The Ecological Eugene O’Neill

Nature’s Veiled Purpose in the Plays

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About the Book

The dramas of Eugene O’Neill—often called America’s first “serious” playwright—exhibit an imagining of the natural world that enlivens the plays and marks the boundaries of the characters’ fates. O’Neill’s figures move within purposefully animated natural environments—ocean, dense forest, desert plains, the rocky soil of New England.
This new approach to O’Neill’s dramas explores these ecological settings as crucial to his characters’ ability to carry out their conscious and unconscious desires. O’Neill’s career is covered, from his youthful one-acts, to the middle years experimental dramas, to the mature tragedies of his late period. Special attention is paid to the connection of ecology and theological quest, and to O’Neill’s persistent evocation of an exotic, natural “other.” Combining an ecocritical approach with an examination of Classical and philosophical influences on the playwright’s creative process, the author reveals a new, less hermetic O’Neill.

About the Author(s)

Robert Baker-White is a professor of theater at Williams College in Massachusetts, where he teaches dramatic literature, drama theory and performance.

Bibliographic Details

Robert Baker-White
Format: softcover (6 x 9)
Pages: 236
Bibliographic Info: notes, bibliography, index
Copyright Date: 2015
pISBN: 978-0-7864-9875-8
eISBN: 978-1-4766-2219-4
Imprint: McFarland

Table of Contents

Table of Contents


Preface 1

One—Introduction: “A seagull or a fish…” 5

O’Neill and Nature 7

Oikos, Logos and Situating the Human 14

Theatre and the Natural World 18

Environing and Theatrical Process 21

History/Theatre/Nature 24

Ecocritical Contexts: Pastoral and Beyond 30

Organizing the Corpus: Tropes of Seeing Nature in ­O’Neill 35

Two—Depth, Reach, Mystery: The Early Sea Plays 37

Early Maritime Plays: The Perilous Ocean 46

Toward Accommodation: Surviving with the Davil in “Anna Christie” 54

Three—Pastorals: Complex, Alive, Possessed 60

Early Land Plays: Situating the Rural 66

Beyond the Horizon: Scenic Rhythms in “a land of lost grace” 71

“God’s in the stones”: Naturalist Nature in Desire Under the Elms 80

Four—Big Work: Staging the Deity 94

The Hairy Ape: Spiritual Quest and Failure to Transcend 99

The Great God Brown, Lazarus Laughed and Strange Interlude: “Higher, Freer” Aspirations 108

Dynamo and Days Without End: Deadly “Contact” 120

Five—Trade Winds in the Coco Palms: The Lure of the Exotic 130

Diff’rence: Youthful Ventures in the Far Horizon 132

The Doubleness of Nature in The Emperor Jones 137

Strangers in Strange Lands: The Fountain and Marco Millions 147

Mourning Becomes Electra: Ecology and Morality 156

Six—Culminations: ­O’Neill’s Extended Epilogue 168

Ah, Wilderness! 170

The Iceman Cometh 174

Long Day’s Journey into Night 180

A Moon for the Misbegotten 193

Notes 205

Bibliography 211

Index 217

Book Reviews & Awards

“Baker-White’s reading goes a long way toward correcting a rather extreme critical view of ‘nature’ or ‘natural settings’ as missing from O’Neill’s works. Recommended”—Choice.