The Hairy Ape Summary | The Hairy Ape By Eugene O’Neill

The Hairy Ape
The Hairy Ape


            The Hairy Ape is a play about the negative effect of industrialization. It is written by a great American Playwright Eugene O’Neill. The story of this play is based on a real man an Irish sailor named Driscoll whom he roomed with in New York. The play was first performed in 1922 and divided into eight scenes.

The whole story of this play moves around Robert Yonk Smith, the protagonist of the play. The Hairy Ape’s New York production faced more concrete bureaucratic interference an attempt was made by the mayor to close the play down for fear that it would provoke labor disputer or riots. In the year since its debut, the play has become one of O’Neill’s better-known works.

About Author

            The Author of this play Eugene O’ Neil was an American playwright and Nobel laureate in literature. He is the only American playwright to have won the Nobel Prize (1936) for literature and the only dramatist who has won four Pulitzer Prizes. Most of O’Neill’s plays involve drunkenness prostitution, revenge, and repressed desire. His best-known plays include – Anna Christie, Desire Under The Elms, Stange Interlude, and Ah. Wilderness, Mourning Becomes Electra, Emperor Jones. Eugene O’Neil is recognized as the father of American Drama.

Setting Of The Play

            The play The Hairy Ape’s main setting is the Cruise Ship which serves as a temporary home for a number of people from all different classes.

The Hairy Ape Themes

          There are several themes in the play and some of the most important are:

◽ Human Regression by industrialization.
◽ The Frustration of Classed.

The Hairy Ape Play Analysis

          The story of this play starts with a crew of firemen drinking on the forecastle of the ship. The room is loud and rowdy, the stockers drinking, singing, and shouting. Yank sits and listens to his fellow strokers. One stroker belts out a song about a woman waiting for him at home, a sentiment yank scorns. He goes on to say that the only home these men have is the ship. Hearing Yank’s speech about home, a drunken stoker named Long. Stands up and describes the ship as hell.

            Meaning while, On the promenade deck, Mildred Douglas the daughter of a steel tycoon, and her aunt talk about Mildred’s desire to help the poor through her efforts in social service. Her aunt tells her that her efforts to improve the lives of the poor are anything but altruistic. Despite her aunt’s recriminations, Mildred is determined to visit the stokehole in hopes of meeting the workers there. She wants to experience their lifestyle. The caption of the ship has granted her permission. When an engineer comes to escort her below, he urges her to change because she’s wearing a white dress. She replies that she will just throw it away because she has plenty of clothes.

            In the stokehole, the men are dirty and sweating. When Mildred arrives, all the men notice except for Yank, who keeps working. He notices that his fellow stokers are all looking at something behind him. When he turns back he finds is Mildred standing there in her white dress, starting at his. After seeing Yank, she says take me away. She shrieks Oh, the filthy beast. With this, she faints, and the engineers at her side carry her away.

            After their shift ends, most of the firemen clean up except for Yank, The other men tease him, saying he has fallen in love with her. He assures them all he feels for her is hatred. He attempts to get revenge but all of the men pile on him to stop him. There weeks later, Long takes Yank to Fifth Avenue.

Giving up on the idea of finding Mildred Yank tries, to pick fights with a wealthy passer, but nobody even knowledges him and Long decides to go home because he knows Yank is going to get them in trouble. Finally, after accosting multiple people yank slams into a wealthy gentleman. The man calls for help and “a whole platoon of policemen rush in on Yank from all sides.

            While in jail, Yank feels like an animal caged at a zoo. Initially, the other prisoners make fun of him, but after he mentions Mildred’s name, they tell him about her father, who is the president of the steel Trust. One of them recommends that yank joins the Wobblies, a group of labor activists. Through them, Yank decides he will exact his revenge. As his temper continues to boil and he thinks of the steel bars restraining him, he mangoes to bend them the prison guards have to subdue him.

            A month later, Yank visits

an Industrial Workers of the World Wobblies branch and asks if he can join. The secretary who works inside welcomes him in a friendly manner. But they reject his application.

            The next day, Yank goes to the Zoo and walks into the monkey house, where he tells the animals about his experiences in New York. He says accepting the idea that he is the Hairy Ape Mildred thinks he is. He tells the gorilla he will let him free. When he lets the gorilla out, Gorilla grabs him and pulls him into a bone-crushing hug. He crumples to the ground and dies.


          Thus, Eugene ONeill’s “The Hairy Ape” deals with the theme of belongingness. Yank’s quest for identity is very tragic. In fact, the tragedy of Yank is the tragedy of millions in the modern age.

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