Mourning Becomes Electra | Study Guide

Eugene O'Neill

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Mourning Becomes Electra | Homecoming, Act 4 | Summary

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Summary

This act takes place in Ezra Mannon's bedroom. He and Christine Mannon normally sleep in separate rooms. It is dark, and Christine sneaks across the room to dress. Ezra stops her, asking if she slunk out of bed because she couldn't bear sleeping next to him. He suggests lighting a candle. Christine protests that she prefers the dark, but Ezra lights it anyway. He asks if she doesn't want to see him because he's an old man. She doesn't remember when she loved him.

Christine protests that she doesn't want to talk about the past and changes the subject. Lavinia, she says, was outside early in the night, pacing up and down before the house, as if she was guarding Ezra. Ezra says at least Lavinia loves him.

Ezra says he feels strange. Something troubles his mind. He feels like he is waiting for something to happen. He doesn't know what, but he feels like this isn't his house, and Christine isn't his wife. She's waiting for his death to set her free.

She says he acted like she was his wife, his property, earlier. He counters that she let him have sex with her as if she were a slave. He'd feel cleaner if he'd gone to a brothel. He'd hoped his homecoming could be a new beginning.

Christine says she's never been his, and he is foolish to think so. She confesses all about Captain Adam Brant, that she's been visiting him in New York. She tells Ezra he is the son of Marie Brantôme. Ezra is shocked. He calls her a whore and threatens her, then starts having heart pains. He tells Christine to give him his medicine. She pretends to but instead gives him a pellet from a small box. He takes it then immediately realizes it wasn't his medicine. He yells for Lavinia.

Lavinia rushes to the room, saying she dreamed Ezra was calling her. Christine tries to pretend there's nothing wrong, but as Lavinia takes Ezra in her arms, he gasps out, "She's guilty—not medicine!" and dies.

Christine acts shocked, but Lavinia yells at her not to lie. Christine admits that she told Ezra about her and Brant. When Lavinia says she murdered him, Christine says it was Lavinia's fault for making him suspicious, so she had to confess. Lavinia asks Christine what "not medicine" meant. Christine says she doesn't know. She excuses herself to lie down but faints on her way out.

Lavinia cries that Christine murdered Ezra by telling him about Brant so she would be free to marry him. She vows this will never happen. "I'll make you pay for your crime! I'll find a way to punish you!," she says. Her eyes fall on the box, which Christine has dropped on the floor. Realizing what it is, she snatches it up. Then, she throws her arms around her dead father, begging him to return to her, to tell her what to do.

Analysis

Darkness hangs over this act. There is figurative darkness in the form of Ezra's talk about the war. There is also literal darkness. Christine tries to sneak out of the bedroom in the darkness but is caught by Ezra. Ezra lights a candle, but it's still rather dark. They refer to Lavinia, who is skulking in the dark, keeping watch over her father, for all the good it does. In the previous acts people were out in the open, symbolizing honesty and goodness. In this act the darkness covers murder and deceit.

O'Neill's portraying Lavinia as lurking outside shows that she isn't innocent either. Her weird attachment to Ezra has done him no favors. She has likely contributed to the issues in the marriage. However, Lavinia may also have the same sense of foreboding of which Ezra speaks.

O'Neill features the theme of fate heavily in this chapter. Ezra says he feels as if something is waiting for him. He feels the room isn't his, waiting for someone else to move in, implying he is no longer in control of his destiny. Rather, he must wait and see what happens. The theme of fate is central in the original play, the Oresteia, upon which Mourning Becomes Electra is based. However, in the original play the gods and the Furies are agents of fate, pushing the action forward. Clytemnestra, who murders her husband Agamemnon, is merely their instrument. In Mourning Becomes Electra there are no divine powers. However, O'Neill still strives to show that Ezra's death is inevitable, by showing that he has a sense of foreboding and believes another man will be living in his bedroom.

The audience may wonder if this means that Christine isn't truly responsible for Ezra's death. After all, if it is predestined, she is just an instrument of fate. In the Oresteia Agamemnon dies because he angers the gods. However, Clytemnestra also has a stronger reason for wanting Agamemnon dead. While she does have a lover, she is also grieving the loss of her innocent daughter, Iphigenia, whom Agamemnon had killed. Here, O'Neill gives the audience little reason to believe that Ezra is evil other than a vague hatred on Christine's part. Thus, Christine seems guilty even though Ezra talks about fate and inevitability. Indeed, Ezra's last words are, "She's guilty!" Ezra, the former judge, is pronouncing his verdict. He may realize that, in telling this to Lavinia, who is so devoted to him, he is pronouncing a sentence as well. Lavinia immediately vows revenge.

There are different levels of revenge in the play. Brant wants revenge upon Ezra, for his family's treatment of Brant's mother and taking of his inheritance. Thus, he takes up with Christine and causes her to murder her husband. Now, Lavinia wants revenge upon Christine and Brant for Ezra's murder. Revenge is the mother of more revenge.

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