Act I, Part One The play begins in August, 1912, at the summer home of the Tyrone family. The setting for all four acts is the family's living room, which is adjacent to the kitchen and dining room. There is also a staircase just off stage, which leads to the upper-level bedrooms. It is 8:30 am, and the family has just finished breakfast in the dining room. While Jamie and Edmund,Tyrone enter and embrace, and Mary comments on being pleased with her recent weight gain even though she is eating less food.
Tyrone and Mary make conversation, which leads to a brief argument about Tyrone's tendency to spend money on real estate investing. They are interrupted by the sound of Edmund, who is having a coughing fit in the next room. Although Mary remarks that he merely has a bad cold, Tyrone's body language indicates that he may know more about Edmund's sickness than Mary. Nevertheless, Tyrone tells Mary that she must take care of herself and focus on getting better rather than getting upset about Edmund. Mary immediately becomes defensive, saying, "There's nothing to be upset about. What makes you think I'm upset?" Tyrone drops the subject and tells Mary that he is glad to have her "dear old self" back again.
Edmund and Jamie are heard laughing in the next room, and Tyrone immediately grows bitter, assuming they are making jokes about him. Edmund and Jamie enter, and we see that, even though he is just 23 years old, Edmund is "plainly in bad health" and nervous. Upon entering, Jamie begins to stare at his mother, thinking that she is looking much better. The conversation turns spiteful, however, when the sons begin to make fun of Tyrone's loud snoring, a subject about which he is sensitive, driving him to anger. Edmund tells him to calm down, leading to an argument between the two. Tyrone then turns on Jamie, attacking him for his lack of ambition and laziness. To calm things down, Edmund tells a funny story about a tenant named Shaughnessy on the Tyrone family land in Ireland, where the family's origins lie. Tyrone is not amused by the anecdote, however, because he could be the subject of a lawsuit related to ownership of the land. He attacks Edmund again, calling his comments socialist. Edmund gets upsets and exits in a fit of coughing. Jamie points out that Edmund is really sick, a comment which Tyrone responds to with a "shut up" look, as though trying to prevent Mary from finding out something. Mary tells them that, despite what any doctor may say, she believes that Edmund has nothing more than a bad cold. Mary has a deep distrust for doctors. Tyrone and Jamie begin to stare at her again, making her self-conscious. Mary reflects on her faded beauty, recognizing that she is in the stages of decline.
As Mary exits, Tyrone chastises Jamie for suggesting that Edmund really may be ill in front of Mary, who is not supposed to worry during her recovery from her addiction to morphine. Jamie and Tyrone both suspect that Edmund has consumption (better known today as tuberculosis), and Jamie thinks it unwise to allow Mary to keep fooling herself. Jamie and Tyrone argue over Edmund's doctor, Doc Hardy, who charges very little for his services. Jamie accuses Tyrone of getting the cheapest doctor, without regard to quality, simply because he is a penny-pincher. Tyrone retorts that Jamie always thinks the worst of everyone, and that Jamie does not understand the value of a dollar because he has always been able to take comfortable living for granted. Tyrone, by contrast, had to work his own way up from the streets. Jamie only squanders loads of money on whores and liquor in town. Jamie argues back that Tyrone squanders money on real estate speculation, although Tyrone points out that most of his holdings are mortgaged. Tyrone accuses Jamie of laziness and criticizes his failure to succeed at anything. Jamie was expelled from several colleges in his younger years, and he never shows any gratitude towards his father; Tyrone thinks that he is a bad influence on Edmund. Jamie counters that he has always tried to teach Edmund to lead a life different from that which Jamie leads.
Act I, Part Two Tyrone and Jamie continue their discussion about Edmund, who works for a local newspaper. Tyrone and Jamie have heard that some editors dislike Edmund, but they both acknowledge that he has a strong creative impulse that drives much of his plans. Tyrone and Jamie agree also that they are glad to have Mary back. They resolve to help her in any way possible, and they decide to keep the truth about Edmund's sickness from her, although they realize that they will not be able to do so if Edmund has to be committed to a sanatorium, a place where tuberculosis patients are treated. Tyrone and Jamie discuss Mary's health, and Tyrone seems to be fooling himself into thinking that Mary is healthier than she really is. Jamie mentions that he heard her walking around the spare bedroom the night before, which may be a sign that she is taking morphine again. Tyrone says that it was simply his snoring that induced her to leave; he accuses Jamie once again of always trying to find the worst in any given situation.
