"What's happened to this family anyway?" : the disintegration of the American family in selected plays by O'Neill, Miller, and Shepard
This thesis examines the disintegration of the American family as depicted in selected plays by Eugene O’Neill, Arthur Miller, and Sam Shepard. Four plays are central: Long Day’s Journey into Night (1956), Death of a Salesman (1949), Buried Child (1978), and True West (1980). (Journey and Salesman constitute my major focus and serve to generate my thesis statement, while Buried Child and True West illuminate the thematic concerns of Journey and Salesman from quite a different perspective, and thus serve to create some dynamics of contrast in my study). My thesis is motivated by the idea that pressures from the exterior world enter the family realm and contribute to the disintegration of the family. In order to ensure the myth of the American dream, however unattainable, family life is seen to pay the price. The theme of familial dysfunction relates to the values embedded in society; the family is breaking up from within by their allegiance to public values. My opening chapter looks at the turbulent father-son relationship and the challenges the American male experiences in relation to societal expectations and socially constructed ideas of masculinity. My subsequent chapter may be seen as an extension of the father-son relationship; it focuses on rivalry between male siblings. My third chapter looks at the female perspective of family life, through the figure of the “wife-mother.” It argues that patriarchal ideas confine women to the domestic sphere and that the patriarchy represents an obstacle to women attempting to fulfil their roles as mothers. In my concluding chapter I explore the existential dimension of these plays. Does society at large provide modern man with some sense of belonging? If not, can the family home be viewed as a last refuge?
PublisherUniversitetet i Tromsø
University of Tromsø
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