Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)

Semester of Degree Completion


Thesis Director

Walter Lazenby


Following the approach used by James Hurt in his book Catiline's Dream to determine Henrik Ibsen's "private myth" which he retold in play after play, I have delineated O'Neill's "private myth" in a narrower way concentrating on his female characters. Examining parallel motifs in the lives of the dominant women in Desire Under the Elms, Strange Interlude, and Mourning Becomes Electra, I have detected this mythic pattern involving the O'Neillian woman: She goes through an early innocent and submissive state guided by an initial vision of happiness which can be regarded as fairly conventional. But when her happiness is shattered through her suffering of a loss, the heroine decides to leave her passive behavior behind and undertake a struggle that in her eyes will give her happiness. However, she experiences repeated failures during her search brought about by numerous obstacles, such as the death of a beloved; a haunting past; her interrelatedness with characters suffering Oedipus Complexes, a haunting sense of guilt, biological curses and repressive Puritan behavior; or simply another character's pursuit of happiness obstructs hers. These impediments generate intensity in the heroine's feelings, bring about her increasing urgency to achieve happiness, and push her into adopting manipulative behavior in order to achieve her goals. Attaining at last a modicum of happiness, she consequently tries to hold on to it by any means--including even murder. But once again her happiness is obstructed, and consequently the heroine chooses to end her days in an attitude of renunciation, which may become, in the end, a kind of happiness.

Additionally I have illustrated how this "private myth" relates to O'Neill's personal life and experience as a playwright. His desire to give his characters tragic stature similar to the Greek tragic figures and his vision of women derived from his personal experience with his mother's suffering serve as the basis for his tragic portrayal of women in his plays.