The Hairy Ape by Eugene O’Neil reflects the modern tragic hero Yank


The Hairy Ape Eugene O’Neil is a modern tragedy of Eugene O’Neil. The tragedy is not a conventional one in the classical or Aristotelian tradition having as hero an extraordinary person with a tragic flaw or Hamartia.  But it is a modern tragedy with its protagonist as an antihero. Its subtitle does not reflect the theme of the drama which is undoubtedly intent of the playwright.

The Hairy Ape Tragic character

In this drama, Yanke is the protagonist who is a tragic character of the drama. Yank is not an exceptional man like Oedipus of Sophocles, or Hamlet of Shakespeare. He has enormous physical strength but perfect simplicity of mind. He is hairy chested with long arms of extraordinary power. He is more powerful that the other stokers.

The Hairy Ape by Eugene O’Neil

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He has the physical strength and capacity for destruction like hairy ape. He is beastly, filthy, vulgar and coarse. He can use only physical force only. Of course, he is stronger than his fellow strokers and love his work and the ship more that the others. He does not have any tragic flaw either, but he suffers and faces death because he is in conflict with his environment with certain social forces that are much stronger that he. Though he struggles hard against these force’s he can not win.

Yank as a modern tragic hero

We find him in the opening of the drama, he is drinking, singing, talking with his followers. Two people start combating. Suddenly and other join. Yank commandingly orders them to stop. Mildred comes down with the engineer into the stoke hole. She finds Yank behaving like a gorilla. So, she calls him “the filthy beast”. Yank feels insulted. He is found a changed man because of the insult. Now Yank wants to take revenge on Mildred insulted him saying, “Oh, the filhy beast!”

Yank is sent to prison because he attached people in the Fifth Avenue where he went in search of Mildred on whom he wanted to take revenge. In the prison Yank thinks himself to be an ape. The words” hairy ape” continues to torture him. He thinks that the place is a zoo and all the prisoners are animals put in cage.

Yank Passionate Utters

Then he utters with passionate despair, “Crist, where do I get Off at? Where do I fit in?”. He grabs hold of the bars of the cage and hauls himself painfully to his feet forces a mocking laugh and says in the strident tones of a circus barker, “Ladies and gents, step forward and take a slant at the one and only one and original Hairy Ape from the wilds of” the drops down dead on the floor. This is how the tragedy of a common man takes place and it results in disillusionment, frustration and tragedy for the modern man, as it does for Yank in the play.

Yank’s loss of faith

The Hairy Ape focuses on Yank’s loss of faith and belief as well as in the world in which he lives. Yank discovers that he is alone, lonely and that the world is impossible to live in. Yank is released from jail after one month. He goes direct to the I.W.W office. But Yank is expelled from the office of I.W.W because the secretary suspects him to be a spy of some terrorist organization Then he goes to a zoo and addresses a gorilla as ‘brother’ open its cage and tries to embrace him. The Gorilla crushes him. So there he dies.

From a study of the collapse of the modern civilization. Yank, the hero of the drama symbolizes the animal nature of man. The stoke hole symbolizes over populated uncomfortable present day civilized world. Mildred symbolizes the rich capitalist class who live a life of comfort and luxury. The conflict between Yank and Mildred symbolizes the conflict beween working class and modern class. The author has satirized the contemporary American Society in his famous play “The Hairy Ape”.

However, you may take a look the following video about the character of Yank for your better understanding.

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