In Beyond the Horizon, Eugene O’Neill reveals that dreams are necessary to sustain life. Through the use of the characters Robert Mayo, Andrew Mayo, Ruth and Emma Crosby, O’Neill proves that without dreams, man could not exist. Each of his characters are dependent on their dreams, as they feed their destiny. When they deny their dreams, they deny their destiny, altering their lives forever. O’Neill also points out, that following your dreams, brings you true happiness, something all of his characters do not experience.

The characters of Rob, Andy and Emma are stripped of their dreams and their destinies, by the ones who profess to love them. Rob and Andy unknowingly allowed Ruth to lead them down a path, they were not meant to travel.

Emma is the same as Rob and Andrew in this respect, because she let Caleb’s actions control her ability to follow her dream. Rob is a dreamer. His only wish is to go `beyond the horizon’ and discover the mystery of life. Andy, however, is Rob’s opposite.

Andrew is practical and down-to-earth. His deepest desire is to spend his life farming. “One constructs the world out of fact, the other out of pure imagination.” Rob’s quest is strange to Andy; it goes beyond anything he can comprehend. Andrew, who is “A Mayo through and through.” does not think in the imaginative terms Rob does.

“It’s just beauty that’s calling me-the beauty of the far off and unknown…in quest of the secret which is hidden over there, beyond the horizon.” (Horizon, 85) Andy does understand, that his brother could never be happy living on the farm, because his heart is elsewhere. Emma is like Rob in a few ways. Both characters have idealistic views.

Rob believes in the secret beyond the horizon and Emma in Caleb’s fidelity. Neither of them consider the fact things may not be as they perceive them. For Emma, this innocence is her undoing. Emma considers Caleb to be `diff’rent’. This difference is what makes him special to her. She trusts he will always be this way and that they will always have a future. “But you’re diff’rent. You just got to be diff’rent from the rest.”

Andrew is not like Rob or Emma. He is always logical. He considers Rob’s dreams to be a result of his College education, something Andy does not have. Andy has no desire to go anywhere beyond the farm, because it has everything he needs. He is the one to tell Rob that “we’ve got all you’re looking for right on this farm.” (Horizon, 85) This is his nature and to change it, alters the course of his life, as well as that of the people around him.

In Beyond The Horizon, Ruth is the catalyst for the changes that occur. She convinces Rob she loves him and that he should stay on the farm, instead of going in search of his dreams. “Oh, Rob! Don’t go away! Please! You musn’t now! You can’t! I won’t let you! It’d break my –my heart!” (Horizon, 91)

Rob does not consider the long-term effects of this decision, he sees only momentary satisfaction. Rob does not realize the impact his decision will have on Andy, who is also in love with Ruth. Andy, thinks he could never stand to live on the farm, with Ruth and Rob married.

He feels in time he would grow to hate it. “I can wish you and Ruth all the good luck in the world…but you can’t expect me to stay around here and watch you two together, day after day.” (Horizon, 110) So, Andy defies his own nature and sets out on the boat, Rob was to travel on, in search of happiness. This is a point that Andy is similar to Emma, in the way that she reacted to someone else’s actions.

Caleb cheated on her when he was away at sea. Emma being a highly moral person, cannot love him the same way any more. “I can’t Ma. It makes him another person–not Caleb, but someone just like all the others.” (Dif, 512) Emma made Caleb out to be the perfect man and made him totally infallible in her eyes. She did not fall in love with Caleb the person, but with Caleb the ideal, that never actually existed.

Many people try to save her from making the biggest mistake of her life, like Rob tried to stop Andy, but to no avail. Emma remains firm in her decision, despite her mother’s warnings. “It’d be jest like goin’ agen an act of nature for you not to marry him.” (Dif, 512) By rejecting Caleb, Emma denies herself a future, because she knows she could never marry anyone else.

“She loses her only chance for happiness because of her wilfulness and her tragic flaw, an overweening pride.” In essence, Emma cannot live with Caleb and cannot live without him. Rob is Emma’s opposite, because he does not need another person to make him happy, he only needs to be free, to go where he wishes. However, even he does not realize it till the end.

For each of the characters, tragedy results, because they did not follow their destinies. Ruth because of her haste in deciding to marry Rob, has grown to hate him. She realizes that she never loved him and wishes Andy would come home and save her from her prison of a marriage. “Ruth Mayo, having married the wrong Mayo brother… must see her marriage fall apart, along with the farm.

