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Biplob Prodhan
  • 3 months ago
  • 76
The Hairy Ape as a social Satire


Eugene O’Neill’s play “The Hairy Ape” is a powerful social satire that explores the alienation and struggles of the working class in early 20th century America. The play uses the character of Yank, a brutish and uncivilized ship laborer, to highlight the challenges faced by working-class people who often feel disconnected from the society around them. Through Yank’s story, O’Neill exposes the hypocrisy and cruelty of the upper class and the indifference of the middle class to the plight of the working poor.

At the heart of the play is the conflict between Yank and the upper class represented by Mildred Douglas. Mildred, a wealthy young woman, ridicules Yank and his way of life, sparking his obsession with seeking revenge against the upper class. Yank’s violent outbursts and his eventual imprisonment for attacking Mildred highlight the destructive consequences of class conflict and the sense of hopelessness felt by working-class people who believe they are powerless to change their situation.

O’Neill’s use of symbolism is key to the play’s social commentary. Yank’s identification with the steel of the ship and the machinery of the city reflects his sense of being dehumanized and reduced to a mere cog in the industrial machine. The frequent references to the zoo, where Yank is compared to an ape, underscore the idea that the working class is viewed as less than human by the upper class. The play’s title itself is a symbol of the dehumanization and degradation of the working class, who are reduced to being little more than “hairy apes” in the eyes of the upper class.

The play also critiques the labor movement of the time, represented by the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW), which fails to connect with Yank and the working-class people it claims to represent. The IWW Secretary’s attempts to recruit Yank to their cause are unsuccessful, highlighting the disconnect between the rhetoric of the labor movement and the lived experiences of working-class people. O’Neill’s critique of the labor movement reflects his belief that true social change can only come from a fundamental shift in the values and attitudes of the society as a whole, rather than from political or economic reforms alone.

Ultimately, “The Hairy Ape” is a powerful social commentary on the struggles of the working class in early 20th century America. Through Yank’s story, O’Neill exposes the deep divisions and inequalities that exist within American society, and highlights the need for a more inclusive and empathetic social order. The play’s use of symbolism and its biting satire make it a timeless work that speaks to the ongoing struggles of the working class and the need for social justice and equality.

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Biplob Prodhan
Founder of EDNOUB & Ednoub Private Program


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