The Hairy Ape is quite an interesting play written by Eugene O’Neill in 1922. He was a famous American playwright and The Hairy Ape is one of his famous works and is important for all literature students.
The interesting part is that the play The Hairy Ape is not really about an ape (monkey) but a fireman, the person who brings coal to run the engine of a ship.
This story is from the times when the gap between the rich and the poor was expanding vastly and is still on.
Characters Of The Hairy Ape
1. Robert Yank Smith
A British person who works as a fireman on a ship. He is the protagonist of this play. He is quite powerful and is the leader of all the other workers on that ship. At the beginning of the play, Robert is quite happy with his job as a fireman, but when a beautiful woman named Mildred Douglas humiliates him and calls him a bad animal, then he gets irritated with the upper-class society and in his anger, he also quits his job and gets against the upper-class society.
2. Mildred Douglas
She is another character in the play who is a beautiful rich woman and makes Robert Yank angry Smith by humiliating him.
Paddy is an aged worker who works on the same ship as Yank. In the beginning of the play, Paddy has the problem that the rich people take too much work from the poor.
He also works on the ship, supports Yank, and goes to a place named Fifth Avenue with Yank.
5. Aunt of Mildred Douglas
6. Secretary Of Mildred Douglas
Let us now move to The Hairy Ape critical analysis along with the summary.
Summary Of The Hairy Ape Play
The play has been divided into 8 scenes. The story of the play begins from the forecastle of a ship. It is the place where firemen work. All the firemen of the ship gather at the forecastle. They were working and got a break and drank beer together. They all were singing out loud and were enjoying themselves while making a lot of noise.
One of them was a strong and powerful man Yank who was watching all of them. He went near them and sat there silently. But when he started speaking, everyone else got silent. Yank asked for a beer to drink. Since they were all afraid of him, they gave him 2 beers instead of just 1.
They all were scared of Yank because of two reasons. First is that he was a powerful man with a strong body. Secondly, he was also the leader of their group, so it was necessary to follow what he would say and so did everyone.
Now, Yank also starts drinking beer with them. He starts gossiping and joking and singing with them all. While they were all singing out loudly, one of them stood up and started singing about home and life outside the ship. Yank gets furious about this and asks that man to stay silent angrily.
Then, Long, the worker stands up and starts taking Marxist things. He starts giving orders to other workers. Long says that if this forecastle is the home of this ship, then this home is not less than hell where the upper-class people have thrown them.
Then, the old man Paddy also stands up. This is the oldest and most experienced person on the ship. He also says that life on the ship is really not less than hell. Then Paddy starts telling them all about his past and tells them about freedom because he had enjoyed it some time. He had skills that once had value.
Then Yank asks him why he is crying by remembering his past. Yank says that he should use this energy in his work instead of wasting it over crying. Yank tells him that he should respect his work.
Now, Mildred Douglas and her aunt are sitting on the roof of this ship and discussing something. Mildred wants to help the poor and has already done a lot in this aspect. Then her aunt says that it is good that she helps the poor but she doesn’t understand why she does this charity internationally (in different countries). Moreover, her aunt says that it is good that she has a helping nature but along with helping the poor, she also makes them realize their poor condition.
Mildred and her aunt are also waiting for the second engineer of the ship because he has to take them to the stock hall where the labours of the ship are working (Yank and his fellow workers). So, the second engineer arrives and before taking them, he tells Mildred that her white dress might get dirty because of the coal down there so she should wear something else. But Mildred says that she doesn’t bother and asks him to go.
In the stock hall, Yank and the other workers are working there. There is a lot of noise and Yank is shouting loudly to encourage the workers to work. Then suddenly, they all stop working. Yank wonders what made them stop and he turns back to see a beautiful lady in a white dress, Mildred Douglas. On seeing Yank, Mildred gets scared and due to fear she calls him “Filthy Beast”. And then she faints and falls down.
All the other people who had arrived with her handle her and take her back. As they left, all the workers gather again and start talking about the scene when Mildred made fun of Yank by calling him a filthy beast.
Now, Paddy goes to Yank and tells him that Mildred was looking at him like she had seen some hairy ape. Angrily, Yank moves towards the door to look for Mildred, but another worker stopped him.
This is what happened till the first four scenes of the play.
In the fifth scene, Long, the worker, takes Yank to a place called Fifth Avenue in New York City to show him that all the upper-class people are like that girl Mildred, that is, they all are selfish, and do not bother about or give any attention to poor people like him and Yank. Then Yank tries to seek the attention of the people there.
But, no upper-class person even talks or looks at him. There is no one who shows interest in Yank. Yank starts doing weird actions there and finally the police arrest him because in his attempt to get attention from a man there, the man’s bus gets missed and he gets caught by the police.
Then the police take him to the Black Well island and prisons him.
In the 6th scene, Yank meets other prisoners in the jail and talks to them, and tells them his story. Then, the other prisoners say that if he wants to take revenge on that girl, then he should join the company of her father “Industrial Workers of the World”. The prisoners tell Yank that Mildred’s father is the owner of a steel company.
And, in fact, the prison in which Yank is right now, is also made in the company of Mildred’s father. Then, Yank starts to break the steel rods present in that prison. The policemen come there and stop him.
After spending about one month in the prison, Yank bails out and goes to IWW, the place which the other prisoners told him about.
He goes there with the intention to get a job. But, he is rejected because they mistake him for a spy. And due to his weird behavior of Yank, he has to suffer a lot, and finally, he is thrown away on the street. Yank gets really sad and disappointed about the way he is treated.
He thinks that his fellow workers are better than these people as they at least respect him. He, somehow, spends the night, and the next morning he goes to a zoo.
In the zoo, Yank sees a hairy ape and gets attracted to it. He thinks that the monkey is the same as him. He says that the monkey is also powerful and he is too. And in fact, Mildred also took him for a monkey as he remembers what Paddy had told him.
Yank then opens his cage to befriend the monkey. He approaches his hand to have a handshake with him and the monkey grabs him and takes him to his cage.
In the end, the monkey kills Yank in the cage and his dead body remains inside the cage.
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