The Hairy Ape

Yank's Marginalization in The Hairy Ape

In Eugene O’Neill’s The Hairy Ape, the character Yank is used to portray the suppression of the human spirit and the degradation of the working class. Throughout the play, Yank’s sense of belonging defines both his character and his state of mind. Yank seems to describe power as belonging, and although he claims to belong to many groups it is through his own lack of intelligence that he inevitably finds himself isolated and powerless once again. While powerless, Yank usually acts out violently against the environment around in an attempt to prove himself. In this constant cycle we see the tragedy of Yank’s character and what he represents; he cannot belong because he is unintelligent, and he is unintelligent because he is from the working class and therefore does not belong. In this way, O’Neill is able to criticize the inescapable and oppressive nature of the American social hierarchy.

The opening of The Hairy Ape is the only instance in which Yank has any sense of belonging. However, he is ignorant to the fact that through this sense of belonging as a fireman he is constrained both physically and figuratively. Not only is Yank literally cramped below the more exclusive passenger decks, his work is more reminiscent of a machine...

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