Anna Christie is the story of a young prostitute who falls in love and dreams of starting a new life. Anna reunites with her estranged father and agrees to travel with him in his barge. On this barge she meets Mat Burke and falls in love with him. Her father does not approve of the fact that she wants to marry a sailor. But she is up against a lot more than just disapproval once she tells her father and her lover about her past. First performed in 1921, Anna Christie was a great success and won O’Neill his second Pulitzer Prize.
O’Neill extensively drew from real life experiences to write his plays. And Anna Christie clearly shows his passionate love for the sea. Also, he explored the father-child relationship in many of his plays, attempting to come to terms with his troubled relationship with his own father. Anna’s father Chris Christopherson has never been a father to her and has not seen her since she was a small child. Anna is angered when he suddenly assumes the position of a domineering father.
O’Neill was always disdainful of the formulaic play-writing that he had been acquainted with at Harvard and developed his own distinctive style of writing. His language is simple and naturalistic and the story has a strong narrative drive. The most striking thing about his writing is his attention to detail. As he himself said, he worked on a play with a very clear mental image of what he wanted. And since it was impossible for any production to match this mental image, O’Neill chose not to attend performances of any of his plays.
I must confess that though Anna Christie is not my favourite O’Neill play, it has left a powerful impression on me, principally because Anna is not a character one can easily forget. Everyone, at some point in his or her life, dreams of being given the opportunity to start afresh. O’Neill himself felt burdened by his personal history throughout his life. He made numerous attempts to start living anew by exorcising his personal demons through writing or by leaving his family to go on long voyages. This play is remarkable because it ends on an optimistic note – it is different from most of his other plays that draw on similar autobiographical material, which are often bleak and tragic. It is also one of the few O’Neill plays that were truly successful on stage. This play is a must read because of its power to make its characters live within us.
Book Reviewed by Amrita Dutta
Did you read this book too? Got an opinion on it? Share it!