Between the lines, we begin to learn that Mary first became addicted to morphine 23 years earlier, just after giving birth to Edmund. The birth was particularly painful for her, and Tyrone hired a very cheap doctor to help ease her pain. The economical but incompetent doctor prescribed morphine to Mary, recognizing that it would solve her immediate pain but ignoring potential future side effects, such as addiction. Thus we see that Tyrone's stinginess (or prudence, as he would call it), has come up in the past, and it will be referred to many more times during the course of the play.
Mary enters just as Tyrone and Jamie are about to begin a new argument. Not wishing to upset her, they immediately cease and decide to go outside to trim the hedges. Mary asks what they were arguing about, and Jamie tells her that they were discussing Edmund's doctor, Doc Hardy. Mary says she knows that they are lying to her. The two stare at her again briefly before exiting, with Jamie telling her not to worry. Edmund then enters in the midst of a coughing fit and tells Mary that he feels ill. Mary begins to fuss over him, although Edmund tells her to worry about herself and not him. Mary tells Edmund that she hates the house in which they live because, "I've never felt it was my home." She puts up with it only because she usually goes along with whatever Tyrone wants. She criticizes Edmund and Jamie for "disgracing" themselves with loose women, so that at present no respectable girls will be seen with them. Mary announces her belief that Jamie and Edmund are always cruelly suspicious, and she thinks that they spy on her. She asks Edmund to "stop suspecting me," although she acknowledges that Edmund cannot trust her because she has broken many promises in the past. She thinks that the past is hard to forget because it is full of broken promises. The act ends with Edmund's exit. Mary sits alone, twitching nervously.
Act II, Scene i The curtain rises again on the living room, where Edmund sits reading. It is 12:45 pm on the same August day. Cathleen, the maid, enters with whiskey and water for pre-lunch drinking. Edmund asks Cathleen to call Tyrone and Jamie for lunch. Cathleen is chatty and flirty, and tells Edmund that he is handsome. Jamie soon enters and pours himself a drink, adding water to the bottle afterwards so that Tyrone will not know they had a drink before he came in. Tyrone is still outside, talking to one of the neighbors and putting on "an act" with the intent of showing off. Jamie tells Edmund that Edmund may have a sickness more severe than a simple case of malaria. He then chastises Edmund for leaving Mary alone all morning. He tells him that Mary's promises mean nothing anymore. Jamie reveals that he and Tyrone knew of Mary's morphine addiction as much as ten years before they told Edmund.
Edmund begins a coughing fit as Mary enters, and she tells him not to cough. When Jamie makes a snide comment about his father, Mary tells him to respect Tyrone more. She tells him to stop always seeking out the weaknesses in others. She expresses her fatalistic view of life, that most events are somehow predetermined, that humans have little control over their own lives. She then complains that Tyrone never hires any good servants; she is displeased with Cathleen, and she blames her unhappiness on Tyrone's refusal to hire a top-rate maid. At this point, Cathleen enters and tells them that Tyrone is still outside talking. Edmund exits to fetch him, and while he is gone, Jamie stares at Mary with a concerned look. Mary asks why he is looking at her, and he tells her that she knows why. Although he will not say it directly, Jamie knows that Mary is back on morphine; he can tell by her glazed eyes. Edmund reenters and curses Jamie when Mary, playing ignorant, tells him that Jamie has been insinuating nasty things about her. Mary prevents an argument by telling Edmund to blame no one. She again expresses her fatalist view: "[Jamie] can't help what the past has made him. Any more than your father can. Or you. Or I." Jamie shrugs off all accusations, and Edmund looks suspiciously at Mary.
Tyrone enters, and he argues briefly with his two sons about the whiskey. They all have a large drink. Suddenly, Mary has an outburst about Tyrone's failure to understand what a home is. Mary has a distinct vision of a home, one that Tyrone has never been able to provide for her. She tells him that he should have remained a bachelor, but then she drops the subject so that they can begin lunch. However, she first criticizes Tyrone for letting Edmund drink, saying that it will kill him. Suddenly feeling guilty, she retracts her comments. Jamie and Edmund exit to the dining room. Tyrone sits staring at Mary, then says that he has "been a God-damned fool to believe in you." She becomes defensive and begins to deny Tyrone's unspoken accusations, but he now knows that she is back on morphine. She complains again of his drinking before the scene ends.
Act II, Scene ii The scene begins half an hour after the previous scene. The family is returning from lunch in the dining room. Tyrone appears angry and aloof, while Edmund appears "heartsick." Mary and Tyrone argue briefly about the nature of the "home," although Mary seems somewhat aloof while she speaks because she is on morphine. The phone rings, and Tyrone answers it. He talks briefly with the caller and agrees on a meeting at four o'clock. He returns and tells the family that the caller was Doc Hardy, who wanted to see Edmund that afternoon. Edmund remarks that it doesn't sound like good tidings. Mary immediately discredits everything Doc Hardy has to say because she thinks he is a cheap quack whom Tyrone hired only because he is inexpensive. After a brief argument, she exits upstairs.
