Eugene O'Neill: The evolution of racial justice and brotherhood in five plays

Paschal U Onunwa, Fordham University


This dissertation examines O'Neill's growing concern for racial justice in America manifested in five plays and in ideas for unfinished plays by the depiction of discrimination in a sociological and political context. The primary sources for this study are five plays: Thirst (1913), The Dreamy Kid (1918), The Emperor Jones (1920), All God's Chillun Got Wings (1923), and The Iceman Cometh (1939); and Ideas for Plays on Blacks in the 1920s and '30s: "Honest Honey Boy" (1921), "Bantu Boy" (1927), and "Runaway Slave" (1935). The precise focus of this study is O'Neill as the first major American dramatist to address the issue of racism and discrimination in America. As O'Neill became more aware of the many racial injustices perpetrated in the United States, he set out, through a series of plays, to combat such prejudice, in the hope Americans would confront their intolerance and live up to the ideals of equality upon which this country was founded. The fact that he was Irish-American had a lasting effect on his work. He was haunted by the memory of the discrimination his forbears endured in Ireland at the hands of the English and by the social ostracism he and his parents experienced in his hometown, New London. This rejection led him to identify throughout his life with the outcasts and victims of injustice. The conclusion reached in this dissertation is that Eugene O'Neill was the first major American dramatist to focus on the problem of racism in the United States. He abhorred the discrepancies between the image America projected--a democracy based on equality and justice for all--and the reality of what it was--a racially divided land of inequality. America, O'Neill felt, should eschew racial injustice in order to justify its democratic tenet--liberty and justice for all. This knowledge about O'Neill's concern and effort to make the "world a better place" is very important if one is to make a balanced and fair evaluation of the playwright--not so much the "Black Irishman" constantly railing against fate and society--as a compassionate, just, and understanding man who was concerned with the fate of American Blacks. (Abstract shortened with permission of author.)

Subject Area

American literature|Literature|Minority & ethnic groups|Sociology

Recommended Citation

Onunwa, Paschal U, "Eugene O'Neill: The evolution of racial justice and brotherhood in five plays" (1988). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI8809478.