Home  »  Three Plays  »  An island near the city. The next night

Eugene O’Neill (1888–1953). Three Plays. 1922.

Scene VI I. The Hairy Ape

An island near the city. The next night

SCENENight of the following day. A row of cells in the prison on Blackwells Island. The cells extend back diagonally from right front to left rear. They do not stop, but disappear in the dark background as if they ran on, numberless, into infinity. One electric bulb from the low ceiling of the narrow corridor sheds its light through the heavy steel bars of the cell at the extreme front and reveals part of the interior. YANK can be seen within, crouched on the edge of his cot in the attitude of Rodin’s “The Thinker.” His face is spotted with black and blue bruises. A blood-stained bandage is wrapped around his head.

YANK—[Suddenly starting as if awakening from a dream, reaches out and shakes the bars—aloud to himself, wonderingly.] Steel. Dis is de Zoo, huh? [A burst of hard, barking laughter comes from the unseen occupants of the cells, runs back down the tier, and abruptly ceases.]

  • VOICES—[Mockingly.] The Zoo? That’s a new name
  • for this coop—a damn good name!
  • Steel, eh? You said a mouthful. This is
  • the old iron house.
  • Who is that boob talkin’?
  • He’s the bloke they brung in out of his head.
  • The bulls had beat him up fierce.
  • YANK—[Dully.] I musta been dreamin’. I tought I was in a cage at de Zoo—but de apes don’t talk, do dey?

  • VOICES—[With mocking laughter.] You’re in a cage aw right.
  • A coop!
  • A pen!
  • A sty!
  • A kennel! [Hard laughter—a pause.]
  • Say, guy! Who are you? No, never mind
  • lying. What are you?
  • Yes, tell us your sad story. What’s your game?
  • What did they jug yuh for?
  • YANK—[Dully.] I was a fireman—stokin’ on de liners. [Then with sudden rage, rattling his cell bars.] I’m a hairy ape, get me? And I’ll bust youse all in de jaw if yuh don’t lay off kiddin’ me.

  • VOICES—Huh! You’re a hard boiled duck ain’t you!
  • When you spit, it bounces! [Laughter.]
  • Aw, can it. He’s a regular guy. Ain’t you?
  • What did he say he was—a ape?
  • YANK—[Defiantly.] Sure ting! Ain’t dat what youse all are—apes? [A silence. Then a furious rattling of bars from down the corridor.]

    A VOICE—[Thick with rage.] I’ll show yuh who’s a ape, yuh bum!

  • VOICES—Ssshh! Nix!
  • Can de noise!
  • Piano!
  • You’ll have the guard down on us!
  • YANK—[Scornfully.] De guard? Yuh mean de keeper, don’t yuh? [Angry exclamations from all the cells.]

    VOICE—[Placatingly.] Aw, don’t pay no attention to him. He’s off his nut from the beatin’-up he got. Say, you guy! We’re waitin’ to hear what they landed you for—or ain’t yuh tellin’?

    YANK—Sure, I’ll tell youse. Sure! Why de hell not? On’y—youse won’t get me. Nobody gets me but me, see? I started to tell de Judge and all he says was: “Toity days to tink it over.” Tink it over! Christ, dat’s all I been doin’ for weeks! [After a pause.] I was tryin’ to git even wit someone, see?—someone dat done me doit.

  • VOICES—[Cynically.] De old stuff, I bet. Your goil, huh?
  • Give yuh the double-cross, huh?
  • That’s them every time!
  • Did yuh beat up de odder guy?
  • YANK—[Disgustedly.] Aw, yuh’re all wrong! Sure dere was a skoit in it—but not what youse mean, not dat old tripe. Dis was a new kind of skoit. She was dolled up all in white—in de stokehole. I tought she was a ghost. Sure. [A pause.]

  • VOICES—[Whispering.] Gee, he’s still nutty.
  • Let him rave. It’s fun listenin’.
  • YANK—[Unheeding—groping in his thoughts.] Her hands—dey was skinny and white like dey wasn’t real but painted on somep’n. Dere was a million miles from me to her—twenty-five knots a hour. She was like some dead ting de cat brung in. Sure, dat’s what. She didn’t belong. She belonged in de window of a toy store, or on de top of a garbage can, see! Sure! [He breaks out angrily.] But would yuh believe it, she had de noive to do me doit. She lamped me like she was seein’ somep’n broke loose from de menagerie. Christ, yuh’d oughter seen her eyes! [He rattles the bars of his cell furiously.] But I’ll get back at her yet, you watch! And if I can’t find her I’ll take it out on de gang she runs wit. I’m wise to where dey hangs out now. I’ll show her who belongs! I’ll show her who’s in de move and who ain’t. You watch my smoke!

  • VOICES—[Serious and joking.] Dat’s de talkin’!
  • Take her for all she’s got!
  • What was this dame, anyway? Who was she, eh?
  • YANK—I dunno. First cabin stiff. Her old man’s a millionaire, dey says—name of Douglas.

  • VOICES—Douglas? That’s the president of the Steel
  • Trust, I bet.
  • Sure. I seen his mug in de papers.
  • He’s filthy with dough.
  • VOICE—Hey, feller, take a tip from me. If you want to get back at that dame, you better join the Wobblies. You’ll get some action then.

    YANK—Wobblies? What de hell’s dat?

    VOICE—Ain’t you ever heard of the I. W. W.?

