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Peck, M.W. (1935). A Psychiatrist Views the Drama. Psychoanal. Rev., 22(3):306-313.

(1935). Psychoanalytic Review, 22(3):306-313

A Psychiatrist Views the Drama

Martin W. Peck, M.D.

In the understanding of human nature, art will always lead and science can only follow. The excuse for a psychiatrist to discuss the work of a dramatist lies in the possibility that by virtue of the special knowledge and interest of his profession he may throw light from a new angle upon obscure psychological problems. The dramatic artist, set apart from other men by unusual gifts of intuition and powers of expression, creates characters whose thoughts and actions reveal fundamental realities of human life. Psychology attempts to interpret these realities in terms of science and in so doing may contribute to the intellectual comprehension of truths already made accessible to feeling and emotion through the language of art.

Eugene O'Neill's “Days Without End” has received much unfavorable comment by the critics. These depreciations are based ostensibly on defects in the play as an artistic production. At the same time there is evidence of impatience and regret that a dramatist notable in the past for courageous questioning of the established order should return to the “illusions” of his fathers in the treatment of a religious theme. The impression is gained that if the illusions upheld were of a twentieth century variety, many of these modern critics would be more tolerant toward the play as a whole.

What lesson, if any, the author intended to convey is not fully disclosed, but certainly any art work worthy of the name is something more than moral tract or religious propaganda. It should not be difficult to show that there are levels for interpretation of the play other than the familiar orthodox story that acceptance of Christ brings peace to troubled souls. It is permissible, for example, to find in the major story a dramatization of the subjective evolution of forces within the single personality of the hero. Considered from this standpoint the work must be looked upon as allegory rather than realism. Whether such a purpose is deliberate or unwitting on the part of the author, certainly. wide latitude may be allowed for choice of the material in which it is presented. Appraisal by reality standards, social, religious, moral or historical, is relevant chiefly on the ground that the allegorical purpose is served well or badly.

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