Zapf compared this phenomenon to Hegelian Dialectics. Hegel, a famous philosopher, suggested that progress is a process where two antithetical forces resolve into a new synthesis where opposing forces are preserved. However, O'Neill presents many sets of antithetical forces, but reaches no synthesis. The play resolves with the death of the worker, the death of Yank. Death is the antithesis of progress.

Thus O'Neill deconstructs industrial progress as a means of human progress. O'Neill dramatizes the industrial worker forcefully deteriorated into a primitive, animal-like state by the upper, aristocratic class. The jobs created by steel companies treat men like work animals: they are caged, do one task, and have no need for intellectual thought. Where the poor have regressed to a more natural, animalistic state, the aristocracy has ascended so far above nature they have become artificial beings. Mildred expresses this in Scene Two. She, like Yank, seeks to find synthesis, a new "resolution" between the classes. The synthesis both seek is embodied in the theme of "belonging."

This sense of "not belonging" is the predicament of modern society. Cast into class identities from birth, one becomes the product of the culture and industry they were born into. Yank nor Mildred identify fully with their societal class because they didn't choose them. Mildred describes herself as the "waste" of her father's steel company—she benefits from the rewards, but has no idea of the work and vigor that brought them. Yank was born into a working class family from NY and had no opportunity for education or job other than his own. Neither Yank nor Mildred "belong" because they did not join.

The audience journeys with Yank in his fatal quest to find belonging. O'Neill exposes the impossibility of his task, the attempt to define and inscribe one's identity in a world where it has already been sealed.