Sunday, October 24, 2010

Beyond the Horizon by Eugene O'Neill (1920)

Summary:  In Act 1, the Mayo family is preparing for the departure of their son Robert who plans to go on a three year sea-voyage with his uncle.  Because he has never been one for farming, his mother and father feel that the trip will be a great way for him to find himself while his younger brother Andrew (a natural farmer) stays at home and possibly starts a relationship with Ruth (the girl he spends most of his time with).  Hours before he is supposed to leave, Robert reveals to Ruth that he has always loved her; because she elatedly reciprocates, he decides to stay.  Andy, angry and heartbroken, hastily decides he will go on the voyage instead--a distressing revelation to both of his parents.

Act 2 opens three years later.  Robert and Ruth are decidedly unhappy, have an infant child and the farm is steadily declining.  In a moment of intense anger, Ruth reveals to Robert that she has always loved Andrew.  Moments later, Andrew enters--back from a successful journey.

Five years later, Act 3 begins and things have gotten markedly worse.  The infant has died, the marriage is miserable and Robert has a terminal illness.  Andrew returns with a specialist to take care of Robert, and Robert makes his wife and brother promise to marry after his death.  They try to argue with him as he draws his dying breath.  The play ends with Ruth and Andrew looking at each other, not sure what to do.

  I have put off reading this play for weeks because it is one of the longest, but I really enjoyed it.  While it is another in a long line of plays about unhappy families, O'Neill's writing stands alone (meaning:  I don't think I necessarily need to see this play to fully appreciate the story/characters).

As a sickly young child, Robert spent much of his time looking "beyond the horizon" and imagining what was "out there" waiting for him.  Because he chose to stay at home, he never got to discover the world and was left with a pile of what-ifs and might-have-beens.

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