A Moon for the Misbegotten
is a 1943 play by American author Eugene O’Neill. Loosely extending his previous play, Long Day’s Journey into Night
, it includes an eclectic trio: Josie, a strong-headed Irish woman, Phil Hogan, a farmer, and Hogan’s cynical, alcoholic landlord, Jim Tyrone, Jr. The characters become entangled in a pointless and bitter feud that evolves out of a misunderstood joke about a land dispute. The play, written several years after O’Neill won the Nobel Prize in Literature, is considered a masterpiece for its vivid characterization of rural American hardship.
The play begins as Phil Hogan’s son Mike runs away from home, just as his brothers had done before him. His sister, Josie, assists his escape. It is revealed that Mrs. Hogan died during Mike’s birth and that the ensuing years were filled with hardship and a bitter relationship between the brothers and their father. Josie is the only sibling who remains and is able to take on their father. When Phil learns that Mike has fled, Josie calms his nerves. He expresses his surprise that Mike had the courage to run from him, and claims that he never loved him.
Josie tells Phil that just before running away, Mike had become suspicious that he and she were plotting to get Josie married to Jim Tyrone. She finds the idea laughable, but it piques Phil’s interest. Phil worries that Jim will sell off his land once the ownership of his mother’s estate is determined. Josie vouches for Jim’s character, denying that he would jeopardize their living situation. Jim drops in to announce that Harder, their rich neighbor, is coming to complain that Phil has been destroying the fence between their properties. Phil and Josie eagerly await Harder, whom they have never met.
Harder arrives in a fluster, seeming to be uneasy among common folk. He imagined that Phil and Josie would submit politely to him because of his status, but they prefer to banter. Phil preempts Harder’s complaint by being the first to complain that Harder has been breaking Phil’s fence, then kicks him off the property. When he leaves, Jim reappears from hiding and begins to hit on Josie. The two agree to go on a date that evening. Josie gets ready at the designated time but waits for two hours without a sign of Jim. Phil comes home sad and drunk. He explains that Jim has decided to sell the farm to Harder. Josie immediately concocts a plan to prevent the loss of their home. She invites Jim to their house, where she hopes to get him drunk and arrange for him to be discovered in bed with her. She hopes to leverage Jim’s shame from the event to coerce him into canceling Harder’s bid on the farm.
Jim happens to come to the house before Josie invites him. Josie adjusts the plan and asks Phil to leave so she can get him drunk alone. She and Jim converse for several hours, and Josie eventually realizes that Jim’s comment about Harder’s bid on the farm was a joke. He implies that Phil had known it was untrue all along. Josie begins to sympathize with Jim, who clearly has changed since the death of his mother, abusing alcohol and sleeping with prostitutes. Guilty and distraught, he starts to weep, and Josie holds him to her chest. He falls asleep and Josie laments that he will soon be leaving her.
When Phil returns at sunrise, Josie admonishes him for trying to set her up with Jim under false pretense. He insists that he did it not for his own personal gain, but to make Josie happy. Josie wakes Jim, who seems at first not to recall the past night. His memories return and he is overcome with shame. Josie declares that it is not shameful to experience love, and kisses him farewell. He leaves for New York to wrap up some legal matters regarding his mother’s estate; it is implied that he ultimately dies from his alcohol addiction. A highly emotional play, A Moon for the Misbegotten
revolves around its characters’ interpretation of a single lie, illuminating how seemingly small distortions of truth can lead to huge consequences.