O’Neill’s “Before Breakfast ’is a monodrama which depicts the strain of family life. The central figure is Mrs. Rowland, who is unhappy with her poet husband Alfred. He does not make an appearance nor does he speak a word in the play. However he remains a powerful presence. Mrs. Rowland and Alfred belong to different social, cultural and economic backgrounds. She is disillusioned with the marriage.
The scene of the play is a small room serving as kitchen and dining room in a flat in Christopher Street in New York City. It is 8.30 of a fine sun shiny morning. Mrs. Rowland enters the room yawning. She is of medium height and untidy in appearance .Though she is in her early twenties she looks much older. She wears a formless shabby and worn blue dress. Her face is characterless. She looks sickly and unhappy. Before she begins her kitchen work she gulps down a large drink of Gordon gin. She is a little intoxicated .She becomes energetic. She begins a long monologue .The language is harsh .We get to know her story though her violent narration.
She calls out for Alfred who is in the bedroom but there is no reply. She searches his coat and finds a letter which she opens and reads. It brings a cruel smile on her lips. She upbraids her husband for being lazy. She is angry that he has pawned the watch, the last valuable thing they had. She has to go to sew everyday to keep the family going. .Alfred is alcoholic, lazy and does not go to work. He plays the gentleman and loafs around. She does not know how they will pay the rent. She is upset that Alfred is unwilling even to look for work. She cannot understand how he can spend time writing silly poetry which no one will buy. She wants him to beg, borrow or steal money from somewhere. All they have for a morning breakfast is bread , butter and coffee.
She tells him that he looks like an indecent tramp. When he extends his hand and takes hot water from her, his hand trembles. She scolds him for being so alcoholic. She is angry with him for keeping the place untidy. While she sweeps the floor she can hear him shaving. She knows his family won’t help. They are tired of him too. She had married millionaire Rowland’s only son who was a Harvard graduate and a poet. Everyone was jealous of their marriage. However the millionaire father died owing money to everyone in the world .At the time of marriage Alfred was ashamed of marrying the daughter of a grocer. His father even tried to buy her off. She believed that he truly loved her.
Later she learns that he had another love affair with a girl named Helen. She is happy that he can’t marry her now anyway. She wonders whether Helen was an artist or one who writes poetry. Her letter any way sounded like that. She feels sorry for Helen. She wonders what her family would say. She appears to be pregnant also. She wonders whether she is rich. Her attitude towards Helen is one of pity and curiosity.
In the meanwhile she hears groan of pain from the next room. She moves slowly towards the room. She hears a chair being overturned and something crashing heavily to the floor. Then she rushes into the room .She stands in the door way looking down the floor with horror. She cries wildly and runs to the other door, unlocks it and shrieks madly.
The play is astonishing particularly for its method of depiction. The audience can listen to a very extremely disappointed sad and angry woman. She expresses her frustration in most violent terms. she is ill-tempered and nagging. Alfred cannot stand the pressure of the situation and commits suicide. The tension in the marriage is excellently and most brilliantly depicted. .
B. 1 Sewing
2.He does not look for a job. He looks like a tramp and an indecent fellow.
3. Her millionaire father in law died owing everyone in the world. Her father though only a grocer was at least honest.
4 Her letter sounded that way.
Prof Pius Ozhakal