Eugene O'Neill

Beyond the Horizon

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Beyond the Horizon Summary

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“Beyond the Horizon” is a play by Eugene O’Neill, first published in 1918 and staged in 1920. The winner of the 1920 Pulitzer Prize for drama, the play focuses on the connection between following dreams and happiness, and remains an influential and important work in the history of American theater.

Act 1, Scene 1: The play opens on the country road running through the Mayo family farm. A slender, artistic young man named Robert sits reading a book. His brother Andy comes in from working in the fields and talks to Robert, who is leaving the next day with their uncle, Captain Dick Scott, on a sea voyage to see the world. Andy tells Robert he will miss him, and that he doesn’t understand his dream of seeing the world. Andy is satisfied with his life as a farmer and has no such dreams.

The brothers makes reference to a woman named Ruth; it is clear they are both in love with her. Both Robert and Andy assume she is in love with Andy, however. Ruth is attending Robert’s farewell party later in the evening. As Andy leaves, Ruth shows up and tells Robert that she will miss him while he’s gone. Robert tells her that he has dreamed of seeing the world ever since he was bedridden with illness as a child, and then confesses that he loves her and is leaving in part so that Andy and Ruth can be together. Ruth is surprised, and confesses that she loves him, not Andy. She tells Robert to stay and be with her, and Robert agrees.

Act 1, Scene 2: The Mayos sit around the fire while Robert helps Ruth take her mother home. Andy goes out to check on the livestock, and the elders discuss Andy and Ruth. Andy’s father thinks Ruth and Andy make a good couple for practical reasons: Since Ruth’s family farm is next door to theirs, Andy will be able to manage both very easily. Mrs. Mayo expresses doubts that Ruth loves Andy, however.

Robert arrives and announces that he is not going to accompany Captain Scott after all, and that Ruth has told him of her feelings for him. Captain Scott is disappointed, but Robert’s parents are happy for him. Andy is revealed to have been listening from the doorway, and he pretends to be happy for Ruth and Robert, and then tells Captain Scott that he will take Robert’s place on the voyage. Mr. Mayo is angry, and says that Andy is running away. Andy tells him falsely that he has always hated the farm. Mr. Mayo is enraged and disowns him and throws him out of the house. Robert understands Andy’s motivations and says he would do the same.

Act 2, Scene 1: Three years have passed. The Mayo farm has fallen into disrepair because Robert is not very good at managing the farms. Mrs. Mayo and Ruth’s mother talk about Robert’s incompetence, and speculate as to whether Mr. Mayo, who has passed away, ever forgave Andy, who is due to return home soon. Ruth arrives with her daughter Mary, who is weak and fragile. Ruth and Robert argue over several things, most notably the way Ruth has reacted to letters Andy has written her, and Robert’s lack of passion for farm work. When their one employee, Ben, announces he is quitting because of the condition of the farm, their fight intensifies and they tell each other their marriage was an error. Ruth says she loves Andy and always has just as Andy arrives homes.

Act 2, Scene 2: Andy finds Robert sitting on a rock and tells him he is moving to Argentina. They discuss the farm, and Andy offers Robert his life savings to try and save the situation. Robert is angered by this charity and refuses. Ruth arrives wearing makeup and nice clothes for Andy’s benefit. Robert leaves with Mary, and Ruth tells Andy that she is excited he will be running the farm again, but Andy tells her he is leaving, and that he does not think of her romantically any longer. Ruth grows angry, and Andy is confused. Captain Scott arrives to tell Andy a ship is leaving for Argentina in the morning. As they leave, Ruth begins to cry.

Act 3, Scene 1: Five more years have passed. The farm is in shambles. Robert is ill, and discusses the imminent arrival of Andy, revealing that his daughter Mary has died. Andy, and Robert’s doctor, arrive, and Ruth talks to Andy about Robert’s health. Andy reveals he has lost almost all of his money on bad investments, and that he must leave soon. He offers the money he has left to help fix up the farm.

The doctor announces that Robert is dying. Robert tells Andy he should marry Ruth when he is gone. Andy is upset and confused, and Ruth goes to talk to Robert, but discovers he has escaped out of the bedroom window.

Act 3, Scene 2: Robert arrives at the country road where the story began. Andy and Ruth soon arrive, concerned. He tells them he wishes to die outside. He is happy to die because it means he will finally have the chance to go beyond the horizon. He tells Andy to take care of Ruth, and dies. Andy suggests they might get married and make a go of the farm, but Ruth says nothing.