, and make of our sweet and lovely civilization a shambles, a desolation where man, God’s masterpiece, would soon degenerate back to the ape!” Impressed, Yank says, “So dey blow up tings, do dey? Dey turn tings round, do dey?” The nearby prisoner then hands him the newspaper through the bars.
Sure enough, Yank likes the sound of the IWW because the newspaper frames the organization as an ominous threat. Of course, he doesn’t gravitate to the IWW because he believes in unionization, but because this senator suggests that the organization “plot[s] with fire in one hand and dynamite in the other.” As such, Yank’s lack of intelligence once more leads him astray, as he fails to grasp that the senator’s words are metaphorical. “So dey blow up tings, do dey?” he says, proving that he has taken these ideas quite literally and thus failed to comprehend the nuances of the article. 
Themes
Exploitation, Oppression, and the Individual Theme Icon
Aggression and Stupidity Theme Icon
Related Quotes
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Reflecting upon what he’s just heard, Yank sits for a moment in the position of Rodin’s “The Thinker” before jumping to his feet and muttering, “Sure—her old man—president of de Steel Trust—makes half de steel in de world—steel—where I tought I belonged—drivin’ trou—movin’—in dat—to make her—and cage me in for her to spit on! Christ. He made dis—dis cage!” His voice having grown to a shout, he begins to shake the bars so hard that the entire corridor of jail cells vibrates. “But I’ll drive trou!” he yells. “Fire, dat melts it! I’ll be fire—under de heap—fire dat never goes out—hot as hell—breakin’ out in de night.”
Although Yank fails to fully absorb the intentions of the IWW, the newspaper article has a startling effect on him, as it encourages him to reflect on class disparity. This, it seems, is one of the first moments in which he appears capable of conceptualizing the idea that Mildred is only a “representative” of her class. As such, he recognizes the broader structures of oppression that have disenfranchised him and put him in the position he’s currently in. Although he himself doesn’t make steel, he is a laborer and, thus, the type of person who makes it possible for people like Mildred’s father to become rich. What’s more, he recognizes the circularity of this oppression, as he sees that the very same steel that people like him create is what the capitalist class uses to keep him locked away in a cage. Wanting to escape this cycle of subjugation, then, he determines to “break out.”
Themes
Exploitation, Oppression, and the Individual Theme Icon
Aggression and Stupidity Theme Icon
When Yank says the words “breakin’ out,” he lifts his feet off the ground and puts them against the bars, placing them right where his hands are so that he is “parallel to the floor like a monkey.” In this position, he pulls at the metal, which “bends like a licorice stick under his tremendous strength.” Having heard the incredible commotion, a guard rushes in with a large firehose and tells everybody to quiet down. “Hell, look at dat bar bended!” he shouts. Turning down the hall, he tells the other guards to turn on the hose, at which point a great rush of water sprays out and slaps the steel of Yank’s cell as the curtain closes.
Unfortunately, Yank’s determination to “break out” from his cell is yet another display of aggression, suggesting that he still doesn’t understand that “force defeats itself.” As such, his newfound recognition of class disparity and subjugation fails to help him navigate the world, a fact illustrated by the “monkey”-like pose he strikes as he rips the bars apart. Rather than focusing on uniting with his fellow laborers to combat the broad capitalist structures of oppression, he resorts to animalistic forms of brute strength and physical power.
Themes
Exploitation, Oppression, and the Individual Theme Icon
Aggression and Stupidity Theme Icon