Publication Date


Document Type


First Advisor

Potts, Norman B.

Degree Name

M.A. (Master of Arts)

Legacy Department

Department of Theatre Arts


O'Neill; Eugene; 1888-1953


This thesis discusses the meaning of the physical, social, mental and spiritual dimensions of Eugene Gladstone O'Neill's attitude toward his artistry as a twentieth century playwright. As a man O'Neill encountered many wounding experiences which inflicted injuries upon the physical, social, mental and spiritual aspects of his life leaving him void of personal wholeness. Thus, these wounds caused him to mask himself and to express an attitude of stubbornness, bitterness and hatred toward life. This negative attitude caused O'Neill to become unconcerned with his physical, social, mental and spiritual health. As a further result of the maturing negative attitude in O'Neill he lived a life of destructive brokenness. After long periods of wandering as a sailor to various South American Islands often with nothing to eat but always with plenty of alcohol to drink, O'Neill's health degenerated and he contracted tuberculosis. Socially, O'Neill concerned himself with bar friends and whorehouses until his relationships and sexual expression lost all meaning for him. All of his life O'Neill enjoyed reading but without a clear sense of direction,for he read various authors who spoke to him from many and varied perspectives; he was left with fragmented thinking about his life. Early in his life O'Neill rejected the God of his Roman Catholic rearing because he could not understand why any god would allow his mother to become and remain addicted to morphine. He did respect addiction, but he did not understand how to express its positive aspects. During his visits to New York, O'Neill wandered in and out of various bookstores; it was in Tucker's Bookstore where he discovered Friedrich Nietzsche's Thus Spake Zarathustra. Although at first he did not fully understand the philosophy of the book, O'Neill believed that Thus Spake Zarathustra was the answer and meaning for which he had been searching: a cathartic juncture in his thinking that spoke to his painful wounds and supplied him with meaning. However, it was not until he spent many long lonely hours as a patient at the Gaylord Sanitori urn that O'Neill concluded that his search for meaning in life had come to an end. Nietzsche spoke to O'Neill providing him with the meaning of life and of death and suggested the doctrine of recurrence as a remedy for pain. O'Neill decided that he would end his suffering as a person and recur as a Grecian god, as the art spirit of affirmation of life-- his life--in an attitude of love. Thus Spake Zarathustra became the balm for O'Neill's wounding experiences and ended his masked negativeness giving him a mask of positive attitude, an attitude of love toward his artistic expression through his physical, mental, social and spiritual dimensions of his attitude. As a Grecian art spirit, O'Neill expressed the physical dimension of his attitude by using the outline of Greek playwrights, Ibsen, Shaw and Shakespeare. He abstracted the social dimension of his attitude toward art from such philosophers as Zola, Voltaire and Schopenhauer and became preoccupied with a socialist expression in his artistry. His recurrence as a thinker, the mental dimension of his attitude, who was concerned with what was happening in America forced him to continue reading philosophy, literature, poetry and plays in order to express his rejections of current accepted mores. In order to bring the spiritual dimension of his attitude up to his satisfaction, O'Neill reflected upon his former life as "Gene" recollecting his experiences. Additionally, O'Neill meditated upon his entire life and studied the teachings of Nietzsche through Zarathustra. O'Neill's intentions were to mature as a whole person-spirit in a broken world: his world first and then the world around him. After the four dimensional aspects of his attitude toward art had matured, O'Neill vented his meaning as a twentieth century artist. As a person with a multi-dimensional attitude, O'Neill sequestered himself away in solitude where he saw life as a whole and represented his former and his present life in his artistry. He offers his life, myth and motive as a method or means of helping other artists to not only understand his meaning, but to use his life as a vehicle toward understanding themselves and their work. Thus, what O'Neill means is to be a twentieth century artist who represented his life as a wholistic expression with a multi-dimensional expression enshrouded in love.


Includes bibliographical references.


83 pages




Northern Illinois University

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