Hairy Ape

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Expressionist play by O'Neill, produced and published in 1922. It is symbolic of the perversion of human strength by technological progress.

In the cramped forecastle of a transatlantic liner, Yank—brutal, stupid, and profane—is the recognized leader of the stokers, who are the ultimate products of a society subservient to machines. When Mildred Douglas, daughter of the ship's owner, makes a slumming visit to the stokehole, she is shocked by the lurid atmosphere, and faints at encountering Yank's unashamed brutality. Although he is completely adapted to this environment, he now discovers that there is a world in which he does not belong, and “the Hairy Ape,” as his friend Paddy calls him, becomes sullen and morose, beginning to think of his position. In New York on Easter Sunday, he swaggers in dirty dungarees up Fifth Avenue, trying in vain to insult the aristocratic strollers, who politely ignore him. Arrested, he is sent to Blackwell's Island, where the prisoners, misunderstanding his rebellion, advise him to join the I.W.W. Rejected by the labor organization, he goes to the zoo to see the ape, the only creature with whom he can now feel kinship. When he liberates it, to help him wreak destruction, the beast crushes him to death.

Subjects: Literature.

Reference entries

Eugene O'Neill (1888—1953) American dramatist

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