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15 - O'Neill and the cult of sincerity

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  28 May 2006

Michael Manheim
Affiliation:
University of Toledo, Ohio
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Summary

“An incredible heroine, a facile application of Freudian thought, a narrative that at times foreshadows today's soap operas, language that rarely rises above the commonplace”: here Louis Sheaffer, O'Neill's admiring biographer, describes Strange Interlude. “Yet, paradoxically,” he concludes, “its defects testify to the author's achievement.” Sheaffer's strategy here is commonly applied to O'Neill's work as a whole by critics determined to enlist O'Neill in the pantheon of dramatists of the first rank. First comes an enumeration of O'Neill's artistic flaws - the disparity between his “often egregious intentions” and his achievements; his clumsiness with language; his reliance upon pop-psychology and resynthesized versions of ancient myth - and his personal failings. Then follows the summation: by dint of hard work, a flawless instinct for theatre, wide and deep reading in modern philosophy and literature, courageous exploration of the psyche, O'Neill conquers these flaws. However confused and banal, hysterical and overblown, inadvertently ridiculous and condescending his output may be in its parts, its whole traces a triumphant coming of age and a fruition of talent in the late masterpieces, especially The Iceman Cometh and Long Day's Journey Into Night. This paradigm, in keeping with O'Neill's own insistence that he be seen large, makes of O'Neill, looking inward, tormented by but ultimately forgiving if not overcoming the ineluctable dynamics of family dysfunction, a model artist for modern times.

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Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 1998

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