Biography of Eugene O'Neill

Eugene O'Neill is perhaps one of the best-known American playwrights of all time, and received numerous accolades throughout his lengthy career. He is best categorized as a playwright in the realist school, and is credited with bringing realism, a dramatic technique initially employed by the European playwrights Anton Chekhov and Henrik Ibsen, to the United States. He often wrote about Americans living in desperate conditions, and his play Long Day's Journey into Night is considered one of the greatest American plays of all time.

O'Neill was born in New York City, at a hotel called the Barrett House, the son of Irish immigrants, James O'Neill and Mary Ellen Quinlan. His father was an actor, and so was often on tour, and Eugene grew up with an awareness of and appreciation for the theater. He started his undergraduate studies at Harvard University, but left after a year to move to New York City, where he became entrenched in the Greenwich Village literary scene. He first harnessed his abilities as a playwright on Cape Cod with the Provincetown Players in 1916. The Provincetown Players had theaters in Provincetown and Greenwich Village, and they frequently produced O'Neill's work.

Beyond the Horizon was O'Neill's first play to premiere on Broadway, in 1920, and won the Pulitzer. That same year, he wrote The Emperor Jones, which premiered to great acclaim. His other plays include Anna Christie, Desire Under the Elms, The Iceman Cometh, Long Day's Journey into Night, A Moon for the Misbegotten, Strange Interlude, Mourning Becomes Electra, and Ah, Wilderness!, a comedy.

In spite of his success, O'Neill had an unhappy personal life, with marital struggles and estranged relationships with his children. Additionally, he suffered from alcoholism and depression. In 1936, he won the Noel Prize in Literature. In 1953, he died at the age of 65 in a hotel in Boston.


Study Guides on Works by Eugene O'Neill

The Emperor Jones is a play written by Eugene O'Neill and first produced in New York City in 1920. It tells the story of a black American man named Brutus Jones who, after killing another black man in a dice game, escapes jail and goes to a small...

The Hairy Ape tells the story of the fall of Yank, a proud and powerful stoker working aboard a steamship. Though respected by his fellow workers, a chance encounter with a millionaire's daughter who disdains him as an "ape" leads to a vain quest...

The Iceman Cometh is often deemed Eugene O’Neill’s magnum opus. It is a towering, profound, and lengthy work that manages to conjure up the universal and existential amidst the conversations of bums, derelicts, and dreamers at a rundown bar in...