O'Neill's first full-length play to be produced was Beyond the Horizon (1920; Pulitzer Prize), a grim domestic drama set in New England. After several "ambitious" failures, O'Neill's first great play, Desire under the Elms (1924), was produced; set in 19th-century New England, it dramatizes the impassioned battle for dominance between a hard, puritanical father and his sensitive son. O'Neill's next important work, The Great God Brown (1926), is a complicated, symbolic play about a modern man's futile struggle to identify himself with nature. Strange Interlude (1928; Pulitzer Prize), a nine-act drama, is a Freudian character study of an emotionally sterile woman, whose frequent asides give expression to her deeper thoughts and feelings. His other plays of the period include Marco Millions (1928), Lazarus Laughed (1928), and Dynamo (1929).
In 1931 O'Neill's great trilogy Mourning Becomes Electra was produced. Set in post–Civil War New England, it is a retelling of the ancient Greek myth surrounding the murder of Agamemnon. After Days Without End (1934), no new O'Neill play was performed until The Iceman Cometh (1946). Considered by many critics his greatest work, it looks at a group of drunken outcasts who are stripped of their illusions by a misguided, guilt-ridden savior. In 1936 O'Neill was awarded the Nobel Prize in literature. A Moon for the Misbegotten (1947), about the frustrated love between an alcoholic and a farm woman, was not well received, but a revival of the play in 1973 was successful.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.