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Title:Journeyman's stage: Rehistoricizing O'Neill, his audience, and the American family in the 1920s
Author(s):Longhofer, Julie Eakins
Doctoral Committee Chair(s):Hurt, James R.
Department / Program:English
Degree Granting Institution:University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Subject(s):History, United States
Literature, American
Abstract:The years between 1921 and 1934 were Eugene O'Neill's journeyman years, a time when the country's theatrical community, hungering after a national playwright, turned a spotlight on a good writer in hopes of finding a great one. The discursive interplay between the maturing playwright and his growing constituency--ardently supportive critics, equally passionate detractors, and a widening audience both in numbers and social classes--shaped both the young playwright and a burgeoning national art.
After the manner of the New Historicism, I examine how the American theatre reproduces specific cultural values through the representations of the American family on stage. The First Man (1922), Desire Under the Elms (1924), and Strange Interlude (1928) enact and debate revisionary family structures. Through conflicts over obstacles to reproduction, who will control reproduction, and what form the next generation will take, these plays challenge the status quo of the "traditional" American family in the 1920s. O'Neill's audiences responded vigorously to these conflicts--rejecting the unspeakably intimate (First Man), censoring the aggressively new (Desire), and fanatically embracing a therapeutic experience (Interlude).
Through the vehicle of vested theatre audiences, these journeyman plays disseminated familial trends and participated in social change. Familial revisions intersect with a number of 1920s historical trends: the politics of obstetrics in the 1920s, pop anthropology, the popularization of Freud, sensational child murders (including the 1925 Leopold and Loeb trial), eugenics crusades, the legacies of Puritanism, and revisionary theologies (including Interlude's innovative mother-centered theology which parallels early revisionary Freudians like Melanie Klein).
My work focuses on the interplay between staged family conflicts and extra-literary cultural evolution. I examine newspaper reviews and other historical discourse (including a detailed analysis of the 1925 campaign to censor Desire Under the Elms) in order to discover why some of the plays' family structures were received with favor by audiences or critics, while others triggered controversy. This analysis demonstrates how the colloquy between stage and audience affected O'Neill's development and his audiences' attitudes toward their would-be national playwright.
Issue Date:1996
Rights Information:Copyright 1996 Longhofer, Julie Eakins
Date Available in IDEALS:2011-05-07
Identifier in Online Catalog:AAI9702588
OCLC Identifier:(UMI)AAI9702588

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