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Barrett, W.G. (1960). Eugene O'Neill and the Tragig Tension: By Doris V. Falk. New Brunswick, New Jersey: Rutgers University Press, 1958. 211 pp.. Psychoanal Q., 29:124-125.

(1960). Psychoanalytic Quarterly, 29:124-125

Eugene O'Neill and the Tragig Tension: By Doris V. Falk. New Brunswick, New Jersey: Rutgers University Press, 1958. 211 pp.

Review by:
William G. Barrett

This book attempts to trace a psychological pattern in O'Neill's plays which 'seems to reflect a pattern in the author's psyche'. Miss Falk studies the plays chronologically, in their sequence of conception as given by the author himself, with particular reference to his preoccupation with the 'tragic tension' of the dichotomies, good and evil, pleasure and pain, will to live and wish to die. In the plays themselves these conflicts are frequently dramatized in terms of mask versus true personality, or in terms of what Carl Jung has described as the 'persona' versus the 'self'.

Although O'Neill was familiar with Freud's writings, he seems to have had a stronger affinity for the psychic cosmology of Jung with its concepts of collective unconscious and individuation ('self-realization'). Jung's almost metaphorical statements of every man's philosophical dilemma (with or without awareness) are nowadays dealt with by psychoanalysis in terms of 'the problem of identity'. It is interesting that the author uses this term several times to describe the psychological quest of both O'Neill and his characters, but without awareness of its psychoanalytic significance. Her psychological interest turns instead toward demonstrating 'the astounding correspondence' (p. 53) between the patterns of behavior of O'Neill's heroes and Karen Horney's descriptions of neurotic types in Neurosis and Human Growth, published seven years after O'Neill had finished his last play. While the correspondence is indeed striking there is nothing to suggest that in O'Neill's playwriting there was any deeper insight into human psychological conflict than has been the common possession of mankind for centuries. It is somewhat paradoxical that Miss Falk in a discussion of the ancient sin of hubris (p. 140) shows her awareness of this fact, although she apparently fails to recognize that Horney's descriptions, as well as those quoted from Erich Fromm, have greater literary than scientific value.

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