Faculty Book: John Patrick Diggins

John Patrick Diggins

Eugene O'Neill's America: Desire Under Democracy
(University of Chicago Press, 2007)

Though derided by critics during Eugene O’Neill’s lifetime, O’Neill’s plays resonated with audiences, won him the Nobel Prize and four Pulitzers, and continue to grip theatergoers today. Noted historian John Patrick Diggins paints a richly detailed portrait of the playwright’s life: his Irish roots, his troubled family relationships, his time at sea, and his years as a young Greenwich Village radical who attempted to understand the disjunction between the sunny public face of American life and the rage that he knew was simmering beneath. According to Diggins, O’Neill’s characters burn with longing for an idealized future composed of equal parts material success and individual freedom, but repeatedly they fall back to earth, pulled by the tendrils of family and the insatiability of desire; drawing on thinkers from Emerson to Nietzsche, O’Neill viewed this endlessly frustrated desire as the problematic core of American democracy, one that simultaneously propelled and undermined American ideals of progress, success, and individual freedom. Jack Diggins is a distinguished professor of history at The Graduate Center.

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Submitted on: MAY 1, 2007

Category: Faculty Books | History