Date on Master's Thesis/Doctoral Dissertation


Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation

Degree Name

Ph. D.



Committee Chair

Gibson, John

Author's Keywords

Paradox of tragedy; Eugene O'Neill; Nietzsche; Philosophy of emotion


O'Neill; Eugene; 1888-1953. Long day's journey into night; Drama--Psychological aspects; Tragedy in literature; Tragedy--Philosophy


In this dissertation I examine a philosophical problem referred to as the “paradox of tragedy” as it presents itself in the context of the positive reception of Eugene O’Neill’s Long Day’s Journey into Night. This play depicts a harrowing day in the life of the Tyrone family, where each of the family members cope with failure, addiction, and disease. The emotional tone is bleak and pessimistic, yet people often describe their responses to this tragedy in terms of pleasure, and one can easily imagine someone claiming to “enjoy” the play. How is this possible? Moreover, what motivates one to pursue Long Day’s Journey into Night when they would endeavor to avoid negative emotional stimuli in real life? In chapter 1 of the project, I survey a family of theories as proposed resolution of this problem. I examine a theory derived from Stoic philosophy, David Hume’s “conversion” theory, and John Morreall’s “control” theory. Utilizing evidence drawn from analytic philosophy as well as cognitive psychology, I rule each of these theories out. This allows me to establish acceptable criteria for any resolution to the problem. In chapters two and three, I turn my attention to the claim that Journey on the whole elicits more good than bad emotional states. Using a method of emotional analysis proposed by Nöel Carroll, in chapter three, I construct a close reading of the emotional address of the play, concluding that the claim that the play elicits more positive emotion than negative is likely false. In chapters four and five, I construct a thematic reading of the play by first establishing the connection between the writing of Eugene O’Neill’s writing and the work of Friedrich Nietzsche. I perform a second close reading of the play to validate a Nietzschian reading, and then utilize this data as a feature of my own resolution to the problem. In chapter six, I conclude by presenting two theories that account for all the conditions I have established as a candidate solution and defend a “meta-response” style solution to the paradox of Journey.