After she is gone, Jamie remarks that she has gone to get more morphine. Edmund and Tyrone explode at him, telling him not to think such bad thoughts about people. Jamie counters that Edmund and Tyrone need to face the truth; they are kidding themselves. Edmund tells Jamie that he is too pessimistic. Tyrone argues that both boys have forgotten Catholicism, the only belief that is not fraudulent. Jamie and Edmund both grow mad and begin to argue with Tyrone. Tyrone admits that he does not practice Catholicism strictly, but he claims that he prays each morning and each evening. Edmund is a believer in Nietzsche, who wrote that "God is dead" in Thus Spoke Zarathustra. He ends the argument, however, by resolving to speak with Mary about the drugs, and he exits upstairs.
After Edmund leaves, Tyrone tells Jamie that Doc Hardy say that Edmund has consumption, "no possible doubt." However, if Edmund goes to a sanatorium immediately, he will be cured in six to 12 months. Jamie demands that Tyrone send Edmund somewhere good, not somewhere cheap. Jamie says that Tyrone thinks consumption is necessarily fatal, and therefore it is not worth spending money on trying to cure Edmund since he is guaranteed to die anyway. Jamie correctly argues that consumption can be cured if treated properly. He decides to go with Tyrone and Edmund to the doctor that afternoon then exits.
Mary reenters as Jamie leaves, and she tells Tyrone that Jamie would be a good son if he had been raised in a "real" home as Mary envisions it. She tells Tyrone not to give Jamie any money because he will use it only to but liquor. Tyrone bitterly implies that Mary and her drug use is enough to make any man want to drink. Mary dodges his accusation with denials, but she asks Tyrone not to leave her alone that afternoon because she gets lonely. Tyrone responds that Mary is the one who "leaves," referring to her mental aloofness when she takes drugs. Tyrone suggests that Mary take a ride in the new car he bought her, which to Tyrone's resentment does not often get used (he sees it as another waste of money). Mary tells him that he should not have bought her a second-hand car. In any case, Mary argues that she has no one to visit in the car, since she has not had any friends since she got married. She alludes briefly to a scandal involving Tyrone and a mistress at the beginning of their marriage, and this event caused many of her friends to abandon her. Tyrone tells Mary not to dig up the past. Mary changes the subject and tells Tyrone that she needs to go to the drugstore.
Delving into the past, Mary tells Tyrone the story of getting addicted to morphine when Edmund was born. She implicitly blames Tyrone for her addiction because he would only pay for a cheap doctor who knew of no better way to cure her childbirth pain. Tyrone interrupts and tells her to forget the past, but Mary replies, "Why? How can I? The past is the present, isn't it? It's the future too. We all try to lie out of that but life won't let us." Mary blames herself for breaking her vow never to have another baby after Eugene, her second baby who died at two years old from measles he caught from Jamie after Jamie went into the baby's room. Tyrone tells Mary to let the dead baby rest in peace, but Mary only blames herself more for not staying with Eugene (her mother was babysitting when Jamie gave Eugene measles), and instead going on the road to keep Tyrone company as he traveled the country with his plays. Tyrone had later insisted that Mary have another baby to replace Eugene, and so Edmund was born. But Mary claimed that from the first day she could tell that Edmund was weak and fragile, as though God intended to punish her for what happened to Eugene.
Edmund reenters after Mary's speech, and he asks Tyrone for money, which Tyrone grudgingly produces. Edmund is genuinely thankful, but then he gets the idea that Tyrone may regret giving him money because Tyrone thinks that Edmund will die and the money will be wasted. Tyrone is greatly hurt by this accusation, and Edmund suddenly feels very guilty for what he said. He and his father make amends briefly before Mary furiously tells Edmund not to be so morbid and pessimistic. She begins to cry, and Tyrone exits to get ready to go to the doctor with Edmund. Mary again criticizes Doc Hardy and tells Edmund not to see him. Edmund replies that Mary needs to quit the morphine, which puts Mary on the defensive, denying that she still uses and then making excuses for herself. She admits that she lies to herself all the time, and she says that she can "no longer call my soul my own." She hopes for redemption one day through the Virgin. Jamie and Tyrone call Edmund, and he exits. Mary is left alone, glad that they are gone but feeling "so lonely."
