Within little more than three years of the opening of his first successful play on Broadway, Eugene O'Neill endured the deaths of his father, mother, and brother. These devastating losses plunged the young playwright into a period of guilt and profound mourning that consumed two decades of his life. In this enlightening critical biography, deeply informed by the insights of psychoanalysis, Stephen Black presents a new understanding of Eugene O'Neill's life (1888-1953), from his troubled childhood and adolescence through a glacially slow period of mourning for his family to his ultimate emergence from the preoccupation with grief and loss that had pervaded his life and his writings. Black argues that O'Neill consciously and deliberately used playwriting as a medium of self-psychoanalysis-an endeavor that led to the creation of some of the finest American plays ever written and, eventually, to a successful therapeutic outcome.
Through close analysis of O'Neill's plays and literary writings, some five thousand surviving letters, other personal documents, and accounts of people who knew him, Black reaches new conclusions about important aspects of the playwright's life and work. He follows the slow course of O'Neill's mourning by studying the many grieving characters in O'Neill's plays, and when at last the playwright accepts his losses and moves on, his characters do likewise. The changed tone and form of O'Neill's final plays, including Hughie and A Moon for the Misbegotten, reflect the playwright's psychological and artistic growth and his hard-won victory over mourning and tragedy.