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ISSN: 0974-892X


Jan-July, 2014



Man-Woman Polarity in O’Neill’s Play Welded

Dr. Pradeep Kumar Chaswal                      

Associate Prof. and HOD, Dept. of English,  SRM Institute of Engineering and Technology, Naraingarh

Dr. Deepak Chaswal             

Associate Professor and HOD, Dept. of English, Swami Parmanand Engineering College, Lalru


It was “Six centuries before the Christian era, the Greek philosopher and mathematician Pythagoras set out clearly a set of dualities or oppositions in a manner similar to those explicitly or implicitly accepted by most cultures even today.” (Brain 211) We think in terms of polarities. Dark-Light, Death-Life, Night-Day, Up-Down, Evil-Good, Left-Right, West-East, Woman-Man are the polarities. For the purpose of the present research paper, Man-Woman polarity in O’Neill’s play Welded has been taken up.
In Welded (1924) Michael is a very famous and successful playwright. Eleanor is a popular actress. In this play, O’ Neill throws ample light on the poles of love and hate while depicting relationship between Michael and Eleanor. According to stage directions, they appear in separate circles of light which, “like auras of egoism, emphasise and intensify Eleanor and Michael throughout the play. There is no other lighting. The two other people and the rooms are distinguishable only by the light of Eleanor and Michael.”(O’Neill, Vol. 2. 443). It is their ego which is a dominating factor of their attitude towards each other. Each of them is in need of freedom and self fulfilment; at the same time each is in need of love but each is afraid of losing freedom for the sake of love.
Each is afraid of being possessed by the other. Thus, it is a complex relationship between Michael and Eleanor. They want to love each other but the fear of losing freedom creates problem for them. As a result of this ambivalent relationship, they quarrel with each other, they hate each other, and they decide to end their relationship of love which binds them to each other. It is the pride of conscious self which comes in the way of their smooth relationship. That is why, the fear of losing separate personality breeds quarrel and hate in their relationship. However, they finally realize that despite their need for freedom and self fulfilment, they cannot stop and should not stop loving each other. Finally, they realize that love grants joy and fulfilment, and pain and possessiveness are also part and parcel of love as a whole. Michael rightly remarks: “…and we’ll torture and tear and clutch for each others souls- fight- fail and hate again- (he raises his voice in aggressive triumph) but! – fail with pride- with joy!” (O’Neill, Vol. 2. 488)
To understand man-woman polarity, concept of Yin and Yang is of vital importance.
In Chinese philosophy the concept of Yin and Yang is used to describe how polar or seemingly contrary forces are interconnected or interdependent in the natural world, and how they give rise to each other in turn. Many natural dualities are thought as manifestation of Yin and Yang – for example, Dark and Light, Female and Male, Low and High, Cold and Hot. Yin and Yang are complementary opposites within a greater whole. Everything has both Yin and Yang aspects. (“Yin and Yang”)

