This is a very sad, very tragic play, written by one of America's best-known playwrights, whose life also had its
share of sadness and tragedy. Though he was born to theatrical parents—he actually was born in a Broadway hotel room in 1888!—O'Neill struggled to
find his way, and in the mean time, suffered from a bout of tuberculosis and an attempted suicide. It wasn't until 1920, when this full-length play became
a Broadway hit that his career soared and earned him a Pulitzer Prize for Drama. It was followed by numerous other works that brought him success and carved a firm niche in the history of
American theater. O'Neill died in 1953.
Beyond the Horizon is about two brothers, Andrew and Robert Mayo who run a farm with their dad. Rather, Andrew does. He is in love with the land, the outdoors, the life of a farmer, and intends to spend the rest of his life just where he is. Robert is a dreamer, sickly and weak as a child, more interested in reading poetry and imagining life beyond what, to him, is the boring drudgery of the farm. The brothers truly love each other, and we meet them as Andrew returns from the fields, and Robert is outdoors on a fence, reading, and thinking about the trip that will finally take him beyond the horizon. His mother's brother, Captain Dick Scott, has invited him to become a seaman on his vessel. He will teach him his trade, and they will travel together. They are to leave after dinner, and Andrew returns home, but Robert lingers. Ruth and her invalid widowed mother are at the Mayo's house.
Soon Ruth comes along looking for Robert. They talk about Robert going away, and without meaning to, Robert blurts out to Ruth that he loves her. She admits she loves him, and begs him not to go, He agrees, and says he will stay home and marry her. They promise not to say anything until Ruth and her mother are home for the evening.
In the next scene, the other family members await Robert's return after seeing Ruth and her mother home. The family doesn't want to see Robert leave, except for Dick, who is thrilled. It is at the point of his return that he announces that he and Ruth will marry and he won't leave after all. While this is a relief to his parents, Andrew is stunned and quickly proclaims that he will go in Robert's place. His parents are shocked and in disbelief. Andrew so loves the farm and his father relies upon him to run it. Robert neither cares about farming, nor is he capable of doing it. Andrew and his father exchange harsh words that are never to be reconciled. It is later when the two brothers are alone that Andrew tells Robert he assumed Ruth would marry him, and could not bear staying on to see her marry Robert.
In Act Two, it is three years later, and the clean and well-kept sitting room is now dismal and in a state of decay. The farm is in shambles, Robert is unable to keep help, he is growing deeper into debt , and his father has died. A child, Mary, has been born to Robert and Ruth.
There is little love between them now, or at least, on Ruth's part. She desperately awaits the homecoming of Andrew, whom she believes will be able to pull the farm back together. She and Robert argue, and she admits that their marriage was a mistake, and that it was Andrew she really loved. But when Andrew returns, he has changed. His purity and ideals have disappeared, and he is now more interested in making lots of easy money. And the place to do that is South America, where he plans to go as soon as he can get on a boat. Meanwhile, he intends to stay and help with the farm. His love for Ruth is totally gone.
But no sooner does he arrive, than an opportunity to sail comes much quicker, in fact almost at once, so he leaves without really understanding the desperation of Robert.
From there, things go downhill, and the third act ends terribly sad. And while Robert believed that it was fate and a string of bad luck that turned into catastrophic events, it seems to me it was more a series of bad choices by people who did not truly follow their heart's desires. Robert was the one who yearned to travel beyond the farm, beyond the horizon, and Andrew had the love of the land. Reversing their roles set both families, the Mayos and Ruth and her mother, down the road to total destruction.
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