Mourning Becomes Electra | Study Guide

Eugene O'Neill

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Mourning Becomes Electra | The Haunted, Act 2 | Summary

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Summary

Orinn Mannon is in Ezra Mannon's study. He addresses the portrait of his father in judicial robes. He wonders what the neighbors would say if they knew the "whole truth" about everything that happened.

Lavinia Mannon enters. She wears green and looks beautiful. However, her calm conceals a sense of desperation. She asks what he's doing, and Orin says he's considering the law of crime and punishment. She tries to soothe him, and he asks why she doesn't leave him alone with Hazel Niles. Lavinia says it's because of the way he's acting. She's afraid that he'll confess everything. He tells her she should confess.

Lavinia says he can't imagine how Orin still loves their mother when he knows Christine Mannon was scheming to run away with Captain Adam Brant. Orin says Lavinia is doing the same thing, scheming to marry Peter Niles and leave him. But he's written a letter that will stop that. He's been writing the history of their family, all their crimes. He did it at the behest of his father, though he wouldn't approve.

He accuses Lavinia of being a whore. He says she flirted with a first mate on one of the ships they took. She discarded mourning, he says, and bought new clothes to catch him. He accuses her of flaunting herself in front of men in the islands and perhaps having an affair with one. She says what if she did. She has a right to love. He reacts violently, telling her to take it back. She says it was a lie. Something made her say it, an evil spirit.

He laughs at the idea of ghosts and suggests she murder him. He'll help her plan it so there will be no suspicion on her. She is horrified, but he says she should see that they are the living embodiment of their parents. He says he's "the Mannon you're chained to." She tells him to be quiet. She says he'll be responsible if—but she stops herself. He asks if he'll be responsible if he dies mysteriously of heart failure.

She yells at him to stop. She loves him. Orin says he doesn't believe her. He knows she's plotting something. He won't let her leave him for Peter. He's putting his confession someplace safe in case she tries to marry him or in case he dies. She begs him to stop, then bursts into tears. He tells her, "The damned don't cry" and sends her away. Then, he takes out his pen.

Analysis

Fate has its role in this act. Orin tells Lavinia they are destined to become their parents, each being the parent they resemble. He suggests she can murder him, as Christine murdered Ezra. This all feeds into the idea that everything may be predestined, including his statement at the end of the act about the damned. They are chained together forever.

The islands are a symbol of the characters' escape and also their growth. The audience learns in this scene that Lavinia became sexually free in the islands. Meanwhile, Orin, who had dreamed of going there, hated them and found them ominous, much like the cannibal-inhabited islands in Herman Melville's Typee.

Lavinia's character has undergone a major metamorphosis in the trilogy, not merely physically but psychologically. In the first play she came across as a victim, manipulated by her unloving mother and clinging to her father. In The Hunted it was she who pulled the strings, influencing Orin to murder Brant, something he would likely never have done but for her intervention. In the space between the plays everything has changed.

But Orin is fighting back against her manipulation. Weak willed and incapable of taking definitive action, he does the only thing in his power. He writes a letter as an attempt to keep her in control. Yet he also threatens her in a way that could lead her to take extreme actions. The audience may wonder if he does so because he trusts her not to do so or simply because he doesn't care anymore.

Orin continues to think of death and threaten suicide. Suicidal thoughts are common among current war veterans with PTSD. His continual thoughts of death and dying foreshadow his eventual end.

As Lavinia looks more like her mother, Orin becomes more jealous of her sexuality. Christine betrayed him by having an affair with Brant. Now, he worries that Lavinia will betray him with every man she sees. This is, again, because of his Oedipus complex. Lavinia's new appearance reminds him of his mother and her behavior, which he perceives as sluttish. He becomes increasingly angry at her and also at himself for feeling that way.

Lavinia's statement, saying Orin will be responsible if—and then stopping herself—echoes Christine's in Homecoming. Christine meant that Lavinia would be responsible if she killed Ezra, which she then did. Now, Lavinia means Orin will be responsible if Lavinia kills him. When she stops herself, he asks if she'll be responsible if he dies quietly of heart failure, which is what purportedly happened to Ezra. Therefore, the events of the past continue to repeat.

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