Yin represents femininity and Yang represents masculinity. Yin and Yang are interacting opposites:
The concept of Yin and Yang is perhaps the most fundamental theory in the Chinese worldview. Philosophically speaking, yin and yang represent the theory of duality. The idea is used as a means of understanding the nature and composition of everything in the universe, examined as pairs of interacting opposites. Yin is seen as a passive, negative state that is associated with femininity, cold, dark, quiet, night, and winter. Yang is considered an active, positive state, associated with masculinity, heat, light, vitality, day, and summer. Whether a thing is considered yin or yang depends on the role it plays in relation to other things; rather than on its inherent property. Therefore the relation of a yin-yang pair is not static one, but is seen as a continuous cycle in which each tends to become dominant and receptive in turn. Night follows day; winter follows summer; the moon begins to wane when it reaches its fullness; and when a course of events reaches an optimum point, it will change into its opposite state. The idea of yin and yang was first introduced in the Yijing (I-Ching) or Book of Change more than three thousand years ago in China. Within the Yijing two symbols are used to describe the status of all objects being considered, an unbroken line “____” (representing yang) and a broken line “__ __” (representing yin). (Sim 31-32)
The anima and animus propounded by Jung are also of great importance in understanding the polarity of love and hate in Welded.
The anima and animus are described by Jung as elements of his theory of the collective unconscious, a domain of the unconscious that transcends the personal psyche. In the unconscious of the male, it finds expression as a feminine inner personality: anima; equivalently, in the unconscious of the female it is expressed as a masculine inner personality: animus.
……..possessed by the female. It is an archetype of the collective unconscious and not an aggregate of father or mother, brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles or teachers, though these aspects of the personal unconscious can influence the person for good or ill.” (“Anima and Animus”)
Man-woman is a polarity. Man and woman attract each other, and this attraction translates their existence into “a whole”. Cape says:
CAPE. [straining passionately for expression] Listen! Often I wake up in the night – in a black world alone in a hundred million years of darkness. I feel like crying out to God for mercy because life lives! Then instinctively I seek you – my hand touches you! You are there – beside me – alive – with you I become a whole, a truth! Life guides me back through the hundred million years to you. It reveals a beginning in unity that I may have faith in the unity of the end. (O’Neill, Vol. 2. 488)
In this regard, Travis Bogard rightly remarks:
Michael’s conception of life as having a total unity and of love as being a manifestation of faith in that unity lies at the core of Welded. (Contour in Time: The Plays of Eugene O’Neill 189)
In Act I, we come to realise that both Cape and Eleanor have not been able yet to arrive at mature and unbreakable mutual understanding so as to withstand the emotional storms which destroy the harmony and peace of married life. According to stage directions, we find that at physical level they are sitting quite near each other, but at intellectual level both of them are lost in their own thoughts, quite unaware of each other’s physical nearness, quite cut off from each other. There is a dual soliloquy. On the face of it, they seem to be addressing each other, but their tone tells us that each is thinking aloud to oneself, busy in one’s own thoughts, busy in one’s own world of ideas. Stage directions reveal the presence of duality in their case. They are married to each other. Hence, the bond of marriage unites them to each other. But they appear to be oblivious of each other’s presence. Psychologically speaking, this stark mental phenomenon separates them. It is a divisive factor. This mental phenomenon plays the role of a separating factor. Following stage directions throw ample light on the dual nature of their relationship, that is, nearness and separation, love and hate, attraction and repulsion. Stage directions merit ours serious attention:
Their chairs are side by side, each facing front, so near that by a slight movement each could touch the other, but during the following scene they stare straight ahead and remain motionless. They speak ostensibly to the other but showing by their tone, it is thinking aloud to oneself, and neither appears to hear what the other has said. (O’Neill, Vol. 2. 452)
Above mentioned stage direction is ample evidence of their determination not to indulge in give and take in marriage, in love. It appears from their attitude that they are in the grip of fear of losing their respective individuality and identity of their self. Each suspects that his individuality, identity will be swallowed up by the other. It appears from their attitude that they hate losing their individuality, freedom, and separateness, and identity.
As far as Eleanor is concerned, true, she is an actress, but O’Neill portrays her as a woman par excellence, woman of a unique nature and status. She represents all the characteristics and traits of “every woman”. We are told:
She is something of every character she has ever played, of every woman one has ever met. (26)
This shows that she possesses a very strong sense of individuality which she hates losing in love. She represents Woman as a whole. This whole Woman in her endows her with peculiar individuality.
At the end of Act I, after the final bout of their quarrel, they decide to end the bond of love, to end the bond of marriage. Bond of marriage and love may be likened to a cell which binds them together. They free themselves from this cell. Eleanor visits John – an admirer of hers – and offers herself to be his mistress. But this admirer persuades her to go back to her home. Michael visits a prostitute in order to say good bye to his passion of love for Eleanor. But the prostitute plays a corrective role and makes Michael say: “to learn to love life – to accept it and be exalted – that’s the one faith left to us!” (O’Neill, Vol. 2. 478) And in Act III, we find Michael and Eleanor together again like in Act I.
In Welded to love or not to love that is the question. Not to love in Welded, means to hate Love itself. Regarding this conflict Doris V. Falk rightly observes:
Welded introduces for the first time in O’Neill’s work another conflict, probably biographical in implication, which was to haunt his plays for a quarter century. Love between the sexes became man’s greatest hope and his greatest threat. It conquers loneliness and sterility of egotistical isolation, but also, as some of the existentialists have said, it is the lovers mutual attempt to rob each other of freedom. Here is the same ambivalence which dominates Strindburg’s works, but where Strindburg is negative, O’ Neill is positive – or at least tries to be. His later heroes accept the duality as Michael does when he calls love “the insult we swallow as the prize of love.”(87)
Thus, we can say that love taken as positive and affirmative feature of life provides wholeness and completeness to both husband and wife. Love is an essential factor in our life which liberates us from the diabolical clutches of isolation, loneliness, alienation, frustration, despair and disappointment and introduces the overwhelming bliss of joy and happiness, and a sense of comradeship between man and woman. But we reach the stage of reconciliation and rapprochement only after a bitter conflict between the passions of love and hate.


  1. “Anima and Animus.” Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Sept. 2010. Web. 16 Oct. 2010.
  2. Brain, James Lewton. The Last Taboo: Sex and the Fear of Death. New York: Anchor Press/Doubleday, 1979.
  3. Bogard, Travis. Contour in Time: The Plays of Eugene O’Neill. New York: Oxford University Press, 1972.
  4. Falk, Doris V. Eugene O’Neill and the Tragic Tension: An Interpretative Study of the Plays. New Jersey: Rutgers University Press, 1958.
  5. O’Neill, Eugene. The Plays of Eugene O’Neill Vol. 2. New Delhi: Affiliated East West Press Pvt. Ltd., 1989.
  6. Sim, Davidine Siaw-Voon and David Gaffney. Chen Style Taijiquan: The Source of Taiji Boxing. Berkeley, California: Blue Snake Books, 2002
  7. “Yin and Yang.” Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Sept. 2010. Web. 15 Oct. 2010.