The Hairy Ape


Not only does O’Neill explore the depths of the existential crisis, but he also delves into the primitive nature of Man. He presents his readers with a protagonist that exhibits almost every facet of what it means to be masculine. He is strong, brutish, and hard working. In almost every description, Yank is shown as a Neanderthal that barges around yelling orders and swearing. In some instances he hunches over as if he is Rodin’s The Thinker contemplating his brutish existence.[2] Yank’s world changes when he meets Mildred because suddenly his world got a lot bigger than he thought it was. He is exposed to an entire class of people that did not see him for his worth and appalled at the sight of him. Mildred comes to symbolize the upper class that he devotes himself to rebelling against. O’Neill pairs this origin-type man with the seemingly inferior upper-class modern man. The foil not only allows for audience sympathy towards Yank, the protagonist, but also forces the audience to consider what they have become as modern Man. This was a time when the “idealization of lower-class masculinity was rampant” and at their helm came Yank, the epitome of that lower-class, masculine Man.[3] Yank’s heroism lies in his inherent ability to be the best at everything physical, he lives and dies by the work he does with his hands. The affinity with the masculine has always been an important part of storytelling, but it becomes particularly interesting in the twentieth century when women gained more and more freedom and became increasingly active in the world. It seems as if the more women did for themselves, the more men receded into that prehistoric mindset of what it means to be successful.

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