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Home » , » Summary of The Hairy Ape drama

Eugene O'Neill wrote the dramatic play The Hairy Ape, which was first performed in 1922 and is divided into eight scenes. This play is significant to the era because it is based on worker industrialization and the protagonist's search for his own identity as he transforms into an ape-like being. The play is set on a transatlantic ocean liner and focuses on the effects of industrialization on the human psyche and a group of workers who have been programmed to complete one task without having to think independently.

In The Hairy Ape, the main character, Bob "Yank" Smith, learns that the upper class has claimed superiority over Yank and the other coal feeders who work aboard an ocean liner, leaving him and his physical strength behind in capitalist society.

Scene 1: 

At the beginning of the play, Yank and other firemen—also known as coal feeders—are all confined to a single, small bunk room. Yank quickly demonstrates his standing within the group as the men are drinking. The other men who work on the ship all pay Yank attention and respect. The men rush to give Yank two beers when he asks for one. In addition, when Yank disagrees with a statement made by any of the other men, they quickly back down to avoid a physical fight with the much bigger Yank. Paddy and Long are two more firefighters who are employed by Yank. Before working on a coal-powered ship, Paddy describes his experience working on clipper ships. Long attributes the miserable working conditions of the crew to the evil capitalists who ride on the ship that Yank and the other firemen power by shoveling coal. Yank reiterates that he is the "muscle" behind the ship and that he is what makes the ocean liner move. He is disapproving of Paddy and Long's lack of loyalty to the ship.

Scene 2: 

The reader first sees Mildred Douglas and her aunt in this scene. Mildred is Steel Trust's president's daughter. Mildren, the daughter of a steel tycoon, feels alienated from the working class that surrounds her. Even though Mildred longs to understand people from other social classes, her aunt is hopeful that she will soon outgrow this phase. Mildred and her aunt are quite distinct from the men who were shown in the first scene. Mildred and her aunt, who are affluent and well-off, serve as literary antagonists to Yank and the other firefighters.

Scene 3: 

Mildred and Yank agree to be taken to the stokehole where the other men work by the ocean liner's second engineer. Mildred and the engineer, dressed in bright white, enter the stokehole just as Yank is yelling at the whistleblower to shovel more coal and work harder and faster. Mildred calls Yank a filthy beast and nearly faints at the sight of him sweating profusely, covered in coal dust, yelling, and holding a shovel.

Scene 4: 

At the beginning of scene 4, Yank enters a trance-like state as a result of Mildred's reaction to him. Yank is attempting to be coaxed out of this state by the other men. Long rouses Yank when this fails by pointing out that Mildred did not have the right to come and observe the men shoveling coal like animals in a zoo. Yank responds negatively by contrasting Mildred's gaze with that of a hairy ape that has just left the zoo. Yank declares that Mildred, whom he believes does not belong on his ship in the same way that he and the other firemen do, will be the target of his vengeance before the conclusion of scene 4. Then, Yank must be physically restrained from attacking Mildred by Paddy and Long.

Scene 5: 

When Yank and Long arrive on Fifth Avenue after getting off the ship in New York, Yank encounters multiple "Mildreds." Yank asks Long to take him back to the ship as he is surrounded by shops and clean streets that he has never seen before. Long, on the other hand, keeps making Yank mad about Mildred and how she treated him on the ocean liner. Yank tries to catch the attention of the wealthy people walking by in the middle of Fifth Avenue. Yank receives no attention at all as the populace continues with their day. When he tries to stop Fifth Avenue from moving forward, all he gets is a straightforward "beg your pardon" as more people pass by. Because Yank makes him miss his bus, only one street gentleman seems to notice him. Yank is detained and taken to jail for this.

Scene 6: 

Yank acts out while incarcerated for disrupting the street in New York City and can bend the cage's steel bars with brute force. The other inmates tell Yank about the opportunities that the Industrial Workers of the World union offers people like him once the guards have calmed him down. Finally, Yank believes he has found his place in the workforce amid coworkers who share his values. Yank is aware that Mildred's father makes steel similar to the steel that made the cage in which he is entrapped. He says he will get rid of the cage and the steel magnate who made it.

Scene 7:

Yank is released from prison after a month. When Yank reveals that he would rather take down the powerful steel companies by force than by handing out pamphlets, the secretary removes him from the union offices. The secretary throws Yank out of his office, mistaking him for a government employee.

Scene 8: 

Yank begins wandering the streets of New York after meeting at the union office. Saddened and depressed, he realizes that he will never be able to revolt sufficiently against the upper class for them to even notice him. Yank comes across a zoo where he sees a gorilla locked in a cage. Yank immediately feels connected to the ape. Yank notices that the ape and he both have large chests and strong arms. Yank frees the gorilla from its cage to make friends with the ape. Instead, Yank is attacked by the gorilla, who crushes him and throws his body into its cage, where he dies. 


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