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Hamilton, J.W. (1976). Early Trauma, Dreaming and Creativity: The Works of Eugene O'Neill. Int. R. Psycho-Anal., 3:341-364.

(1976). International Review of Psycho-Analysis, 3:341-364

Early Trauma, Dreaming and Creativity: The Works of Eugene O'Neill

James W. Hamilton


In this paper the early and later works of Eugene O'Neill have been studied in regard to manifest and latent content, and correlations between these plays and his core conflicts outlined. Because of various inconsistencies in the relationship with a severely depressed and addicted mother, O'Neill experienced excessive and repetitive early trauma, which left him with intense, unresolved dependent strivings and problems of separation, the underlying rage being internalized in the form of depressive symptomatology, a prominent feature of which was somatization. While his ambition was to become a poet, he began writing plays while recovering from tuberculosis in 1912, at the age of 24, and continued as a playwright until 1943, when a tremor of his upper extremities became so severe that he could no longer write legibly. A comparison of his early and later plays would indicate the centrality of pregenital themes with the need to control oral-sadistic rage through the creative process being a common denominator, and sufficient for him to interrupt his cycle plays to write The Iceman Cometh and Long Day's Journey into Night due to the increasing helplessness attendent upon his declining physical health. The importance of the dream in O'Neill's pattern of creativity is noted, with externalization of the dream in the form of the creative product becoming a means of attaining narcissistic repair and of making restitution for the lost object.

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