    YANK—Naw. What is it?

    VOICE—A gang of blokes—a tough gang. I been readin’ about ’em to-day in the paper. The guard give me the Sunday Times. There’s a long spiel about ’em. It’s from a speech made in the Senate by a guy named Senator Queen. [He is in the cell next to YANK’S. There is a rustling of paper.] Wait’ll I see if I got light enough and I’ll read you. Listen. [He reads:] “There is a menace existing in this country to-day which threatens the vitals of our fair Republic—as foul a meance against the very life-blood of the American Eagle as was the foul conspiracy of Cataline against the eagles of ancient Rome!

    VOICE—[Disgustedly.] Aw hell! Tell him to salt de tail of dat eagle!

    VOICE—[Reading:] “I refer to that devil’s brew of rascals, jailbirds, murderers and cutthroats who libel all honest working men by calling themselves the Industrial Workers of the World; but in the light of their nefarious plots, I call them the Industrious Wreckers of the World!”

    YANK—[With vengeful satisfaction.] Wreckers, dat’s de right dope! Dat belongs! Me for dem!

    VOICE—Ssshh! [Reading.] “This fiendish organization is a foul ulcer on the fair body of our Democracy——”

    VOICE—Democracy, hell! Give him the boid, fellers—the raspberry! [They do.]

    VOICE—Ssshh! [Reading:] “Like Cato I say to this senate, the I. W. W. must be destroyed! For they represent an ever-present dagger pointed at the heart of the greatest nation the world has ever known, where all men are born free and equal, with equal opportunities to all, where the Founding Fathers have guaranteed to each one happiness, where Truth, Honor, Liberty, Justice, and the Brotherhood of Man are a religion absorbed with one’s mother’s milk, taught at our father’s knee, sealed, signed, and stamped upon in the glorious Constitution of these United States! [A perfect storm of hisses, catcalls, boos, and hard laughter.]

  • VOICES—[Scornfully.] Hurrah for de Fort’ of July!
  • Pass de hat!
  • Liberty!
  • Justice!
  • Honor!
  • Opportunity!
  • Brotherhood!
  • ALL—[With abysmal scorn.] Aw, hell!

    VOICE—Give that Queen Senator guy the bark! All togedder now—one—two—tree—— [A terrific chorus of barking and yapping.]

    GUARD—[From a distance.] Quiet there, youse—or I’ll git the hose. [The noise subsides.]

    YANK—[With growling rage.] I’d like to catch dat senator guy alone for a second. I’d loin him some trute!

    VOICE—Ssshh! Here’s where he gits down to cases on the Wobblies. [Reads:] “They plot with fire in one hand and dynamite in the other. They stop not before murder to gain their ends, nor at the outraging of defenceless womanhood. They would tear down society, put the lowest scum in the seats of the mighty, turn Almighty God’s revealed plan for the world topsy-turvy, and make of our sweet and lovely civilization a shambles, a desolation where man, God’s masterpiece, would soon degenerate back to the ape!”

    VOICE—[To YANK.] Hey, you guy. There’s your ape stuff again.

    YANK—[With a growl of fury.] I got him. So dey blow up tings, do dey? Dey turn tings round, do dey? Hey, lend me dat paper, will yuh?

    VOICE—Sure. Give it to him. On’y keep it to yourself, see. We don’t wanter listen to no more of that slop.

    VOICE—Here you are. Hide it under your mattress.

    YANK—[Reaching out.] Tanks. I can’t read much but I kin manage. [He sits, the paper in the hand at his side, in the attitude of Rodin’s “The Thinker.” A pause. Several snores from down the corridor. Suddenly YANK jumps to his feet with a furious groan as if some appalling thought had crashed on him—bewilderedly.] Sure—her old man—president of de Steel Trust—makes half de steel in de world—steel—where I tought I belonged—drivin’ trou—movin’—in dat—to make her—and cage me in for her to spit on! Christ [He shakes the bars of his cell door till the whole tier trembles. Irritated, protesting exclamations from those awakened or trying to get to sleep.] He made dis—dis cage! Steel! It don’t belong, dat’s what! Cages, cells, locks, bolts, bars—dat’s what it means!—holdin’ me down wit him at de top! But I’ll drive trou! Fire, dat melts it! I’ll be fire—under de heap—fire dat never goes out—hot as hell—breakin’ out in de night—[While he has been saying this last he has shaken his cell door to a clanging accompaniment. As he comes to the “breakin’ out” he seizes one bar with both hands and, putting his two feet up against the others so that his position is parallel to the floor like a monkey’s, he gives a great wrench backwards. The bar bends like a licorice stick under his tremendous strength. Just at this moment the PRISON GUARD rushes in, dragging a hose behind him.]

    GUARD—[Angrily.] I’ll loin youse bums to wake me up! [Sees YANK.] Hello, it’s you, huh? Got the D. Ts., hey? Well, I’ll cure ’em. I’ll drown your snakes for yuh! [Noticing the bar.] Hell, look at dat bar bended! On’y a bug is strong enough for dat!

    YANK—[Glaring at him.] Or a hairy ape, yuh big yellow bum! Look out! Here I come! [He grabs another bar.]

    GUARD—[Scared now—yelling off left.] Toin de hoose on, Ben!—full pressure! And call de others—and a strait jacket! [The curtain is falling. As it hides YANK from view, there is a splattering smash as the stream of water hits the steel of YANK’S cell.]