Article Title

Taoism and O'Neill's Marco Millions


In lieu of an abstract, the first paragraph of the essay follows:

It is common knowledge that Eugene O'Neill acquainted himself with Oriental religion during the 1920's. The climax of The Fountain (completed in 1922) dramatizes a mystical vision involving Buddhist and Moslem priests; The Great God Brown (1925) alludes to Nirvana and transmigration; the protagonist of Lazarus Laughed (1926) resembles Buddha in his serenity and non-egoism. Thus far, however, discussion of O'Neill's Orientalism has largely confined itself to exploring the influence of Hinduism and Buddhism on particular plays, neglecting the impact on his art of the Chinese religion of Taoism.1 This is surprising, given the preference he expressed for this particular mystical philosophy in a 1932 letter to Frederic Carpenter about the "considerable reading in Oriental philosophy and religion" he confessed to doing "many years ago." "The mysticism of Lao-tse and Chuang-Tzu," O'Neill continued, "probably interested me more than any other Oriental writing."2 The influence of these two major Taoist philosophers is especially apparent in Marco Millions, which concerns the conflict between the Western materialism of Marco Polo and the serene spirituality of the Chinese society he encounters. Taoist teachings on life, death, and the illusory nature of the ago are reflected in the speeches of the play's Chinese characters. Moreover, its central figures demonstrate in their personalities or relationships the rhythms of the Tao, the cosmic force around which Taoist thought revolves, This play about East meeting West remains, in the final analysis, within Western theatrical and philosophical traditions; but a Taoist counterpoint adds tension and depth to the play's vision, and offers insight into O'Neill's mystical temper.

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