Mourning Becomes Electra | Study Guide

Eugene O'Neill

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Mourning Becomes Electra | The Haunted, Act 3 | Summary

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Summary

Immediately after the previous act, Lavinia enters the sitting room, which is hung with portraits of the Mannon dead. She is thinking aloud about Orin. She says she doesn't understand why he doesn't have the courage, then stops herself. Of course, she loves her brother. She begs some unseen force or god to show her the way to save Orin. She can't bear another death. Seth Beckwith enters and tells her that one of the servants says she feels ghosts ("ha'nts") crawling in the cellar. Lavinia goes to talk to her.

Hazel and Peter come over. Peter is on his way to a meeting, but Hazel is staying. While they wait for Lavinia, they discuss that Hazel believes Lavinia is a bad influence on Orin. They should invite him to stay with them for a while. Peter agrees. After all, if Orin gets back to normal, he and Lavinia can get married. Orin enters, and when Peter says he has to go to a meeting, Orin is excited. He needs to talk to Hazel alone.

Alone with Hazel, Orin hands her an envelope. He says she should give it to Peter if he dies or if Lavinia tries to marry Peter. Hazel says Peter knows all about what's in the letter. Lavinia told him that Orin argued with Christine the day of her death and blames himself. Orin remarks that Lavinia told Hazel in case he told her. He says she should still give the letter to Peter.

Hazel invites Orin to stay with her family. He says Lavinia wouldn't let him, but Hazel says he shouldn't be afraid of Lavinia. Then, Lavinia enters and says he shouldn't go. They argue, and Hazel breaks off the friendship. Lavinia sees the envelope Orin has handed to Hazel. She demands Hazel give it to her. She tells Orin that she'll do anything he wants if he gives up the envelope. He accepts her offer and breaks up with Hazel, telling her the man she loved was killed in the war.

After Hazel leaves, Orin hands the envelope to Lavinia. He says she must realize she promised to give up Peter and never see him again. He stares at her with desire. Lavinia is horrified when she realizes what he means. He says they both murdered their mother, and they both share in the guilt. They are destined to replace their parents. He says he doesn't think of her as his sister or his mother, but as a stranger with beautiful hair, like Marie Brantôme. He starts to touch her hair. Then, seeing the horror on her face, he begs her to confess.

She refuses, saying there is nothing to confess, only justice. He says she wants to drive him to suicide. Now, Lavinia is his mother. She is speaking to him through her. He speaks to Lavinia as if she's Christine. He says she'll be waiting for him on his lost island. "Death is an Island of Peace," he says. He begs his mother's forgiveness. He's glad she found love. He feels her in the house now, waiting to take him home.

Peter comes into the room. Orin pushes past him, saying he is going to the study to clean his pistol. Lavinia throws herself into Peter's arms. Peter, concerned for Orin, offers to try to get the pistol away from him. Lavinia says it will be wonderful when they're together. Suddenly, there's a shot from the study. Peter rushes out. Lavinia yells, "Orin! Forgive me!"

She hides the envelope Orin gave her. She sees the Mannon portraits staring at her. She asks why they look at her like that. She adds, "Wasn't it the only way to keep your secret, too?" She exclaims that she's through with all of them. She's her mother's daughter and will live in spite of them.

Analysis

The portraits of the Mannon dead hang symbolically in judgment in this act. Death swirls through the scene as Orin tries to have the upper hand yet addresses his dead mother through Lavinia. Likewise, Lavinia speaks directly to the Mannon dead as her brother joins them.

The resemblance between Lavinia and her mother, so pronounced, has driven Orin mad with desire. He can't bear to see Lavinia married to someone else. It is much like losing his mother all over again. He will do anything to prevent that from happening, even threaten her, even confess to murder. When he starts to touch her romantically, she is repulsed. He realizes it and feels more shame for what he has thought and what he has wanted. He begs his mother, through Lavinia, for forgiveness.

Lavinia certainly knew what Orin planned. The plea for forgiveness, followed by saying he was going to clean his gun, are obvious signs. However, she lets him go because she knows he is hopeless. Or, rather, she knows his death is her only hope for herself. He will never get over his feelings of guilt. Lavinia, meanwhile, has no such feelings of guilt. Christine's fate, she believes, was justified for killing her beloved father.

Islands, beautiful and dangerous, also appear as symbols. They symbolize beauty but also danger. Death, he says, is an island of peace. His mother is waiting for him there. He has to go there.

Even as this happens, Lavinia is planning. She thinks it's possible to have a good life after what has happened. The audience may wonder if this is possible. Lavinia has blossomed even as she has lost two members of her family. Perhaps she can survive losing the last, but it seems unlikely. Lavinia hides the note Orin has written. She sees accusation in the eyes of the portraits on the wall. 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. Yet the audience may wonder how important family honor is, if there is no family left.

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