Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Anna Christie by Eugene O'Neill (1922)

Summary:  Christopher Christopherson is an aging sailor who receives a letter (care of the local tavern) from his estranged daughter.  Anna is writing to say that she will soon be arriving for an extended stay.  He is delighted and makes room for her aboard his barge.  When she arrives, it becomes clear that she is there because she needs a break from her career as a whore.  Oblivious to this and happy to see her, he persuades her to stay aboard the ship.

A few nights later, a stranded crew finds their way on-board Christopherson's barge.  Quickly, one of the refugee passengers (Mat Owen) falls in love with Anna.  In a dramatic scene of self-disclosure, Anna reveals to her father and Mat (who now wants to marry her) that she was previously making her living as a prostitute.  All hell beaks loose, Mat and Chris go ashore, leaving Anna in despair on the boat.  Eventually, both of the men come back and Mat agrees to marry Anna "in spite of it all" (188). 

Thoughts:  Eugene O'Neill's other Pulitzer Prizes are for Strange Interlude, Long Day's Journey Into Night and Beyond the Horizon.  While I can certainly see elements of all of those works in this play (family, men returning from the sea, alcohol), I was surprised to read the following outburst:  "God's curse on you!  You slut, you, I'll be killing you now!"  (Act 3, 180)  One scene before calling her a slut, Mat also attacked Chris (physically) after Chris explicitly stated that he did not want his daughter marrying a man of the sea. 

Perhaps most troubling is the scene of reconciliation that ends the play.  In that scene, Mat returns to Anna and berates her for her transgressions as a whore.  She protests saying things like, "Don't you seem I'm licked?  Why d'you want to keep on kicking me?"  He responds with, "And don't you deserve the worst I'd say, God forgive you?"  (186).  When she finally convinces him that she did not love any of her clients and instead loves him, Matt asks her to promise this by swearing with her hand on a crucifix.  After she has sworn, he asks if she is Catholic and is horrified to discover that she is a Lutheran.  Regardless, he agrees to marry her.  It is then revealed that Chris and Mat will soon be shipmates on a voyage to South Africa.  Although Mat threw a chair at Chris just days before, everyone guffaws and the play ends happily ever after (cringe).

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