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The Hairy Ape Summary | E.O’ Neil

The Hairy Ape Summary | E.O’ Neil

Writer’s Intro:

Eugene O’Neill (1888 –1953) was a great American playwright and Nobel laureate in English Literature. Here, we are going to discuss the summary of The Hairy Ape.


Character List

Yank  –

The bad guy in the play. Yank works as a Fireman on a ship that goes across the Atlantic Ocean. The play is about how he tries to find a place for himself in the modern, industrial world.

Yank’s real name is Bob Smith, and he was born in New York City and raised by poor parents. He looks really bad. He wants to make friends with an ape in the cage because he is angry, but the ape kills him in the cage.


Mildred Douglas

The weak, careless daughter of the owner of Nazareth Steel. She is twenty years old. Mildred has had all of life’s financial advantages and has never really worked or had to struggle.

She has done service projects and studied sociology in college to try to understand the poor. Yank learns about class because of how Mildred reacts to him.


Mildred’s Aunt

A rude, fat, middle-aged aristocrat who is very critical of Mildred’s work in social work.


Paddy –

A wise old Irishman who works as a fireman on the Ocean Liner with Yank. Paddy, who is known for getting drunk a lot, thinks the firemen are slaves. He talks about the time he worked on a ship called a Clipper, where men were free.



A fireman on the Ocean Liner who likes to talk about Marxism. Long takes Yank to New York City to show him that all upper-class people are the same.


The Secretary –

Works in New York City at the I.W.W. office. He starts to think that Yank works for the government, so he kicks Yank out into the street.


Gentleman –

A person from the higher classes. Yank makes him miss a bus, so he calls the police.


Second Engineer –

Accompany Mildred Douglas into the stokehole of the Ocean Liner. The Second Engineer tells Mildred that her white dress will be ruined, but she doesn’t listen.


The Guard

Works at the prison where Yank is kept after causing the Gentleman to miss his bus. When Yank pushes the bars of his cell back, the Guard shoots water at him.


Theme – The Class Distinction of the Mechanical and Industrial Society and the idea of Belonging



The Hairy Ape Summary


The first part of ‘The Hairy Ape’ Summary


The play starts where the firemen sleep on a cruise ship, in the fireman’s forecastle. Their stands look like cage bars. They are leaving New York, where Yank, the main character, and the other firemen are drunkenly talking and singing. Yank is shown to be their leader. Long, a socialist, and Paddy, an Irishman who drinks a lot, are also main characters.


Mildred and her Aunt relax on the Ocean Liner’s path deck. She and her Aunt talk about how Mildred needs to help the poor. She helped the poor in Manhattan’s Lower East Side, and she is now going to Europe to do more volunteer work.

Mildred’s aunt tells her that her work as a volunteer just makes the poor feel worse about themselves. Mildred is waiting for the second engineer to take her down into the stokehole.

Mildred lied and said that her father, the president of Nazareth Steel, had given her permission. When he gets there, the second Engineer takes Mildred, who won’t change out of her white dress, down into the stokehole.



The second part of ‘The Hairy Ape’ Summary


At the start of Scene Three, Yank and the men are busy shoveling coal into the noisy stokehole. Yank is the man in charge at work. The men take a break, and then someone in the dark blows a whistle to tell the men to keep working. Yank screams at the person who blew the whistle.

He realizes all of a sudden that the men are no longer working. Yank turns to face Mildred, still very angry. Mildred whimpers for the men to take her away from Yank when she sees him. She then passes out in the arms of the engineers.


In Scene Four, the men have returned to the stokehold. They keep showing and talking about the Mildred scene and make fun of Yank, who they call a “filthy beast.” Paddy tells Yank Mildred looked at him like he was a big “hairy ape.” Angry, Yank rushes toward the door to find Mildred, but the other Firemen stop him.


In Scene Five, Yank and Long have gone to 5th Avenue in New York City. Long wants to prove to Yank that everyone in the upper class is like Mildred. Yank tries to get people’s attention by bumping into them and approaching a young woman, but all he gets in return is “I’m sorry.”


Final part of ‘The Hairy Ape’ Summary


Finally, Yank is arrested because he made a Gentleman miss his bus. Yank is locked up on Blackwell’s Island, and in Scene Six, he talks with the other prisoners. The men tell him that he should join the Wobblies or the Industrial Workers of the World if he wants to get back at Mildred and her father’s business.


Yank figures out that Mildred’s father built both the real cage he is in and the one in his mind. Yank gets so angry that he bends the bars of his cell, but the guards stop him.


In Scene Seven, Yank goes to the local I.W.W. (Industrial Workers of the World) but is turned away because the Secretary thinks he is a spy for the government.

They don’t trust Yank because he is radical, willing to blow things up, and obsessed with “belonging.” Yank gets kicked out into the street. Yank stays the night at the Battery and goes to the Zoo’s Monkey House the next morning.


In Scene Eight, Yank tries to befriend the ape. He tells the ape that they are both caged and laughed at. Yank thinks he and the ape are in the same club and calls him brother. Yank lets the gorilla out of his cage and approaches the ape to shake his hand. The gorilla jumps on Yank, crushes him with his big arms, and then throws him into his cage. Yank died in the gorilla’s cage.


This the end of our content ‘The Hairy Ape’ summary. We hope you have enjoyed it. Anyway, if you want to read more content from American Literature, you can read the following articles:
– The Sun Also Rises

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