The Hairy Ape

The Hairy Ape Literary Elements


Expressionist drama



Setting and Context

1922 on an ocean liner and in New York City

Narrator and Point of View

Drama, focused on the protagonist Yank

Tone and Mood

Somber, frenzied, desperate, anguished

Protagonist and Antagonist

Yank (protagonist); Mildred (antagonist)

Major Conflict

Yank feels insulted and humiliated by Mildred's recoiling in horror from him; he feels he must exact revenge.


Yank delivers a monologue to a gorilla, speaking of his hopeless position in life.


Yank is on several occasions overpowered by groups of people piling atop him; he is killed similarly in the overpowering hug of a gorilla.


Mildred expects “a good thrill” from her visit to the stokehole but gets the shock of her life.


The character of Long speaks in terms drawn from socialist discourse.


O'Neill sets up each scene with dramatic lighting. Scene 3 in the stokehole, for example, is filled with shadow and light from the furnaces.


Yank is the strongest of the stokers, proud yet also sensitive to insult.


The gorilla, like Yank, is strong and feared, yet imprisoned and made impotent.


The gorilla seems to respond to Yank's monologue as though it were human like him.

Use of Dramatic Devices

The final scene is taken up by a lengthy monologue in which Yank lays out all he has been thinking and the hopeless conclusion he has arrived at. It is almost a soliloquy, but he is in some sense addressing the gorilla.