Her Own Reality
Throughout Long Day’s Journey into Night, Mary Tyrone finds herself presented with little else but difficulty and despair. Constantly reminded of the troubles of her recent past and finding herself in the midst of her current problems, Mary finds she can do little but retreat into a surreal fog, slowly withdrawing from reality and the rest of her family with the aid of morphine and her refusal to admit or deal with the problems at hand. As she looks around her, she sees a sickly son growing worse with a tuberculosis, the eyes of another, suspicious and accusing, and a husband with a life very different from her own, Mary finds herself descending into a misty realm that she and the morphine have created—one detached from her present life and based on false memories of the past.
Mary’s problems are the source of her decline. Since marrying Tyrone, she has felt out of place and alone. “I’ve never felt it was my home,” she says of the summer house (44). She lacks friends where she is now, and life on the road full of “dirty hotel rooms and one night stands” has never suited her. And even the life she married into—the life of the theater—was never what the life she expected to lead:
I’ve never felt at home in the theater. Even though Mr. Tyrone has always made me go with him on all his tours, I’ve had little to do with the people in his company, or with anyone on the stage... I’ve never felt at home with them. Their life is not my life. It has always stood between me and—
And beyond this, Mary lives with other difficulties throughout the play. Jamie, Edmund, and Tyrone’s suspicious glances and remarks remind her of a subject she doesn’t wish to discuss, her morphine addiction, while the rest of the house reminds her of the other troubles she faces. Edmund reminds her of being sick and of the morphine, the hollow sound of the fog horn reminds her of the emptiness of life, and even her own appearance reminds her of a faded beauty she once possessed. Nearly everything around her provides another layer of stress and tension, and so begins Mary’s withdrawal.
Under so much difficulty, Mary finds her only escape in withdrawing from her situation and from reality itself. Initially, Mary simply tries to deny that any problems exist. Edmund’s tuberculosis is merely a “summer cold” or “just a case of the grippe” to her, and her problems with morphine are ignored and forced into the past. In some ways, by pretending not to the suspicion of the others and denying what her problems really are, she tries to convince herself that what she says really is true:
How could you believe me—when I can’t believe myself? I’ve become such a liar. I never lied about anything once upon a time. Now I have to lie, especially to myself.
In addition, Mary tries to avoid discussion of these same problems altogether. With a pitiful “Don’t. I can’t bear having you remind me,” Mary not only prevents the discussion of disparaging topics, but also manages to make the other members of the family feel quite guilty. And, employing another tactic she distracts the others into avoiding the subject. In a moment of possible danger, her hand will “flutter up to her hair” or her head will turn to keep her eyes averted. Perhaps to prevent having to use morphine by remaining calm or perhaps just to keep away unwanted stress, Mary spends much of the book this way, avoiding conflict and slowly removing herself from reality and the truth.
In the end, however, this method of defense gradually fails. Mary begins to blame others for the difficulties she faces. She blames Tyrone for the boys drinking and putting her in this type of life:
You don’t know how to act in a home! You don’t really want one! You never have wanted one—never since the day we were married! You should have remained a bachelor and lived in second-rate hotels and entertained your friends in barrooms! Then nothing would ever have happened. (67)
Yet, Tyrone is not the only one. She blames Jamie for infecting Eugene, and she blames herself for being so afraid that she made Edmund weak and sensitive. And still she blames Edmund for making her sick, and Tyrone for the cheap doctor who first got her addicted to morphine—anything to give a reason for all the trouble in her life. Mary herself seems to be scrambling for stability and cause in a time when all things seem to be falling apart.
This collapse plunges Mary into a world halfway between the dreaminess of the morphine’s effect and her skewed memories of the distant past. In this realm, Mary finds herself detached from the rest of her family and from her troubles, muttering “What is it that I’m looking for? I know it’s something I’ve lost... Something I miss terribly.” Mary, by the last scene, finds herself so far into this world that she concentrates only on pleasant memories of becoming a nun or a concert pianist and on memories of her father, while in actuality none were truly as pleasant as she remembers them. Yet even before then, Mary’s manner had become, as the stage directions stay, “detached.” Although she may have been talking to Cathleen or Tyrone, who she was talking to no longer mattered. She was lost in her memories—memories of Tyrone’s charm before she married him and of the wedding dress on which her father spared no expense. These first signs of a retreat from reality only increase as the play progresses, ultimately resulting in her ending state—seemingly at peace yet remaining in a fog that clouds her speech and separates her from her husband and sons.
Much of Long Day’s Journey into Night deals with Mary’s spiraling in decline to the point where she is no longer a part of the same reality as the rest of her family. Her new reality, brought on by her failed attempts to dismiss the problems which plague her, is one which she has created and which puts her most at peace. A combination of the past, the fog, and the morphine, Mary’s final state leaves her removed from her problems, her final goal, settled into a world she created for herself. Mary’s Long Day’s Journey into Night led her past the other’s suspicion and her own guilt and despair, and has left her peacefully alone in her thoughts.