Act 2, scene 1
It is quarter to one on the same day. Edmund sits in a chair trying to read as Cathleen the maid brings him whiskey. Edmund finds her conversation tiresome and is relieved when she goes to the porch to call Tyrone and Jamie in for lunch. Jamie enters and joins Edmund for a drink. Jamie tops up the whiskey bottle with water, so that their father will not notice they have been drinking. He also reproaches Edmund, saying that the doctor told him not to drink. Edmund replies that he will do so after he gets the bad news from the doctor in the afternoon. He knows he is sick, but thinks his illness may be malaria. Jamie knows more but he says nothing. Jamie then worries about his mother, since she has been upstairs alone all morning, and he calls Edmund a fool for leaving her so long. Edmund replies that Mary promised she would be fine, but they both know that does not mean anything. But Jamie does concede that his suspicions may be groundless.
Edmund has a coughing fit as Mary enters from the parlor. She appears to be less nervous, but also seems detached and a little withdrawn. Her eyes are bright. She kisses Edmund, who stops coughing. Edmund is grateful for her attentions, but Jamie knows as he looks at her that his suspicions are justified. He stares at the floor. Mary says she feels better, and asks Jamie what is the matter with him. Jamie says little in response. As they wait for Tyrone, who is always late, to join them, Jamie makes a disparaging remark about his father, which causes Mary to reproach him, saying he should have some more respect. She points out that Tyrone worked his way up from poverty to the top of his profession. Besides, he is getting old, and Jamie ought to show him more consideration. Mary then remarks bitterly about how Jamie is always sneering at someone else, and goes on to speak in a regretful way that he cannot help it because no one can help what happens to them in life. After another long complaint by Mary about how her husband refuses to pay for good servants, and how he resents spending money on the home, Cathleen announces that lunch is ready. Mary tells her that the cook Bridget will have to wait until Tyrone arrives. Edmund and Jamie are exasperated by this, and Edmund goes to the porch and calls to Tyrone. Jamie confronts his mother, insinuating that he knows she has taken some morphine, and Edmund, when Mary turns to him for help, angrily turns on Jamie. Edmund cannot face the truth about his mother.
Tyrone enters, apologizing for being late. He looks at the whiskey bottle to make sure it is at the same level as when he left it. Then Tyrone, Edmund and Jamie drink some whiskey, but there is an atmosphere of gloom surrounding them. Mary enters, excited and self-conscious. In a stinging outburst, she complains that Tyrone never puts himself out to help her, that he doesn't really want a home, that he should have remained a bachelor. Tyrone guesses that she has lapsed back into her addiction. He looks tired and bitter. Edmund tries to stop Mary from saying any more, but as they are about to go in for lunch, she sees Edmund's whiskey glass. She reproaches him for drinking, and then blames James for letting him do it. Then she relents, saying that one small drink will not hurt him. But her manner becomes strangely detached once more. After Jamie and Edmund go in for lunch, Tyrone stares at his wife, then says he has been a fool for believing in her. She protests that she is worried about Edmund, but he replies that he does not want to listen to her excuses. She pleads that she tried so hard. Tyrone acknowledges this, but asks her why she could not have had the strength to keep on. She claims not to know what he is talking about. He says hopelessly that it doesn't matter now. They disappear together into the back parlor.
The focus in this scene is on Mary and her lapse back into drug addiction. The words morphine or drug addict are never used, but by the end of the scene everyone knows the truth. The return of Mary's addiction is shown by the strange detachment she exhibits when she speaks. The drug helps her to remove herself from the emotional reality of the present. The effects of the drug are clear from the stage directions. "[T]here is a peculiar detachment in her voice and manner, as if she were a little withdrawn from her words and actions." Her retreat from reality has begun. But at some level she is aware of what she is doing, which can be seen from the remark she lets slip, "the only way is to make yourself not care." The remark is ostensibly about the need not to care about what others think, but it has a deeper connotation for her, which Jamie immediately recognizes.
Jamie, for all his faults as a ne'er to well, shows himself to be the realist in the family. He is the first to recognize that his mother has relapsed, whereas Edmund refuses to face up to the truth until it simply cannot be avoided. At first he tries to maintain a native faith in his mother's word. Jamie, on the other hand, knows that the word of a drug addict does not mean anything.
The irony is that Mary is not the only one who retreats from reality. Jamie, Edmund and Tyrone do it by their continued drinking. If Mary's drug of forgetfulness is morphine; theirs is alcohol. As the play proceeds, each character-with the exception of Mary, who continues to retreat into illusions-will try to come to terms with the reality of their past and present. And as more details come out in each scene about the circumstances and life experiences that have made the characters what they are, the audience learns to sympathize with them.