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Eugene O'Neill's Joseph: A Touch of the Dreamer Kurt Eisen Since the pUblication in 1963 of John Henry Raleigh's :'Eugene O'Neill and the Escape from the Chateau d'Jf"l the m~uence of James O'Neill's long-running stage romance 'Monte Cnsto has become a given in any biographical reading of his son's works. But a play in which James acted after his final tour as Edmund Dantes in 1912, Joseph and His Brethren may offer some further insight into the figure who appears in ~any of Eugene's plays-the young man with a "touch of the poet" the dreamer set apart from his fellows. Like the story of Edmudd Dantes, the account of Joseph in the final chapters of Genesis develops themes closely parallel to those in O'Neill's plays' e g Joseph's sharply ?elimited role as a son and a brother; his .se~~ of person~ destiny; the descent into a pit, brought on by brothers' ,Jealousy and ill-will; his disastrous dealings with won:en; his.eventu:u re-emergence in power; and perhaps most cruCl~~, ~ healing final gesture of forgiveness and family re~onciliation. These th~mes in the Joseph story may even be smd to define an essential aspect of O'Neill's writings In the Genesis story (chapters 37-50) Joseph is 'the firstbo ~ of Jaco~'s favored wife Rachel but younger than the sons o~ his father s other wife Leah. Joseph's brothers turn against him after he reveals a dream that seems to prophesy his eventual ascend~cy ~ the family. The fine coat of many colors that Jacob gIVes hlffi finally drives the brothers to violence They cast Joseph into a pit, then sell him to itinerant slav~ traders ~ho c~ h~ to Egypt: ~ere he soon becomes chief stew~d !ll Potiphar s house until hIS chaste rejection of Potiphar s wife provokes her to accuse him of trying to seduce her. .KU!tT EIS~N is ~ doctoral candidate in the Department of English at Umver<y. He 18 working on a study of novelization in O'Neill's drama. Boston 344 Kurt Eisen 345 Joseph is then imprisoned, but his rumored ability to interpret dreams prompts Pharaoh to seek his analysis of certain unsettling dreams. Pharaoh is so taken. with Joseph that he makes him a trusted and powerful administrator with vast responsibilities . In accord with Pharaoh's dream, seven abundant harvests are followed by seven years of famine, but this crisis ultimately reunites Joseph with his family when Jacob's sons come in desperation to seek grain in Egypt. They fail at first to recognize their brother in the Inighty Egyptian who controls the granaries; Joseph draws matters out temporarily behind his mask of power, then at last contrives a moving family reunion and forgives his now-contrite brothers. The establishment of the twelve tribes of Israel completes the reconciliation. We see in Genesis that Joseph's dominant character traits are chastity, a certain aloofness, an ambitious, visionary imagination , and the capacity to forgive. He is not a patriarch like his father Jacob, the immediate descendant of Abraham and Isaac. Rather, he thrives under the authority of various paternal figures: first Jacob, then Potiphar, then Pharaoh, and, ultimately, God. As Dorothy F. Zeligs points out in her study of biblical leaders, Joseph's personality is "characteristic of the son and brother rather than of the father figure."2 Joseph's sons become patriarchs but he himself does not. Zeligs explains: "Joseph remains a son rather than the father of a tribe."3 The subtitles of Louis Sheaffer's two-volume biography of O'Neill, Son and Playwright and Son and Artist, affirm this filial quality in O'Neill.4 Moreover, the late autobiographical plays, Long Day's Journey into Night and A Moon for the Misbegotten, show that, like Joseph, O'Neill was an eternal brother.·Sheaffer speculates that Joseph and His Brethren was one of two James O'Neill roles-the other was The Wanderer-that moved O'Neill to use scripture in some of his plays.5 The struggles and triumphs of Joseph follow in several striking ways the...


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pp. 344-358
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