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The Hairy Ape

The Hairy Ape is a play by Eugene O'Neill, which follows Yank - a boiler room worker on a ship - as he struggles with his own identity and purpose. Yank is a heavy set and brutishly strong man, who takes pride in his ability to physically influence the gargantuan vessel on which he works. However he undergoes a crisis when a daughter of a rich industrialist brands him a 'filthy beast'. Yearning for a sense of belonging, Yank walks the streets of Manhattan but finds himself ostracized by the affluent communities there, just as he now feels alienated from the laborers and the union organizers on the waterfront. Eugene O'Neill felt great sympathy for the oppressed working class, whose sense of purpose and community were under threat as the United States industrialized at a rapid pace. In the early 20th century, the dizzying pace of technological progress created and destroyed roles at such speed that a sense of fixed identity began to break down among people hitherto accustomed to stably working a job for a lifetime. Published in 1922 at a time when the perks and bounty of modernity formed a defining component of the modern United States, The Hairy Ape struck a chord with the American public. It was adapted by Hollywood into a popular movie during the 1940s, and its message continues to resonate to this day as adaptations for theater and radio are regularly staged.
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