Mourning Becomes Electra | Study Guide

Eugene O'Neill

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Mourning Becomes Electra | Homecoming, Act 3 | Summary

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Summary

A week later the family is still awaiting Ezra Mannon's return. The scene takes place in front of the Mannon house. It is late, and the columns and tree cast long shadows across the stage. Seth Beckwith is heard offstage, again, singing "Shenandoah." This time, a new verse is added, including the words, "Oh, Shenandoah, I love your daughter."

Lavinia Mannon is, again, clad all in black. When Seth enters, she chides him for his drunken singing. He asks Lavinia if she found out anything about Captain Adam Brant, and she says he was mistaken. There's no connection. They discuss the nurse, Marie Brantôme, who had hair the same unusual color as Lavinia's and Christine Mannon's. Lavinia is unsettled to hear that Ezra seemed to be in love with Marie. She tells Seth to go sleep off his liquor.

Christine enters. She teases Lavinia about waiting for a lover in the moonlight and advises Lavinia to marry Peter Niles, so she won't be an old maid. Then, she reminds her she plans to act her part. However, she'd like some warning when Ezra is to return. She seems shocked and upset that it might be that very night. She chides Lavinia that the beau she's waiting for in the moonlight is her father.

At that moment Ezra Mannon enters. He is described as being 50 and somewhat stiff. He looks like his portrait, with a masklike face. Lavinia is thrilled to see him and runs to him, bursting into tears. Ezra seems awkwardly flattered by her attention. He also compliments his wife's beauty. He tells her that Orin has been wounded, and she chastises him for making Orin fight in the war, believing he's dead. She thinks he's dead. Ezra assures her Orin is alive and has become a man in the war. He says Orin did one of the bravest things he's seen and got wounded in the head.

As Lavinia flutters solicitously around Ezra, he mentions her letter. In it, she had mentioned Brant. Christine says Brant was Lavinia's beau. Lavinia retorts that he chases every woman. He even flirted with Christine.

The two women squabble, and Ezra orders Lavinia to bed. Before she leaves, she assures him she's so happy to have him home. She says, "You're the only man I'll ever love! I'm going to stay with you!"

After Lavinia leaves, they discuss Brant again. Christine says she liked getting information about her father from Brant when he came to court Lavinia. Ezra is annoyed at the rumors.

However, he apologizes for accusing her. He wants to make things better with her. It's difficult for him to talk about his feelings, and he begs Christine not to look at him. Then, he says he thought about her often during the war. "Death made me think of life. Before that life only made me think of death!" he says. He wants to make things better with her. Their relationship has been bad, and he went to war when he was younger, hoping he'd die. He knew she loved Orin more, which is why he turned to Lavinia. But a daughter isn't the same as a wife. He says he's changed and wants a life together. He wants her to love him. Awkwardly, she assures him she does. He doesn't believe her, but they kiss.

At that moment Lavinia comes back and sees this exchange. After Ezra tells her to go to bed, she talks to herself, jealously declaring her hatred for Christine: "You steal even Father's love from me again! You stole all love from me!" She yells out for her father and declares she forgot to say good night.

Analysis

The song "Shenandoah" makes its return in this act. There is an additional lyric about loving someone's daughter, which seems relevant to the bizarre relationship between Ezra and Lavinia. Still, the lyric about "I'm bound away" is heard, a haunting refrain. Lavinia is bound to Ezra and to her home. That she will not leave either of them is foreshadowed by the song.

Lavinia's too-tight attachment to Ezra is on full display in this act. She fawns over her father upon his return, even saying, "You're the only man I'll ever love!" Christine picks up on this too, saying that Ezra is the beau for whom Lavinia is waiting in the moonlight. Ezra admits to being too attached to Lavinia but says that a daughter isn't a wife, meaning he realizes his attachment to her is unnatural or insufficient. Moments later Lavinia accuses her mother of stealing her father's love from her.

Similarly, the couple discusses Orin, whom the audience still has not yet seen. Until then Christine is making a gallant attempt to appear happy about Ezra's arrival. But when she believes Orin is dead, she is beside herself, blaming her husband. Later, Ezra touches upon the idea that when Orin was born, he became meaningless to Christine.

Ezra's bizarre behavior may well make the audience suspect that he knows what Christine is planning, that perhaps it is fated. He is a strong man, a judge and a brigadier general, which would make the audience suspect that he isn't a man with little control over his emotions. Yet he begs Christine to listen to him and consider his love. He tries to explain himself to her.

When Ezra talks about wanting to have a new beginning with Christine, he asks her not to look at him. This shows that he is ashamed of what has happened between them. It provides a bridge to the pitch darkness of Act 4. The first two acts took place in daylight. Here, things are getting darker and more clandestine.

In this act, Lavinia is again clad all in black even though she is not in mourning. Her wearing of what is essentially mourning attire throughout the play is symbolic of the deaths she knows are fated to occur. Fate is a theme of the play. The characters may appear in control of their actions, but the tone and subtleties of the play, particularly the characters' strong emotions, create a sense that events are out of their control and bound to happen.

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