The Hairy Ape at Columbia University

Finished performing Paddy in O'Neill's The Hairy Ape at Columbia University.
  • The Hairy Ape was directed by Adriana Baer
The Hairy Ape displays O'Neill's social concern for the oppressed industrial working class. Despite demonstrating in The Hairy Ape his clear belief that the capitalist system persecuted the working man, O'Neill is critical of a socialist movement that can't fulfill individual needs or solve unique problems. The industrial environment is presented as toxic and dehumanizing; the world of the rich, superficial and dehumanized. Yank has also been interpreted as representative of the human condition, alienated from nature by his isolated consciousness, unable to find belonging in any social group or environment.
The play tells the story of a brutish, unthinking laborer known as Yank, as he searches for a sense of belonging in a world controlled by the rich. At first Yank feels secure as he stokes the engines of an oceanliner, and is highly confident in his physical power over the ship's engines. However, when the weak but rich daughter of an industrialist in the steel business refers to him as a "filthy beast," Yank undergoes a crisis of identity. He leaves the ship and wanders into Manhattan, only to find he does not belong anywhere—neither with the socialites on Fifth Avenue, nor with the labor organizers on the waterfront. Finally he is reduced to seeking a kindred being with the gorilla in the zoo and dies in the animal's embrace.