Long Days Journey: The Significance of Fog (8)
A Long Day’s Journey Into Night, by Eugene O’Neill, is a deeply autobiographical play. His life was rampant with confusion and addictions in his family. Each character in this play has a profound resemblance, and draws parallels and connections with a member of his own family. The long journey that the title of the play refers to is a journey into his past. Fog is a recurring metaphor in the play; it is a physical presence even before it becomes a crucial symbol of the family’s impenetrable confusion. It is referred to in the text as well as stage directions in this play. It sets the mood for the play in all its somber hues.
He uses the fog outside the house as an atmospheric element that has an ominous presence throughout this play. His parents and the surroundings that he grew up in were tainted by broken dreams, lies, disease, past issues, alcoholism and drug addiction. There was this web of darkness and fogginess that encased his life and past that is portrayed in this play as well as others by O’Neill. The symbolic implications of fog in the play are descriptive of the struggle in the minds of this deeply conflicted family. The significance of fog in O’Neill’s writing can be examined in two forms. The first is what type of emblematic quality does the fog provide in this play, and the second is what are other plays in which O’Neill has used fog in a similar way.
This play takes place through an entire day where the climate mirrors the mood of the family. ” The play begins at 8:30 in the morning with a trace of fog in the air, and concludes sometime after midnight, with the house foghorn.” (Brustein 1020). The intensity of the fog continuously increases throughout the day, directly correlating to the murkiness in the household. The family’s mood significantly intensifies with the intensity of the fog. There are copious
connections between the life of the fog and that of the Tyrone family. All throughout the play there is a conflict between past vs. present, truth vs. lies, and addiction vs. sobriety. This family lives amidst a haze of denial and as the fog gets thicker, they continue to get further lost.
The fog has a polarity that directly relates to Mary, ” the mood changing from sunny cheer over Mary’s apparent recovery to gloomy despair over her new descent into hell ” (Brustein 1020). The fog is first mentioned when Tyrone says, “It’s too fine a morning to waste indoors arguing. Take a look outside the window, Mary. There’s no fog in the harbor. I’m sure the spell of it we’ve had is over” (O’Neill 736). The introductory image establishes the fog as both the intermediary and a symbol of Mary’s addiction. The fog is easily identifiable as Mary’s morphine high, representative of her cloudy mental state. Mary sinks back into her addiction as the night falls and slowly regresses further away from reality and her family. The fog signifies the state of mind that she is in. Fog has a dense and opaque quality that creates low visibility and blocks out the sun. The fog described in the stage directions is “as a white curtain drawn down outside the windows” (O’Neill 773).
Mary tells Cathleen how she loves the fog, which can be interpreted as her love for the morphine that removes her from any type of coherence. Mary was on a path to recovery and now has slowly lapsed into her state of addiction once again. She likes this state because ” It hides you from the world and the world from you. No one can find or touch you any more” (O’Neill 773). For Mary, this fog is representative as an alternative or refuge from reality. Her relapse into addition causes clouds her judgment and impairs her sight. She can hide herself in the fog so that her family can be oblivious to her addiction.
“Mary, however, is not alone among the “fog people” – the three men also have their reasons for withdrawing into night” (Brustein 1021). Each of these men is haunted by his individual past and this phrase “fog people” alludes to their state of intoxication. There is a hazy fog in their disposition constantly. The fog clouds and impairs their judgment throughout the play; blocking communication and slowly distancing a once close family.
Tyrone, when he was younger, showed promise as a brilliant actor. He wasted his talent by committing to a lead role in a commercial play, never optimizing his full potential. He got stuck in a stereotypical role, making him famous but eventually a nothing. He turned to alcohol and drank heavily. His dreams were lost and he often regretted his life decisions when in a drunken stupor. It was as if the fog had thickened and he lost his dreams in them. Jamie, a “Might-Have-Been” (Brustein 1021), had great potential, but wasted it all and now frequents whores. He is a hopeless alcoholic, and even though he possesses great talent, will never tap into it. And loves lastly, Edmund, who shares a close relationship with the fog. To Edmund it works both as a loss of memory and as a memory of loss. He is slowly being taken over by consumption, and as the fog thickens, his health deteriorates. Like Mary, he finds refuge in the fog in the middle of the night. Edmund says ” The fog was where I wanted to beThat’s what I wanted – to be alone with myself in another world where truth is untrue and life can hide from itself” (O’Neill 796).
