The pivotal scene in Eugene O’Neill’s The Hairy Ape, first produced in 1922, is a harrowing encounter between Mildred Douglas, a self-absorbed social worker on a slumming expedition, and Yank, a powerful, hairy-chested, coal-blackened engine room stoker. The meaning of the play derives from the deep confusion that occurs in Yank as a result of Mildred’s intrusion into his world, a confusion that powerfully communicates the magnitude of class barriers and the potential harm of attempting to subvert or deny them.
The play begins in the cramped, hellish stokehole of an ocean-liner, where “the ceiling crushes down on the men’s heads” (121) and the attitudes of the stooping workers suggest beasts in a cage. Yank, …
Chura, Patrick . "The Hairy Ape". The Literary Encyclopedia. First published 19 December 2011
[http://www.litencyc.com/php/sworks.php?rec=true&UID=698, accessed 24 March 2017.]