Mourning Becomes Electra | Study Guide

Eugene O'Neill

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Mourning Becomes Electra | Quotes


Oh, Shenandoah, I can't get near you / Way-ay, I'm bound away.

Seth Beckwith, Homecoming, Act 1

This lyric from the chanty "Shenandoah" is heard throughout the play. "I'm bound away" in the context of the song means "I'm leaving" or "I'm going away." In the play, however, two other definitions come into play. First, bound means to be tied to something. It can also mean predestined (e.g., It is bound to happen). This meaning refers to fate, one of the principle themes of the play. All meanings of bound will be significant in the play as the Mannons rail against fate and eventually Lavinia Mannon becomes bound to the Mannon house.


I don't know anything about love! I don't want to know anything! ... I hate love!

Lavinia Mannon, Homecoming, Act 1

Lavinia Mannon says these words to Peter Niles when he proposes marriage. She rejects his proposal, saying she must stay home with her father. As the play begins, Lavinia doesn't seek love, because it would take her away from the one love of her life, her father. She is frightened of her feelings about men and sex because these feelings are all tied to her love for her father.


It was just like [your grandfather] to build such a monstrosity—as a temple for his hatred.

Christine Mannon, Homecoming, Act 1

Christine refers to the Mannon house here. She had previously called it a tomb. The house does, indeed, resemble a temple with its elaborate portico. Christine has been speaking to Captain Adam Brant, who hated Abe Mannon (his grandfather) and seeks revenge upon all the Mannons for Abe's ill treatment of his mother. Christine, therefore, is referring to the way in which the high and mighty Mannon family has kept themselves apart from—and above—the rest of the world.


So I was born of your disgust!

Lavinia Mannon, Homecoming, Act 2

Lavinia has always sensed that her mother preferred her brother to her. In this scene she gets the confirmation that this is true. Nonetheless, she tests her mother like a petulant teenaged girl. She very likely expects her mother to deny it. Her mother doesn't, however. Rather, she admits that she has always been disgusted with Lavinia, who has always been a reminder of her husband.


So he's the beau you're waiting for in the spring moonlight!

Christine Mannon, Homecoming, Act 3

Christine has teased Lavinia about her lack of sexuality or interest in men by asking her for whom she is waiting. Here, Lavinia says she expects her father. Christine is, therefore, chiding Lavinia for what she sees as an overattachment to her father. This is a reference to an Electra complex, the too-strong attachment of a daughter for her father, from which the play draws its title.


Death made me think of life. Before that, life had only made me think of death!

Ezra Mannon, Homecoming, Act 3

Ezra Mannon has returned from the American Civil War (1861–65), where as a brigadier general he has seen many horrific deaths. This has made him appreciate life, which he suspects will end too soon. In this scene he tries to rekindle his romance with his wife, Christine. While he tells her that this is simply because he is sorry that they have drifted apart, this is likely not the only reason. Rather, he seems to sense his death is imminent and fated.


[God] twists and wrings and tortures our lives ... until—we poison each other to death!

Christine Mannon, The Hunted, Act 1

Christine comments that Hazel Niles is so innocent and unspoiled. Life hasn't shown her its dark side yet. God, in this statement, represents fate and the idea that everyone's lives are controlled by some force beyond their control. This is, perhaps, Christine's way of justifying literally poisoning her husband. She wanted to do it, but if it was also "God's will," then she had no choice in the matter.


I'd show you then I hadn't been taught to kill for nothing!

Orin Mannon, The Hunted, Act 2

Orin Mannon has returned from the American Civil War, where he has seen horrific deaths and has killed men himself. He suffers from what in modern times is called post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), symptoms often felt by soldiers and others who have endured trauma. In this scene he tells his mother that he will kill her lover, Captain Adam Brant, if Brant comes around. Christine is thrilled at her son's manly behavior but horrified at his dark outburst. She is right to be horrified since, shortly thereafter, Orin will carry out his threat against Brant.


War meant murdering the same man over and over, and ... I would discover the man was myself!

Orin Mannon, The Hunted, Act 3

Orin describes his dreams to Christine. He is haunted by the things he saw in the war and the men he killed. He sees himself as a killing machine, something he could not have contemplated before the war. This is the result of post-traumatic stress disorder (called shell shock in O'Neill's time). Orin is depressed and barely in control of his actions.


Maybe I've committed suicide!

Orin Mannon, The Hunted, Act 4

This line from The Hunted foreshadows Orin's actual suicide later in the play. When he sees Brant's face, he realizes Brant resembles his father, whom Orin also resembles. This makes him think of the dream he described in Act 3 of The Hunted. All of this further reveals the depth of Orin's madness and thoughts of death.


That is all past and finished! The dead have forgotten us! We've forgotten them!

Lavinia Mannon, The Haunted, Act 1

Returning home after a long trip with Orin, Lavinia tries to persuade him that everything is okay now. Really, she wants Orin to act as if everything is okay and specifically not tell anyone that he murdered Adam Brant with her as an accomplice. This lighthearted tone doesn't work on Orin, at least not for long.


Those islands ... finished setting me free.

Lavinia Mannon, The Haunted, Act 2

Throughout the play islands symbolize a world apart, a world of freedom, but also danger. Lavinia has visited the islands with her brother. She has, at least, flirted with native men and possibly had illicit sex with them as well. By so doing, she has completely discarded her repressed exterior to become a mature and sensual woman. In this way she is free. While on the islands she was also free from the prying eyes of the world and from the fear that Orin would reveal their crime to others. Now, having returned home, she must worry about that again.


Show me the way to save him! ... I couldn't bear another death! Please! Please!

Lavinia Mannon, The Haunted, Act 3

Lavinia Mannon pleads with God to help her save her brother. Although she says she can't bear another death, her brother has become a huge problem to her: she lives in constant fear that he will reveal their crime. Therefore, though she prays for Orin to stay alive, it is unclear whether she really means it or is merely trying to persuade herself that she does.


Wasn't it the only way to keep your secret, too?

Lavinia Mannon, The Haunted, Act 3

Following Orin's suicide, Lavinia hides the note he has written in which he reveals their crime. She sees the portraits on the wall and feels accusation in their eyes. She knows she has driven Orin to suicide. However, his death was the only way to keep the secret. It is also the only way to preserve the family honor, which has been of utmost importance to her and to her father. She is wracked with guilt and trying to justify her actions.


I'm not bound away—not now, Seth. I'm bound here—to the Mannon dead!

Lavinia Mannon, The Haunted, Act 4

Seth Beckwith has sung the chanty, "Shenandoah," with its lyric, "I'm bound away." While the "bound" in the lyric refers to travel, Lavinia refers to another type of bound. She is attached, forever, to the house and to the Mannon dead. Death is all around her, and she can't get away from it. Instead, she will become immersed in it, entombed in the house. She isn't "bound away." Instead, she is bound to the house, tied to it with no escape.

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