What is imagery? Discuss the imagery of the drama The Hairy Ape.


Write a note on the animal imagery in The Hairy Ape.


Discuss the imagery used in The Hairy Ape.


What is the effectiveness of the imagery used in The Hairy Ape?


Analyze the imagery used in the drama The Hairy Ape.


The Hairy Ape 2Answer: In the beginning of this answer, we should first of all discuss what imagery is. Imagery means the making of pictures in words, or the pictorial quality of a literary work achieved through a collection of images. An image refers to something that can be perceived through one or more of the senses—sight, smell, hearing, taste and touch, the sense of motion, or the sense of heat or cold. Imagery evokes a complex of emotional suggestions and communicates mood, tone and meaning. It can be both figurative and literal.

In The Hairy Ape Eugene O’Neill has used imagery very effectively to bring home to us his message of the degradation of human beings from their highest position in the scale of beings to the lowest position of the primitive, pre civilized beings like the Neanderthal man. Imagery is always more effective than the plain, literal statement of things. And in literary writings imagery is a very effective device in producing the maximum effect the writer wants to exert on the reader. Of all the kinds of images—visual, olfactory, tactile, auditory, gustatory, abstract, and kin aesthetic—the visual image is the most powerful in the sense that it produces the most vivid and intense effect on the reader’s mind.

O’Neill has used the images most effectively in the present drama. His images of sight and sound are found to be most effective. His animal imagery predominates in his whole book. The workers in the stokehole look like animals, the smudges of smoke, and the stokehole itself, the coal and fire, the appearance and dress of Mildred, the ship itself, the talking of homes, the gorilla, the prison, the cage of the gorilla, are all vivid images of sight. The heat of coal-fire is a tactile image, and the fainting of Mildred, her being carried away, Yank’s encounter with people in the Fifth Avenue, gorilla’s crushing of Yank flinging him into the cage, are kin aesthetic images. The sound of the clanging steel as the stokers do their work, the sound of Yank’s ribs being crushed in the grip of the gorilla, Yank’s pulling off the bars of the prison cell, are all auditory images. There are some other images, but of them all, these are the most important and the most prominent.


All these kinds of images communicate the feelings, thoughts and ideas inherent in characters incidents and experiences of the characters in different situations. What an image can convey to the readers cannot be communicated through abstract language or absolutely literal language. Imagery gives us an insight into characters and their interrelationship.

In The Hairy Ape O’Neill has used various images mainly for three purposes: (1) to symbolize the theme of a play, (2) to make the situations and incidents vivid and graphic, (3) and to portray the characters by laying bare their inner-selves. As O’Neill was a disciple of Strindberg, he was not satisfied with the mere portrayal of the exterior aspects of characters and theirs. He endeavored to probe deeper into the innermost recesses- of human heart, and to project the inner workings of their mind. In The Hairy Ape, visual imagery has been more useful than any other kind of imagery. He has made the situations graphic and vivid and has portrayed the characters by laying bare their inner-selves and ultimately symbolized the theme of the play.

The theme of isolation and alienation has been brought home to the reader by the use of animal imagery. We find Yank is satisfied with his condition, as stoker in a large ship. He has a sense of belongingness to the ship but it is disturbed when Mildred Douglas, the daughter of a millionaire, insults him by thronging the remark “filthy beast” at him. He tries to take revenge, but to no effect. Later he is told by Paddy that she looked at Yank as if she had seen a “great hairy ape escaped from the zoo.” Yank becomes obsessed with the words “hairy ape”. In his search for identity he discovers that he is very lonely.

The Hairy Ape also treats the theme of man trapped between two worlds—the world of man, and the world of animals, Yank is such a man. He is a personification of brute force, but at the same time he is a symbol of every man. He has lost his old harmony with nature, and is alienated from the community of man, through the loss of sense of identity and belongingness. Failing to find his home in the higher regions, he attempts to descend into the animal world. He cannot go forward, so he tries to go backward. But he also fails there. The gorilla thinks him an interpolar and kills him. Man is, according to O’Neill’s vision, forever condemned to live an existence between the animal and the perfectly human.

Yank calls himself the hairy ape, offering himself to blow up the steel factory owned by Mildred’s father. To Mildred all stokers are beasts. She throws the remark, “Oh, the filthy beast”. The rich people congregating for the church service appear as the bleeding swine.

In the very beginning of the play, the stokers in the fireman’s room of the ship are described as beasts. “Shouting, cursing, laughing, and singing— a confused, inchoate uproar swelling into a sort of unity, a meaning—the bewildered, furious, baffled defiance of a beast in a cage…. The men themselves should resemble those pictures in which the appearance of Neanderthal man is guessed at”. These lines give us the impression of a constricted cage, suggesting that this type of man or ultimately man in general regardless of his social nature, is caged in by some aspect of life or some aspect of his own nature like a beast.


The physical features of the stokers described by the author are also suggestive. “All are hairy-chested with long arms of tremendous power and low receding brows above their small, force, resentful eyes.” This line suggests the animal like power of the stokers and their beastly lifestyle. The machine age has rendered them beastly in lifestyle and appearance.

We find almost all the people and objects are given the names and natures of different animals. The imagery serves to express O’Neill’s themes very artistically.

The author’s handling of the animal imagery in the play has attained the desired effectiveness. The protagonist’s nature and conduct, thoughts and deed—all resemble those of an ape. This image of an animal perfectly suits the dramatist’s theme for the play. The other characters, the protagonist and the theme have all merged so as to produce a very dominant impression on the mind of the reader. Other kinds of images have helped this chief image and have produced the desired dramatic effects for the writer’s purpose.