Throughout The Hairy Ape, O’Neill references Rodin’s “The Thinker” in his stage notes as a way of representing Yank’s internal struggle to understand the nature of his own unhappiness. “The Thinker” is a sculpture by Augustine Rodin that depicts a large, muscular man sitting nude in deep thought with his chin resting on one hand. Given Yank’s severe lack of intelligence, the fact that he frequently strikes this pose is quite significant, as it suggests that he yearns for the capacity to engage in intellectual thought. As such, O’Neill intimates that even the most unintelligent people are capable of sensing their own lackluster mental faculties. More importantly, Yank’s periodic bouts of thinking in this position signal to the audience that he is undeterred by the fact that, as he puts it, “Tinkin’ is hard.” In this way, Rodin’s “The Thinker” comes to stand for the natural tendency humans have of gravitating toward complex cognition—a tendency that sets people like Yank apart from the gorillas and “hairy ape[s]” with whom they might otherwise identify.
The timeline below shows where the symbol Rodin’s “The Thinker” appears in The Hairy Ape. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
...As the stokers yell raucously amongst themselves, Yank sits by himself in the position of Rodin’s “The Thinker,” and his peers talk about how he didn’t eat anything at dinner or wash his... (full context)
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... (full context)
...Yank out of the office, he sits in the streets and assumes the position of Rodin’s “The Thinker.” “So dem boids don’t tink I belong, neider.” Talking to himself, he scorns the way... (full context)
...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... (full context)