My Eugene O’Neill Summer
were, most likely, too big for him; he liked to dress up like a philosopher, cloak himself in grandiose intellectual superstructures— who but O’Neill would have the audacity to conceive a nine-play cycle called “Tale of Possessors Self-Dispossessed”?
Who else? Well, actually, a ready example comes to mind: the young James Joyce, so persuaded of his artistic genius that at the end of Portrait he could write, with a straight face, “I go to encounter for the millionth time the reality of experience and to forge in the smithy of my soul the uncreated conscience of my race.”
Joyce gave us the charter of what an artist—an Irish artist—looks like. And O’Neill really did give us a theatrical embodiment of the American soul—which, in figures like James Tyrone and Con Melody, often turns out to be a distinctly Irish-American soul.
The other miracle of O’Neill is that he, like Joyce, had the talent to rise above the uncooked quality of his ideas. If ideas were what truly counted, then art would have died a long time ago; there are always better thinkers than we will find among poets, playwrights, and novelists. But art does not run on the clarity of its creators’ thought. It runs on talent, and O’Neill’s mastery of the stage cannot be disputed. Yes, he may sound like a young man out of his waters—but the plays work. And as another great America thinker, Dizzy Dean, once said, “If you can do it, it ain’t bragging.”