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Exiles, The Great God Brown, and the Specter of Nietzsche LINDA BEN-ZVI There are striking similarities in the lives of James Joyce and Eugene O'Neill, similarities that can be attributed in part to their commonly shared Irish roots dominant fathers; passive, religious mothers; Catholic education - and in part to their shared desire to escape those roots and become self-begetting in their person and in their art. I These similarities help explain the strong literary influence, albeit unacknowledged, that Joyce exerted on O'Neill.2 For instance, Louis Sheaffer, in his two-volume biography of O'Neill, makes a connection between Joyce's Ulysses, which O'Neill read in I922, and the play Strange Interlude, written soon after, in which O'Neill attempted to adapt the novelistic stream-of-consciousness technique for the stage (S & A, pp. I99, 239). Sheaffer also comments on O'Neill's enthusiasm for Joyce's earlier writings: There was a new book that impressed them all, James Joyce's Dubliners, but no one was more excited about it than the 0 'Neills.... Yet his [Eugene's] enthusiasm for Dubliners was, if anything, exceeded by his feeling for the other Joyce book he hastened to read, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. On page after page of Joyce's account of his childhood and youth, in the persona of Stephen Dedalus, he found a record of his own beginnings. (S & P, pp. 433-434) Sheaffer directly cites Portrait as a source for The Straw, O'Neill's own account of his emergence as a writer, going so far as to credit Stephen Dedalus as the origin for the name which O'Neill used for his persona, Stephen Murray.3 The Straw deals with a young man confined to a sanitarium, much as the young O'Neill was, and chronicles his first attempts to write, under the encouragement ofa fellow patient, Eileen Carmody. However, the world portrayed in the play, the sequestered sanitarium, is removed from the actual environment in which Stephen must struggle for artistic recognition; and the focus remains on the tubercular patients and their love rather than on the emerging artist. 252 LINDA BEN-ZVI More Joycean in tone, although not influenced by him, "Bread and Butter," O'Neill's first full-length play, written four years earlier, in 1914, directly portrays the artist's struggle. However, the persona John Brown - a name borrowed from the American hero - has less success than his Dublin counterpart Stephen Dedalus "to fly by those nets" which seek to hold him. Brown is met with rejection and bewilderment from his family, who live a provincial life in a small New England town, much like the New London of O'Neill's youth. "'And behold these worship[p]ers of the golden calf, these muddy souls, will exert all their power to hold him to their own level' ," comments John's artistic mentor, ironically named Eugene.4 After a brief attempt to study art in New York, John succumbs to the pleadings of Maud Steele, his childhood sweetheart, and returns to his home town and married life. " 'Oh it's hell to love and be loved by a girl who can't understand; who, you know, tries to and cannot; who loves you, and whose life you are making miserable and unhappy by trying to be true to yourself' "("Bread and Butter," p. 48), John says before he finally takes what be believes is the only way out of his hopeless situation: suicide. The persona who emerges from this play finds the forces of society - particularly in the person of the conventional woman too difficult to overcome, and he is defeated without much struggle. This battle, more successfully waged by the playwright than by his fictive representative, was patterned after 0 'Neill's own attempt to establish himselfas a writer. Yet if the personal struggle was successful, the play was not; and O'Neill abandoned it, unpublished and unproduced.5 Ten years elapsed before O'Neill returned to the theme of the artist in society, in The Great God Brown, and this time there is a direct connection with the writing of Joyce. As the title indicates, O...


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