The scene opens as usual on the living room at 6:30 pm, just before dinner time. Mary and Cathleen are alone in the room; Cathleen, at Mary's invitation, has been drinking. Although they discuss the fog, it is clear that Cathleen is there only to give Mary a chance to talk to someone. They discuss briefly Tyrone 's obsession with money, and then Mary refuses to admit to Edmund's consumption. Mary delves into her past memories of her life and family. As a pious Catholic schoolgirl, she says that she never liked the theater; she did not feel "at home" with the theater crowd. Mary then brings up the subject of morphine, which we learn Cathleen gets for her from the local drugstore. Mary is becoming obsessed with her hands, which used to be long and beautiful but have since deteriorated. She mentions that she used to have two dreams: to become a nun and to become a famous professional pianist. These dreams evaporated, however, when she met Tyrone and fell in love. She met Tyrone after seeing him in a play. He was friends with her father, who introduced the two. And she maintains that Tyrone is a good man; in 36 years of marriage, he has had not one extramarital scandal.
Cathleen then exits to see about dinner, and Mary slowly becomes bitter as she recalls more memories. She thinks of her happiness before meeting Tyrone. She thinks that she cannot pray anymore because the Virgin will not listen to a dope fiend. She decides to go upstairs to get more drugs, but before she can do so, Edmund and Tyrone return.
They immediately recognize upon seeing her that she has taken a large dose of morphine. Mary tells them that she is surprised they returned, since it is "more cheerful" uptown. The men are clearly drunk, and in fact Jamie is still uptown seeing whores and drinking. Mary says that Jamie is a "hopeless failure" and warns that he will drag down Edmund with him out of jealousy. Mary talks more about the bad memories from the past, and Tyrone laments that he even bothered to come home to his dope addict of a wife. Tyrone decides to pay no attention to her. Mary meanwhile waxes about Jamie, who she thinks was very smart until he started drinking. Mary blames Jamie's drinking on Tyrone, calling the Irish stupid drunks, a comment which Tyrone ignores.
Mary's tone suddenly changes as she reminisces about meeting Tyrone. Tyrone then begins to cry as he thinks back on the memories, and he tells his wife that he loves her. Mary responds, "I love you dear, in spite of everything." But she regrets marrying him because he drinks so much. Mary says she will not forget, but she will try to forgive. She mentions that she was spoiled terribly by her father, and that spoiling made her a bad wife. Tyrone takes a drink, but seeing the bottle has been watered down by his sons trying to fool him into believing that they haven't been drinking, he goes to get a new one. Mary again calls him stingy, but she excuses him to Edmund, telling of how he was abandoned by his father and forced to work at age 10.
Edmund then tells Mary that he has tuberculosis, and Mary immediately begins discrediting Doc Hardy. She will not believe it, and she does not want Edmund to go to a sanatorium. She thinks that Edmund is just blowing things out of the water in an effort to get more attention. Edmund reminds Mary that her own father died of tuberculosis, then comments that it is difficult having a "dope fiend for a mother." He exits, laving Mary alone. She says aloud that she needs more morphine, and she admits that she secretly hopes to overdose and die, but she cannot intentionally do so because the Virgin could never forgive suicide. Tyrone reenters with more whiskey, noting that Jamie could not pick the lock to his liquor cabinet. Mary suddenly bursts out that Edmund will die, but Tyrone assures her that he will be cured in six months. Mary thinks that Edmund hated her because she is a dope fiend. Tyrone comforts her, and Mary once again blames herself for giving birth. Cathleen announces dinner. Mary says she is not hungry and goes to bed. Tyrone knows that she is really going for more drugs.
Act IV, Part One
The time is midnight, and as the act begins a foghorn is heard in the distance. Tyrone sits alone in the living room, drinking and playing solitaire. He is drunk, and soon Edmund enters, also drunk. They argue about keeping the lights on and the cost of the electricity. Tyrone acts stubborn, and Edmund accuses him of believing whatever he wants, including that Shakespeare and Wellington were Irish Catholics. Tyrone grows angry and threatens to beat Edmund, then retracts. He gives up and turns on all the lights. They note that Jamie is still out at the whorehouse. Edmund has just returned from a long walk in the cold night air even though doing so was a bad idea for his health. He states, "To hell with sense! We're all crazy." Edmund tells Tyrone that he loves being in the fog because it lets him live in another world. He pessimistically parodies Shakespeare, saying, "We are such stuff as manure is made of, so let's drink up and forget it. That's more my idea." He quotes then from the French author Baudelaire, saying "be always drunken." He then quotes from Baudelaire about the debauchery in the city in reference to Jamie. Tyrone criticizes all of Edmund's literary tastes; he thinks Edmund should leave literature for God. Tyrone thinks that only Shakespeare avoids being an evil, morbid degenerate.
