Human regression by industrialization in “The Hairy Ape”

Question: Discuss in brief the human regression by industrialization in “The Hairy Ape.”


Industrialization brought huge transitions in life and society. But the expressionist proletariat tragic play “The Hairy Ape” by Eugene O’Neil (1888-1953) discloses several human regressions because of industrialization. Although the plot of the play centers around the contentment of the protagonist, it gradually goes into deeply the predicaments of the modern people.

Psychological implications of the machine age

The literature of all types during the modern period has dealt with social problems. In “The Hairy Ape”, O’Neil reveals himself in sympathy with this tradition. The dramatist does not hesitate to declare that all walk people of the society are now psychologically machine-like. The firemen of the ocean liner are in an animalistic state through their struggle of life and the capitalists are in such a situation because of running after pelf and power. Thus, the play simultaneously exposes the machine-like nature of the upper and lower classes.

The practice of power prevailed in all classes

The most terrifying damnation of human society owing to industrialization is the practice of power prevailed in all classes. O’Neill has discovered that modern people belonging to any class have mental earnestness to practice power. The dominating nature of human beings has destroyed pure love and respect. It is evident at the onset of the play by the character of the protagonist Yank. Though he is co-operative with his fellow workers, he is violent and domineering to other workers such as Paddy who does not praise him and follow his command. When Yank plumes that he has been an inevitable part of the ship’s movement, all the workers except it gloriously except Paddy who mocks at laughter. He goes to hit him but cannot hit because of calling a whistle for work. Then Paddy says:

“I care for nobody, no not I,

And nobody cares for me.”

Hearing this Yank calls his name in a different threatening way. On the other hand, the capitalists have been the new name of devilish imperialistic power.

Loss of all connection with life

“The Hairy Ape” presents an extremely pessimistic view of the state of mechanized America. Life means passion, feeling, sensation, love, respect, and so on but the people are devoid of the connection of life in the industrialized society. At the commence of the plot, Yank forcefully stops singing of a sentimental worker when he starts a song;

“Far away in Canada

Far across the sea,

There’s a lass who fondly waits

Making a home for me”

Besides, the capitalist class is even more dehumanized because it has lost all connection of life and their life is simply a procession of ‘gaudy marionettes’. According to “The Hairy Ape”, both government and religion are devices for maintaining the status quo. The church substitutes political conversation for Christianity and methods of making money for concern with the meaning of life and death per a critic, Doris Alexander.

Government is equally at the service of gaudy marionettes or stylish puppets. It is exemplified by the police who function to keep the workers from disturbing the wealthy. On the whole, the state is a device for dehumanizing its citizens.

Clearly defined despair

O’Neil has illustrated that the whole society is in clearly defined despair. Such despair has resulted in different types of obsession. The capitalists are obsessed with pelf and power. The protagonist of the play is obsessed with insult and revenge and so on. Thus, human beings are damned.

Suffering from cosmic isolation

Suffering from cosmic loneliness is one of the prime throw-backs of human society as a result of industrialization. Through the illusion and lack of tolerance of the protagonist, the playwright has shown this predicament of human beings. Yank’s agony of the soul is disclosed by his long monologue in front of the gorilla cage. He is so obsessed with despair and loneliness that he talks to the gorilla.

“Ain’t we both members of de same club- de Hairy Ape?”

And finally, before death, he mutters or whispers that even the gorilla did not think that he belonged and in deep agony asks:

“Christ, where do I get off at? Where do I fit in?”

As he dies in the cage, the author comments now that perhaps “The Hairy Ape at last belongs”. What isolation it is! His suffering is symbolic of the suffering of many an alienated soul in the contemporary industrialized world.


From the light of the above discussion, it is asserted that industrialization is futile as it has failed to flourish humans and gifted damnations.

S Ridoy Kumar
S Ridoy Kumar
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