The Hairy Ape

by

Eugene O’Neill

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Themes and Colors
Pride, Identity, and Belonging Theme Icon
Exploitation, Oppression, and the Individual Theme Icon
Aggression and Stupidity Theme Icon
Progress and Happiness Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in The Hairy Ape, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.

Pride, Identity, and Belonging

In The Hairy Ape, Eugene O’Neill tells a cautionary tale about the effects pride can have on a person’s sense of self. At the beginning of the play, Yank relishes his identity as a competent stoker on an ocean liner, bragging that he’s “part of de engines” and exalting his role of shoveling coal into the furnaces. However, his pride isn’t as enduring as it seems, and his ego suffers a considerable blow when…

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Exploitation, Oppression, and the Individual

The Hairy Ape illustrates that capitalism often exploits individuals by setting them up to participate in their own oppression. Showcasing the ways in which Yank fails to recognize his disadvantages, O’Neill suggests that capitalist systems create false narratives about individuality and empowerment, ultimately convincing people like Yank that they are toiling for their own good when, in truth, their labor primarily benefits the wealthy. Yank believes that his work empowers him as an individual, and…

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Aggression and Stupidity

It’s hard to deny that The Hairy Ape centers around the fact that Yank is unintelligent. Indeed, the majority of the play’s plot-points are contingent upon his overall lack of intelligence. In many ways, then, it is a play about a man who doesn’t have the intellectual capacity to make his way through the world without getting himself into unnecessary altercations. In the absence of adequate reasoning and logical cognition, he turns to violence and…

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Progress and Happiness

The Hairy Ape takes place during a time of change, when the industrial revolution was still altering the way the world operated. However, O’Neill suggests that change is not valuable in and of itself, and he emphasizes the fact that certain kinds of progress can negatively affect human happiness and welfare. For instance, Paddy—a jaded stoker who works alongside Yank—yearns for the past because the hellish conditions of his working environment are the…

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