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Mourning Becomes Electra | Study Guide

Eugene O'Neill

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Mourning Becomes Electra | The Haunted, Act 4 | Summary



Three days later Seth Beckwith sings "Shenandoah" in front of the Mannon house. The funeral has taken place, but Lavinia is still gathering flowers. She enters, wearing black, looking very much like she looked in Homecoming—thin, flat-chested, and ugly. She offers the flowers to Seth. He asks if she wants him to bring out a sofa, so she can lie outside. It's too hard to be inside the house. Lavinia says she's waiting for Peter Niles. She plans to marry him, go away, and leave the house forever because of the ghosts of the Mannons.

Hazel Niles comes over. She tells Lavinia she knows Orin's death wasn't an accident. She knows he committed suicide, and she knows Lavinia drove him to it. She begs Lavinia not to marry Peter. He's already sad. He argued with their mother last night, which he never used to do. She knows he might take his own life if he ever discovered the truth.

Lavinia asks what truth. Hazel says she doesn't know, but Lavinia does. Lavinia tells her to go away. Hazel asks her to let Peter read what was in the envelope. Lavinia refuses, and Hazel says she knows her conscience will make her do what's right. God will forgive her. Lavinia says she isn't asking for God's forgiveness. She forgives herself.

Peter enters. He and Lavinia plan their future. She wants to move far away, and he agrees. He says his mother and sister don't want him to marry Lavinia, but they'll get over their crazy notions. Nothing will come between them. Lavinia asks him to marry her right away. Nervously, Peter asks if there is anything in what Orin wrote that would keep them from marrying. Lavinia says no.

Lavinia embraces Peter, saying she doesn't want to wait. She has earned her moment of joy. She begs him to kiss her, to hold her close. She wants him to love her so much he'd murder anyone to have her. She goes on like this, saying their love will drive the dead away.

As she kisses Peter, Lavinia yells out, "Take me, Adam!" Horrified, she breaks away, saying the dead are always between. She tells him to go home. She can't marry him. He asks why. She says the native chief on the islands had her as his fancy woman. He flees.

Peter yells that he hopes Lavinia will be punished. She says she was lying. She calls goodbye to him.

Seth returns, singing, "Shenandoah." When he reaches the part about being bound away, Lavinia says, "I'm not bound away—not now, Seth. I'm bound here—to the Mannon dead!" She goes inside and tells Seth to board up the house.


From the beginning of the play Lavinia said she had no interest in Adam Brant. She had no love for any man except her father. Now, she calls out his name while kissing Peter. She cannot deny her secret desire to take her mother's place, first with her father then with Adam, who resembles him. Thus, her resentment toward her mother stemmed not only from Christine being with her father, nor from her cheating on him. She also resented her mother for being with Brant, who was her father's doppelganger.

It shows the character of the Niles siblings that, to Hazel, her brother arguing with her mother is the worst thing she can imagine. She thinks it's a sign he may commit suicide. She hasn't been observing the Mannon family very well if she thinks this is the sort of sorrow they have. Nonetheless, Lavinia lets Peter go.

It also reveals Peter's character that he can persuade himself that Orin's death was an accident.

Lavinia's outburst is another example of fate intervening in the lives of the Mannon family. She was so close to getting what she wanted, moving away from the house to start a happy life with Peter. But when this accidental outburst happens, she knows it isn't to be. She sends him away, realizing it is her fate to live long among the Mannon dead.

The song, "Shenandoah," with its lyric, "I'm bound away" represents Lavinia's attachment, 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, the last of her line. She isn't "bound away," meaning going somewhere. Instead, she is bound to the house forever, tied to it with no escape.

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