Thirst by Eugene O’ Neill: Symbolic Significance, Tragic Atmosphere, Hints and Foreboding

Introduction: Eugene O’ Neill is a writer who greatly values brevity in art. In his writings, therefore, he focuses on a small group of characters who have some shared interest. Though this tendency limits the plot as well as the activities of characters, it is ideal for bringing out some kind of hidden trust that O' Neill believes must emerge out of drama. In his Thirst the three major characters- the Drama, The Gentleman and The West Indian Mulatto- are involved with the strategy of survival amidst abject misery of vast ocean after ship wreak. What they do at the critical situation, how they respond to it, what is final route of rescue is of concern for readers, as well as critics. I web of interacted imagery is the technical excellence of Thirst by which the text becomes itself misted with more and more meaning.

 O, Neill thinks that the theme should be presentational, on ensemble emerging freely in colour, design, sonic setting and in, what is called, the choreographic acting. It is obviously an expressionistic view in order to penetrate the psychological and spiritual truth of the objective reality. The growing expressionist stance of his plays is process of amalgamation of symbolic and sluggishness inside of surface reality.

If Beyond The Horizon is a symbolic conflict between captivity and freedom, If Anna Christie beares witness to symbolic fog, Thirst can most miss the symbolic meaning under the photographic sort of naturalism. The vast expanse of sea, the scorching tropical sun, the circulations sharks, the colors of red and blood and above all the charters- carry a deeper symbolic meaning in this play.

The Vast expanse of sea & Shark: Eugene’s ability to reorganize external landscape in the light of reality or psycho-scape show itself more clearly than in this symbolic treatment of natural landscape. The glassy tropic sea and its vast stillness are void and horror some. Like the Ancient Mariner here is too the sea for punishment, terror and to agility.  The fins of shark is seen the sea surface to add the gravely of the situation. The forces of Nature- sun, sea and shark-are equally open to all the characters on the life-raft. Regardless of their identity, they are now murrain specter owing to hunger and thirst. The symbolic significance of this sea and shark is related to   this sea and shark is related to death. While the sea is for vast loneliness the shark is for death and destination because ultimately they satisfy their thirst at the end of the play by devouring them all.

Symbol of colours: The most important visual motifs or images is of course the colours that constitute the terror and horror in the play. The red crimson colour and blood are the horror imagery in this play. The frantic sun has become a ball of fire. The sunlight with its scorching rays make sore in the eyes turning everything bloody. The sky, it seems, is dropping of blood which metaphorically hunts at murder or death. It is engulfing situation when the cruel and carnivorous sharks engulf them the sea becomes red and bloody. The blood image strikes terror in their heart and lead them more on the fit of madness. The significant colour, the glittering necklace on the raft ironically hints at the insignificance of material object amid abject tragedy of human being.

The characters as symbol: All the characters in the play are guided by personal obsessions that term their lives into channels of self- righteous imagination and bring about their destruction. Infect, the characters in this play have no names- they ace symbolic abstraction. They are in netter psychic trauma. They have become physically crippled, psychologically crunched anal imaginatively invaded. In the bored perspective, they represent the modern man floating in the nothingness of the society, wailing purposelessly for the naught. We are Dancers in the love finery and beauty the Gentleman in our sober attitude to society and obviously the West Indian Mullets under our sassed in our animal instincts. As after the pomp of finery, every human being turns savage, the play can be read as a symbolic rashly of ours.

A vivid waiting & silence:  Language is not the only thing O’ Neill relies on for effective theatre. Gestures, dances, songs along with waiting and silence are important elements that he incorporates into his plays. These elements form important means of arousing the emotions proper to tragedy, pity and fear. The subject of grave ‘thirst’, poignant in its self, is enhanced by the motif of watching and waiting; a strenuous poise recording a variety of feelings. All the characters in O Neill’s play Thirst are waiting amidst vast ocean in expectation of water, island or rescue term. Alike in Beckett’s Waiting for Godot here too ‘nothing happens’, ‘nobody comes’. Like Estragon and Vladimir, the Dancer, the West Indian Emulation and the gentleman are eating for something to arrive which near comes. The play is one of monotonous sameness and this perpetual recurrence of waiting and silence are like an unbroken circle until the end of their life. Hear we can quote a few speeches:’oh this silence; I cannot bear this slime’ again, ‘My god, this is horrible. To wait and wait for something that never comes’ etc.

Conclusion: ‘A drama should heighten life, should give one an illuminating experience; it shouldn’t set out what you already know’ says Patrick white. It is true for O Neill’s drama Thirst as it captures an experience of life in extreme situation reaching deep rooted psychological realism.   

Ref: 1. History of English Literature- Albert, 
      2. The Concise Cambridge History of English Literature
      3. Microsoft Students’ Encarta

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