The Hairy Ape

Existentialism

One common analysis of the play reads it as an Existentialist piece in reference to the protagonist himself experiencing an existential crisis. Yank believed himself to be the sole provider for the ocean liner; he was content because he believed his work was worth something. When he is called a “filthy beast” by Mildred in scene three, he begins to rebel against the upper class that he believes relies solely on him. After the insult, it became evident to Yank just what little worth he was to them, thus inciting his rebellion against them. However, he soon finds that most of the people he rebels against do not give him a second thought. His entire existence is so minuscule to them, as seen on Fifth Avenue is scene five, that his act of rebellion goes unnoticed. Yank finds that it is impossible to rebel against the entirety of the upper class because there is no actual tangible thing for him to rebel against. His struggle fails before it even begins. This aspect of the story qualifies Yank as the existential, or absurd, hero of the play in that he ends up devoting his entire existence to a meaningless rebellion that accomplishes nothing at all.[1] He gives the ultimate sacrifice, his life, to nothing. However, by the end of the play, when it becomes evident that his struggle collapsed, Yank experiences remorseful acceptance. He is able to make light of the situation and finally accepts his position in the world, his liberation derives from the futility of his existence. The liberation is seen in the final scene with the gorilla. Yank goes and meets his symbolic equal in that to the upper class, they are nothing but beasts to exploit. Yank comes to terms with his position in the world again and dies knowing that he belongs somewhere.


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