The Hairy Ape by Eugene O Neill Hand Notes - NU

Mofizur Rahman

The Hairy Ape by Eugene O'Neill - Special Hand Notes For Honours 4th Year Department of English (National University)

Hand Notes - The Hairy Ape by Eugene O'Neill - 3rd Year

  • Honours 4th Year
  • Department of English.
  • American Literature: Fiction and Drama
  • The Hairy Ape by Eugene O'Neill
  • Hand Notes for Good Result.
  • Part - C

 Q. Discuss the major themes of O'Neill's "The Hairy Ape".

Ans. In literature theme refers to the central and dominating idea or the implicit message of a work. Eugene O'Neill is a great dramatist. He has treated a good variety of themes in the drama 'The Hairy Ape".
The resounding theme of The Hairy Ape' is the human regression by industrialization and technical progress. Industrialization has reduced the human worker into a machine. The men are programmed to do one task. They are turned on an off by whistles. This process has taken men into a Neanderthal or ape-like state. This is made clear by O'Neill's stage direction which indicates that the firemen look like Neanderthal.

Thus we see that one of the workers, Paddy looks like a monkey. The longer the firemen work the further back they fall on the evolutionary path. This regressive process is represented through the character of Yank. Yank is a Neanderthal on the ship and becomes an actual ape at the zoo.
Another important theme in the play is the theme of isolation and the quest for identity. Yank is found to be confident and proud of his superior strength from the beginning of the play. Though he is detached from home, he says he belongs to the ship.

His sense of belongingness is shattered when Mildred Douglas encounters him in the ship and remarks "the filthy beast'. Mildred's remark shatters the very foundation of his faith in the contribution of machines and sense of belongingness. His disillusion to the contribution of machines to the progress of human condition and the society dependent on those conditions begins.
In search of Mildred Yank becomes a nuisance for some people in the Fifth Avenue and so is sent into custody. After release he goes to I.W.W. There he is rejected membership. Then he goes to a zoo where he addresses a gorilla as is brother but he is not accepted by the ape class and is killed. 
In this way Yank becomes gradually isolated until his death. Thus The Hairy Ape' focuses on Yank's loss of faith and belief in himself as well as in the world in which he lives. In search of his identity he discovers that he is alone and that the world is impossible to live in.
The disintegration of modern civilization is another important theme. From the study of the life of Yank it becomes clear that he is victim of the disintegration of the modern civilization. The modern civilization has become virtually a spiritual and cultural wasteland. This is due largely to the social and spiritual system prevailing in the present day world. The dramatist has pointed his finger to that socio-economic system which tends to degrade humans into beasts.
The degeneration of human psyche is another theme of this play. Yank suffers, but not alone. The rich class also comes under the degenerating influence of the machine age. Mildred Douglas is a decadent aimless product of the society. The members of the society are devoid of mind, soul and will. Modern machine and technology have rendered them spiritually dead. This world is a spiritual wasteland.
In the light of the above analysis of the themes of the play we can say that O'Neill has successfully combined several themes in his play "The Hairy Ape'.

Q. Discuss in brief about the human regression by industrialization  in "The Hairy Ape".

Ans. In The Hairy Ape Eugene O'Neill creates the effect of Industrial Revolution and technological progress as a regression  in human development. Due to industrialisation the human workers lead their lives in an animalistic state . People suffer from the loss of human identity for mechanical life. Industrialisation divides mankind into classes. Lower class is oppressed by the upper. Even the people benefited by Industrialisation find no meaning of life. They become decadent and aimless product of the society.
The drama has disclosed human regression to an animalistic state of the fireman in the ocean liner. The fireman works in a cage  of steel.They cannot stand upright / standing  because of low ceiling. Their bodies have been bent . They all are hairy-chested with long arms of tremendous/enormous  power. They have low receding brows above their small, fierce resentful eyes. Actually, their appearance becomes like the Neanderthal man.
The firemen are programmed like machine. They start and end their work by whistle. The mechanical life has led to a loss of human identity. Yank's concept  of his belongingness has been shattered  with the remark, the filthy beast'. He starts to search his identity but does not find anywhere. He neither can go forward nor can return to his old place. He is isolated from the society.
The interaction between Yank and Mildred shows the reality of a class system developing during the Industrial Revolution. Yank is presented as working class while Mildred as the upper class. In spite of being in different classes they express comparable grievances  on classes and society. She feels herself as a 'waste product' of her upbringing. She feels she has been benefitted from all the financial - advantages provided by her father's steel company.

She wishes to touch a life outside of her class but she cannot do this in society. This fact frustrates Mildred. On the other hand, Yank is oppressed  and exploited by the capitalist class. He aspires/years to break down  the walls established by a class structure. He demonstrates/exhabits the significance of the working class. Basically, both Mildred and Yank realize that the divided class system because of industrialisation controls people's outlooks on who he or she is and what he or she can achieve in life.
Modern man suffers from a horrible dilemma. According to a critic, The Hairy Ape was was a symbol of man, who has lost his old harmony with nature, the harmony which he used to have as an animal and has not yet acquired in a spiritual way. These all occurs because of industrialisation.

To conclude, O'Neill has successfully exposed the regression of modern man to an animalistic state.

Central Idea and Critical Comment "The Hairy Ape by Eugene O'Neill ( Tragedy)

The Hairy Ape is a tragedy of Eugene O'Neill. Yank is the protagonist of the drama. He has enormous physical strength, but perfect simplicity of mind. He is hairy chested with long arms of extraordinary power. He is more powerful than the other stokers. He has the physical strength and capacity for destruction like hairy ape. He is a stoker in a large ship. There are other fellow stokers. They are all drinking, talking, singing or jesting.

Two people start com bating suddenly, and the others join. Yank commandingly orders them to stop. Mildred comes down with the engineer into the stoke hole. She finds Yank behaving like a gorilla. So, she calls him, the filthy beast'. Yank feels insulted. He is found a changed man because of the insult. 

Now Yank wants to take revenge on Mildred because he thinks that Mildred insulted him by saying, 'Oh, the filthy beast! Yank is sent to prison because he attacked people in the Fifth Avenue where he went in search of Mildred (an aristocratic lady) on whom he wanted to take revenge. In the prison Yank thinks himself to be an ape. The words hairy ape continues to torture him. He thinks that the place is a zoo, and all the prisoners are animals put in cage.
The Hairy Ape focuses on Yank's loss of faith and belief in himself as well as in the world in which he lives. Yank discovers that he is alone, lonely, and that the world is impossible to live in. Yank is released from jail after one month) He goes direct to the I. W. W. office. But Yank is expelled from the office of I. W. W. because the secretary suspects him to be a spy of some terrorist organization.

Then he goes to a zoo, and addresses a gorilla as 'brother', opens its cage, and tries to embrace him. The gorilla crushes him. So there he dies. From a study of the life of Yank, the hero of the drama, it comes to light that he is a victim of the collapse of the modern civilization.

Yank, the hero of the drama symbolizes the animal nature of man) The stoke hole symbolizes over populated, uncomfortable present day civilized world Mildred symbolizes the rich capitalist class who live a life of comfort and luxury the conflict between Yank and Mildred symbolizes the conflict between working class and modem class. The author has satirized the contemporary American society in his famous play The Hairy Ape.

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