Her consolation is that the absent Andy still loves her and he will be a final refuge for her.” Andy does not give Ruth the response she desires and she becomes more bitter and cold as the years pass. Rob, because of Ruth’s treatment of him, has grown depressed and no longer dreams. He realizes what he has been deprived of and thinks he still has a chance to reclaim it.

Rob was a failure as a farmer, just as Andy predicted. “Farming ain’t in your nature… as a place to work and grow things, you hate it.” (Horizon, 84) His true nature tried to lead him down the right path, but he refused it. Rob’s life could never work out as long as he is trapped behind the hills surrounding his farm. “For Robert Mayo the hills surrounding the Mayo farm are a physical symptom of the restrictions, the limitedness and the monotony of farm life.”

The restrictions slowly suffocate him and eventually destroy his imagination, so he can even no longer dream of a happier life. Andy’s punishment is that he is never truly happy. He spent eight years running from who he is and where he belongs.

“Andrew, who has changed during the eight or so years of the play’s action from a healthy young farmer into a tense, hard, even ruthless–and unsuccessful-speculator, is the greatest failure of all, for he has spent eight years running away from himself and has been changed from creator to parasite.”

This is Andrew’s sad fate, which is intensified when Ruth

admits she loves him. Knowing his brother is dying because of Ruth’s admission, Andy must live with the guilt of knowing he had a part in his brother’s suffering and eventual death. Ruth’s interference in the course of the Mayo brothers’ lives ruined the lives of all three, Ruth included.

Ruth and Caleb seem to have the same role, however, Caleb was not the one that revealed his infidelity. Emma’s brother Jack told her, which makes him the catalyst in Emma and Caleb’s destruction. Benny, merely took advantage of the situation.

Emma’s involvement with Benny, was her last feeble attempt to find happiness, even though she knew, it was not what she is looking for. She only thought she loved him, because she was so desperate to be loved. But because of her own stubbornness, her chances of happiness are again thwarted.

Caleb, asks her one last time to marry him and still indignant, Emma turns him down. With that, she sends Caleb over the edge and he kills himself, ruining her last chance to be happy. Only then does Emma realize what she has done and kills herself in guilt. “Only after Caleb’s death does she realize that his love for her remained untarnished, while hers for him was flawed.”

Emma’s flaw is her high moral standards, whereas Rob’s is his lack of foresight. “It is ironic, but the stress is on emptiness, not on the irony.”  The emptiness, as the audience realizes, is all that is left of the characters of both plays.

Emma Crosby and Rob Mayo were both physically destroyed by the decisions they made in life. Ruth and Andy, although they survive, they have little left in them. Ruth is no longer capable of love and Andy is no longer capable of being a farmer.

Instead of a creator, he is the destroyer. But unlike Emma and Rob, Andy and Ruth have the chance to correct their mistakes and get back on their proper path. If Ruth can get past her bitterness and Andy past his grief they can still live a happy life.

Rob and Emma however, have paid the price in full, for neglecting their dreams, proving that without their dreams they were nothing. They were merely the vessel in which their dreams would be realized. When the dream died, the vessel no longer had a purpose and they were slowly destroyed.


Bigsby, C.W.E. A Critical Introduction To Twentieth Century Drama. London: Cambridge University Press, 1982.

Floyd, Virginia. The Plays Of Eugene O’Neill. New York: Frederick Ungar Publishing, 1985.

Leech, Clifford. O’Neill. London: Oliver & Boyd, 1966.

O’Neill, Eugene. “Beyond The Horizon”. The Plays Of Eugene O’Neill. New York: Random House Publishing, 1954.

O’Neill, Eugene. “Diff’rent”. The Plays Of Eugene O’Neill. New York: Random House Publishing, 1954.

Raleigh, John. Eugene O’Neill The Man And His Works. Toronto: Forum House Publishing Company, 1969.

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William Anderson (Schoolworkhelper Editorial Team)
William completed his Bachelor of Science and Master of Arts in 2013. He current serves as a lecturer, tutor and freelance writer. In his spare time, he enjoys reading, walking his dog and parasailing. Article last reviewed: 2022 | St. Rosemary Institution © 2010-2024 | Creative Commons 4.0

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