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The effect of dramatic concept in the non-realistic plays of Eugene O'Neill and Thornton Wilder


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Kent, Stella Ann 1981 , 'The effect of dramatic concept in the non-realistic plays of Eugene O'Neill and Thornton Wilder', Research Master thesis, University of Tasmania.

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Both Eugene O'Neill and Thornton Wilder reacted against the
naturalism of turn-of-the-century drama, believing that non-realistic
methods could be more effectively used to present
the truth. Influenced by recent experiments in Europe, and
deriving inspiration from Greek, Elizabethan and Oriental
models, the playwrights searched for novel techniques to wake
up the audience and shake it into awareness of man's universal
and contemporary situation. This study of twenty-six plays
considers the success of these devices.
A discussion of the structure of the plays in Chapter Two
explores O'Neill's use of compression, parallels, and repetition
to give the plays rhythm and force and his selection of
episodes which give heightened significance to the action
which is often played out against a large background. Similarly
Wilder's concentration on symbolic moments, the deliberately
jerky movement of many plays and the telescoping of time give
his characters and action a cosmological and metaphysical
In Chapter Three a study is made of the effect of characters
who are seen by the authors as only part of the whole play,
and are often used to illustrate only one or two human traits.
Representational and cliche characters, personalities from
history and myth, the personification of animals and places,
and characters who address the audience strengthen Wilder's
reminder to us that a play is a piece of fiction. O'Neill's
development of the mask is traced with its various purposes
of showing inner personality, conflict within the characters,
lack of individuality, and for its sheer dramatic power.
Chapters Four and Five analyse the dramatists' use of sound
and visual effects. Although aware that great language was
not possible in the early twentieth century, O'Neill
relies heavily on rhythm, silence and pauses, the use of speech
sounds, laughter, music and sound effects to give emotional
impact to the action. The asides of Strange Interlude were
a unique experiment which allowed layers of conflicting emotions
to be shown. Wilder's monologues and casual speech, lightened
by humour and platitudes, make his philosophical concerns more
palatable to the audience. Both authors were aware that stage-positioning,
movement, sets, mime, dance, frozen posture,
colour, lighting and costume could disencumber the dialogue,
focus our attention and create atmosphere.
The last Chapter attempts to assess what the playwrights achieved
with their experiments, both in terms of their success in
performance and reading, and in terms of the influence exerted
on a later generation of writers. American drama owes a significant
debt to both authors for liberating it from a stale
realistic tradition.

Item Type: Thesis - Research Master
Authors/Creators:Kent, Stella Ann
Keywords: O'Neill, Eugene, 1888-1953, Wilder, Thornton, 1897-1975
Copyright Holders: The Author
Copyright Information:

Copyright 1981 the Author - The University is continuing to endeavour to trace the copyright
owner(s) and in the meantime this item has been reproduced here in good faith. We
would be pleased to hear from the copyright owner(s).

Additional Information:

Thesis (M.A.)--University of Tasmania, 1983. Bibliography: l. 166-177

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