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Apr 7, 2011


By the second decade of this century there were new ventures in publishing, tours by European companies and founding of theatre magazines. This resulted in an influex into america of the plays and the ideas that were fermenting in Europe since 1880s. Naturalism, symbolism, expressionism arrived almost simultaneously in America. For the first time, the drama began to interest serious young writers and thinkers. Works of Drciser, Wallace Stevens etc were produced with expressionist techniques by the Provinceton players (founded by 1915). Sidney howard wrote daringly about sexual passion I rural new England but O’Neill surpassed all the writers of his time in his engagement with new ideas and expressionist inventiness.

Expressionism is style of painting, music, dramas, film etc which tries to express the artuist emotional experience rather than to show the physical world in a relaistic way. Lionell trilling described the excitement generated by the new technique in the field of drama in “Introduction to the Hairy Ape” in 1937:

To the audience of the twenties, however, it was O’Neill style rather
than the content of his  plays that was of first importance. Style,
indeed, was suffucient content: the language of the Anna Christie,
the crude colour, the drum  beats and phantasmagoria
(changing scenes of  the real or imagined figures an in a dream)
 of The Emperor Jones, the engine rhymes,  the masks, the ballet
 movements of  The hairy Ape…all spoke of a life more
colourful  and terrible than the American theatre
had ever though of representing.“

O’neill is attracted to the expressionist methods, to use of abstraction in set, gesture and dialogue, but they express not the remote and metaphysical, but the familiar and human, not the immediatelu observable surfaces but the “behind life”. Also the development of a lively and flexible verbal language was crucial to the achievement of such expressive realism or such “real Realism.”

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