They hear Mary upstairs moving around, and they discuss her father, who died of tuberculosis. Edmund notes that they only seem to discuss unhappy topics together. They begin to play cards, and Tyrone tells Jamie that even though Mary dreamed of being a nun and a pianist, she did not have the willpower for the former or the skill for the latter; Mary deludes herself. They hear her come downstairs but pretend not to notice. Edmund then blames Tyrone for Mary's morphine addiction because Tyrone hired a cheap quack. Edmund then says he hates Tyrone and blames him for Mary's continued addiction because Tyrone never gave her a home. Tyrone defends himself, but then Edmund says that he thinks that Tyrone believes he will die from consumption. Edmund tells Tyrone that he, Tyrone, spends money only on land, not on his sons. Edmund states that he will die before he will go to a cheap sanatorium.
Tyrone brushes off his comments, saying that Edmund is drunk. But Tyrone promises to send Edmund anywhere he wants to make him better, "within reason." Tyrone tells Edmund that he is prudent with money because he has always had to work for everything he has. Edmund and Jamie, by contrast, have been able to take everything in life for granted. Tyrone thinks that neither of his sons knows the value of money. Edmund, delving into his deeper emotions, reminds Tyrone that he, Edmund, once tried to commit suicide. Tyrone says that Edmund was merely drunk at the time, but Edmund insists he was aware of his actions. Tyrone then begins to cry lightly, telling of his destitute childhood and his terrible father. Tyrone and Edmund, making amends, agree together on a sanatorium for Edmund, a place that is more expensive but substantially better. Tyrone then tells Edmund of his great theatrical mistake that prevented him from becoming widely famous: he sold out to one particular role, and was forever more typecast, making it difficult for him to expand his horizons and find new work. Tyrone says that he only ever really wanted to be an artist, but his hopes were dashed when he sold out to brief commercial success. Edmund begins laughing "at life. It's so damned crazy," thinking of his father as an artist.
Edmund then tells some of his memories, all of which are related to the sea. He reflects on moments when he felt dissolved into or lost in the ocean. He thinks that there is truth and meaning in being lost at sea, and he thinks he should have been born a "seagull or a fish."
Act IV, Part Two
Hearing Jamie approaching the house, Tyrone steps into the next room. Jamie enters, drunk and slurring his speech. He drinks more, but he will not let Edmund drink at first, for health reasons. Jamie complains about Tyrone briefly, then learns of his agreement with Edmund. Jamie says that he spent the evening at the whorehouse, where he paid for a fat whore whom no one else was willing to take. Edmund attacks Jamie with a punch when Jamie begins praising himself and berating others. Jamie thanks him suddenly for straightening him out; he has been messed up by problems related to Mary's addiction. He and Edmund both begin to cry as they think about their mother. Jamie is also worried about Edmund, who may die from consumption. Jamie says that he loves Edmund, and that in a sense he made him what he is at present.
But Jamie also admits that he has been a bad influence, and he says that he did it on purpose. Jamie admits that he has always been jealous of Edmund, and he wanted Edmund to also fail. He set a bad example intentionally and tried to bring Edmund down. He then warns Edmund, saying, "I'll do my damnedest to make you fail," but then he admits, "You're all I've got left." Jamie then passes out.
Tyrone then reenters, having heard all that Jamie said. Tyrone says that he has been issuing the exact same warning to Edmund for many years. Tyrone calls Jamie a "waste." Jamie wakes up suddenly and argues with Tyrone. Jamie and Tyrone both pass out briefly until they are awoken by the sound of Mary playing the piano in the next room. The sound stops, and Mary appears. She is very pale and very clearly on a substantial dose of morphine. Jamie begins to cry, and Tyrone angrily cries that he will throw Jamie out of his house. Mary is hallucinating, thinking that she is back in her childhood. She thinks that she is in a convent. In her hands, she is holding her wedding gown, which she fished out of the attic earlier. She does not hear anyone, and she moves like a sleepwalker. Edmund suddenly tells Mary that he has consumption, but she tells him not to touch her because she wants to be a nun. The three men all pour themselves more alcohol, but before they can drink, Mary begins to speak. She tells them of her talk with Mother Elizabeth, who told her that she should experience life out of the convent before choosing to become a nun. Mary says that she followed that advice, went home to her parents, met and fell in love with James Tyrone, "and was so happy for a time." The boys sit motionless and Tyrone stirs in his chair as the play ends.