Quarter to one, the same day. Edmund sits in the family room, reading. Cathleen, the second servant, sets up the table for lunch. She charms him into chatting with her a bit, and then calls the other men. Jamie comes in, sneaking a drink of whiskey and replacing the booze with water. Tyrone is outside, chatting with a neighbor. The two brothers discuss Edmund's illness; apparently, Edmund does not yet know that it might be consumption. They also talk about Mary, who has been upstairs all morning. Jamie fears she is taking morphine. Edmund insists she is only taking a nap.
Mary comes downstairs, dreamy and detached. Edmund does not notice: he sees what he wants to see. But Jamie recognizes immediately that she has taken morphine. The knowledge makes him tense, and he and Mary argue a bit: about Tyrone, mostly. Mary criticizes Jamie for always being hard on his father, and reminds him that thanks to Tyrone Jamie has never had to work hard in his life. But she then says something cryptic about all of them being powerless to change what they are. Mary's behavior is strange: she vacillates between a strange, dazed detachment and anger. She complains bitterly about Tyrone's inability to make a real home. He is too stingy to build a real home, with good servants, and so she has suffered all her life.
Edmund goes out to the porch to call in Tyrone, and Jamie indirectly accuses Mary of having lapsed. She denies it. When Edmund returns, he sees the upset look on Mary's face, and is angry with Jamie for accusing her. Mary leaves the room, and Edmund continues to deny to Jamie that she has lapsed. Tyrone comes in, and Tyrone and Jamie argue a bit about Jamie's drinking, although the three men go on to have a drink anyway. Tyrone notices the gloomy atmosphere. After Mary returns and scolds him for being late and then launches into a tirade about his inability to make a home, he realizes what has happened. Mary continues to be out of it, vacillating bizarrely in mood, detached one moment and earnest the next. Tyrone is deeply upset. Edmund, finally, can no longer deny what has happened. Tyrone, resigned and upset but understanding the need to support his wife, goes with her to the parlor.
Act Two begins with preparation for lunch, but we never see the meal. Instead of eating together, the four members of the Tyrone family satisfy themselves with either alcohol or drugs. We can infer that the three men are heavy drinkers. Edmund, though sick with a cough, continues to take whiskey. Jamie has elaborated a system for stealing whiskey from his ever-watchful father. Escape and avoidance constitute one of the central themes of the play. Mary retires to the upstairs room for her shot of morphine. The men booze it up downstairs. The Tyrones seem unable to confront reality without chemical help.
Jamie and Tyrone in particular seem dependent on alcohol. The Tyrone men comfort themselves with folk wisdom about whiskey's supposed health benefits: "It's before a meal and I've always found that good whiskey, taken in moderation as an appetizer, is the best of tonics" (68). Alcohol has contributed to Jamie's failures. It has hurt Edmund's health. And it becomes a source of conflict between Jamie and Tyrone, as Jamie continues to steal his father's booze.
What's more, the alcohol solves no problems. The three men share a drink, but none of the social magic of alcohol seems to work. The three men remain as miserable as ever. Tyrone says to Jamie, "You got the drink you were after, didn't you? Why are you wearing that gloomy look on your mug?" (69). Mary's words indicate that drinking all day is a common Tyrone activity: "I know what to expect. You will be drunk tonight. Well, it won't be the first time, will it or the thousandth?" (72). Just as the same arguments are repeated throughout the course of the play, the day is illustrative of a larger pattern. The cycles of drinking, fighting, and exhaustion are part of the Tyrones' lives.
Now that she has lapsed back into taking morphine, Mary is repeating a mantra of fatalism: "But I suppose life has made him like that, and he can't help it. None of us can help the things that life has done to us" (63). Mary is setting guilt and accountability to rest. Certainly for an addict, life becomes something where choice seems to no longer be an issue. But by giving in so readily, and using this fatalism to excuse her sons and husband, she is also taking the path of least resistance. She is avoiding responsibility for her problem with morphine.
Certainly, there are painful issues between her and Tyrone. She blames him for her loneliness, and for her addiction. She lashes out at him for never wanting the kind of home she has always longed for: "You should have remained a bachelor and lived in second-rate hotels and entertained your friends in barrooms . . . Then nothing would ever have happened" (69). So part of Mary, like Jamie, blames Mary's addiction on the cheap doctors Tyrone prefers.
The morphine has sent her into tailspin. She is blaming Tyrone for ruining her life one moment, and then begging his forgiveness the next: "James! I tried so hard! I tried so hard! Please believe!" (72). Mary's fatalism helps her to deal with her guilt, but it does not absolve her. And doped up, she cannot stay focused or stable enough to feel one way about anything for long.