American Literature in the Early to Mid Twentieth Century Term Paper

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Yank in "Hairy Ape" by Eugene O'Neill

In the play, "Hairy Ape," by Eugene O'Neill, the character of Yank portrays the individual who seeks to conform in his society and is always in need to belong with other people. Robert Smith, or Yank, is illustrated as an individual who personifies anything that is deviant in the society: O'Neill portrays him as "broader, fiercer, more truculent, more powerful, and surer of himself than the rest. They respect his superior strength -- the grudging respect of fear. Then, too, he represents to them a self-expression, the very last word in what they are, their most highly developed individual." This passage from the play shows how, because of both his physical appearance and personality, Yank is immediately identified as 'distinct' and 'different' from other people.

Looking into his portrayal in the play, Yank also shows apparent dislike for conformity, deviating from all the rules and norms set by society. In Scene 1 of the play, he shows an individualist stance, telling other people, "Care for nobody, dat's de dope! To hell wit 'em all! And nix on nobody else carin'. I kin care for myself, get me!" Yank's deviance reflects the fact that because of his individualist attitude, he needs to find a "new place" for himself, a society where he can be himself without other people's interference, where the ultimate goal of every human being is not to live harmoniously and interact, but to live and survive. Indeed, O'Neill aptly ends his play with the eventual belongingness of Yank in Scene 8, wherein he meets a gorilla that caught his attention because it is "some hard-lookin' guy." It is evident that Yank identifies himself with the gorilla; ironically, though, it is the gorilla that caused Yank's demise, as it killed him in order to become "one" or be considered as part of the "Hairy Ape society" it belongs to ("perhaps, the Hairy Ape at last belongs").
In the short story, "The Big Two-Hearted River," Ernest Hemingway shows through the character of Nick an individual who seeks to isolate and detach himself from the worldly and insatiable wants and needs of human society. The story begins with a symbolic representation of Nick's departure from human society, as implied in the passage, "The train went on up the track out of sight, around one of the hills of burnt timber... There was no town, nothing but the rails and the burned-over country..." In his quest to detach himself with humanity, Nick seeks the comfort of Nature, a place where he belongs and will certainly survive. Even after making his decision, he displays internal conflict, as he tries to control the urge to become 'human' again -- that is, aspire to achieve more than what he can consume and use: "a big trout shot upstream in a long angle... Nick's heart tightened as the trout moved. He felt all the old feeling."

This "old feeling" of excesses of human consumption is just one example of the many 'worldly' things that humanity subsists to; this is why Nick tries to control himself when he sees the trout, he tries to control the need to exploit Nature. As he was fishing, he thought of his friend named Hopkins, who succeeded in becoming wealthy and was Nick's fishing mate in Lake Superior. The use of the name Lake Superior explicitly shows the seemingly superior regard of humanity for themselves, much more superior than Nature herself.

Nick, in his journey to live with Nature, attempts to deviate from any human pursuits to eternity, to being like his friend Hopkins. Indeed, Nick finally experiences happiness and contentment: "Nick was happy as he crawled inside the tent. He had not been unhappy all day. This was different though. Now things were done. There had been this to do. Now it was done. It had been a hard trip. He.....

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