THE HAIRY APE BY O' NEILL
MAJOR THEMES: 'The Hairy Ape' deals with man's struggle with himself and his effort to find for himself the place to which he belongs. The play is a tragedy of a man who is out of place or land. The wealthy people and the capitalist regard the workers as beasts. But the fact brought out by the play is that they themselves are the beasts. Thus the play is an attack on capitalism. The action of the play symbolically revolves round 'Belongingness' and 'Lostness'.
BELONGINGNESS: Belongingness is one of the major themes of 'The Hairy Ape'. It deals with alienation and search for identity. In the beginning of the play. We find that yank is quite confident and proud of his superior strength. His fellow stokers respect his superior physical capacity and obey him. Yank is satisfied with his position. He feels that he belongs but his fellow stokers don't belong. But Yank's sense of belongingness is soon shattered as he is confronted with Mildred Douglas.
THEME OF PROTEST: In 'The Hairy Ape' O' Neill examines the psychological implications of the machine age. Here Yank is trying to know his position. In pursuit of the answer to this problem he receives blows and insults. The real danger to modern civilization is the stupidity and timidity of the ruling class. There in lies the real drama of this play. Yank is more than an individual. He is the symbol of deep protest against the whole structure of modern civilization. This play is not a protest against low wages and unemployment. It is a condemnation of the whole structure of machine civilization. This civilization flourishes when it destroys those who make it possible. It is this that gives the play universality.
SEARCH FOR IDENTITY: In this play O' Neill makes it clear that search for identity is the greatest problem of the modern civilization. Yank moves from here to there to find some answer to this problem. But he does not get any solution. When he reviews his situation in this world, he finds that his greatest crime was that of being born. The play shows clearly that in this machine civilization the existence of mankind is in danger. Wages, food, home, family etc. do not act as suitable remedy. As the machine age created wealth, it destroyed the joy of living. Thus, O' Neill has presented the paradox of modern civilization with great insight into its fundamental tragedy.
YANK'S TRAGEDY: Yank is rejected by society. He does not belong to the world of man. But he can't exist in isolation. He must have his moorings somewhere. Search for identity becomes an obsession with him and ultimately it takes him to the zoo. There he stands face to face with a gorilla in its cage. He talks to it as to a brother. He thinks that they both belong to the same club, 'the club of hairy apes'. He shakes hands with it and sets it free. But alas! The gorilla crushes him to death. It does not think that Yank belongs. His search for identity ends with his death.
CONCLUSION: Thus, Neill'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.