American Drama is often been used as the voice for social issues society may try to silence. Race, gender, social class, and morality topics that have been swept under the rug by mainstream media have found their stride on the American stage. For one of my classes at Indiana University Southeast, I decided to closely examine a play that tackles the controversy that surrounds the act of Abortion. The play is not so cleverly titled “Abortion” and it is by the renown classic American playwright, Eugene O’Neill (pictured below).
If you have studied O’Neill’s other works, you will find little about social commentary, which is what drew me to study this work. O’Neill is largely famous for his long dramas and dark tones in his writing, much like his works “A Long Day’s Journey into Night” and “Desire Under the Elms”. It’s important to note that O’Neill did, in fact, battle alcoholism and depression for most of his adult life, which is apparent in nearly all of his scripts. One interesting aspect to O’Neill’s work is his ability to project his own personality onto at least one character in all of his plays. In “Abortion”, for example, the main character is a college student, and he wrote this play during his first year at Harvard in 1914. You can find other information about O’Neill to better understand his work by visiting this biographic website.
In this lesser known play by Eugene O’Neill, a successful college athlete is celebrating a huge championship victory until he is confronted by his father about an “operation” that appeared to have happened before the play events transpired. The audience then learns that this “operation” was actually an abortion performed on a woman the athlete had an affair with. According the the athlete, he received a letter from the woman saying that she was fine and the operation was a success. The main character then has a monologue outlining his moral stance and he makes the decision to cut off all communication with this woman and pursue a new life. After he makes this conclusion, a furious man by the name of “Murray” storms into the room and goes nearly to the athlete’s throat. Murray informs the main character that Murray is the brother of the woman who underwent the operation, and they she actually died an hour after it was finished. When the athlete asked why he was sent a letter saying everything was okay, Murray stated “She did not tell the truth because she loved him so much”. Murray then says that violence is not the answer, but instead he would inform the public of the Athlete’s actions. Overwhelmed with grief, the athlete takes his own life with a pistol in his desk and the play ends on a rather depressing note.
If you were hoping for a happy play where everyone lives happily ever after, you have my deepest apologies.
Hopefully through the synopsis alone, one could tell why I found this an important piece of theater to examine. Even in modern times, the conflict over “Pro Life vs Pro Choice” is still a hot button issues, and this play was published over 100 years ago. Not only that, the play also comes from one of the most famous playwrights in American history, yet most have not heard of this play where he deviates from his regular formula, which is usually multiple acts and a large number of complex characters. Through analysis of both the text and the social significance of the subject matter, it is clear that this play is worthy of further study.