This play told the tragic story of his life and his dysfunctional family. The family was lost and while so much importance is placed on Mary’s addiction the men fail to see their own dependencies. The fog is so thick that this family has lost its way in a fog of morphine, liquor and lies. The imagery of fog in the play really depicts the level that the characters are at in the
play and their relationship with truth. Their individual level of intoxication connects each member in the family and the fog allows them to escape in their own private way. The fog is dense which prevents them from being able to see their past. It hinders their visibility and aids in their denial.
People easily lose their way in fog, just as they do in life. The foghorn in this play, acts as the only reminder of real life. This family has lost its way in life as if they have gotten lost in the fog. The foghorn is something that thrusts Mary back to reality. It keeps her up all night like her conscience, eating away at her soul. O’Neill’s extensive stage directions reveal Mary’s emotional reaction to the statements made by those around her. She is self-conscious at the signs that her husband and sons are watching her for recurrent signs of her addiction. She states dreamily’ to Cathleen in the play that she loves the fog but hates the foghorn. The fog acted like a buffer that insulated Mary from the pain around her and from her past. The foghorn was a harsh, obnoxious reminder of her reality. “It’s the foghorn I hate. It won’t let you alone. It keeps reminding you, and warning you, and calling you back” (O’Neill 773). The foghorn, parallel to being Mary’s reminder, is also a warning to Mary’s family against her addiction. Her family is in denial and wants to act as if she is normal. It is Edmund who says something about her addiction ” It’s pretty hard to take at time, having a dope fiend for a mother!” (O’Neill 788). Just then the foghorn and ships’ bells are heard.
Edmund expresses the idea that the fog is an escape from reality when he says, ” The fog is where I wanted to be.” (O’Neill 795). He is expressing his confusion and is lost when he talks about how the fog hides the house. He substitutes himself for the house drawing a parallel between the two. Edmund feels remote and disconnected from his environment and his family cannot read what he is experiencing. Edmund seems like he has almost given up and he yearns to belong even if its in “another world” (795). He uses the fog and sea as metaphors of how close he feels to his solitude. “As if I was a ghost belonging to the fog, and the fog was the ghost of the sea. It felt to damned peaceful to be nothing more than the ghost within the ghost “(O’Neill 796). Edmund experiences this oneness with nature. He is mentally in a state of fogginess and only sometimes has moments of clarity. Edmund’s sense of self is lost. So much energy in invested in this morbid and depressing web of denial and addiction that he loses a part of his soul forever.
The fog is used in so many various ways as imagery and with significance as though filling the spaces between clarities. The fog is created out of pain in order to dilute clarity. The individuals in this play needed to escape themselves but didn’t succeed. O’Neill expresses the same fear of truth and uses the imagery of fog in The Iceman Cometh. The Iceman Cometh is written in the same time period as Long Day’s Journey Into Night, and is a parallel in the struggle of the past vs. present. The use of the fog imagery is not as direct in this play, but there are subtle mentions of fog in the play, such as ” the gray subdued light of early morning in a narrow street” (O’Neill 660). This grayness is almost identical to the morning that the Tyrone family experiences after being awakened by the foghorns. Both stories spell the gloom and dreariness of these characters and their lives. The imagery of fog wasn’t as prominent in the rest of his plays.
O’Neill had a great amount of turmoil in his life and the Long Day’s Journey Into Night story reflected perfectly the fogginess and daze he lived through. His dark life experiences have given him a rich, emotionally charged place, from which to write. The fog serves as a tool to paint the dreary picture and symbolize this darkness through his plays.