Mourning Becomes Electra | Study Guide

Eugene O'Neill

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Mourning Becomes Electra | The Hunted, Act 3 | Summary

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Summary

This act takes place in Ezra Mannon's study, where his body is lying in state. Orin Mannon has a conversation with his father's body. He says they've seen so many corpses that another one is meaningless. He tells his father, "Death sits so naturally on you! Death becomes the Mannons!" He feels that he might be friends with his father in death, even though his father never cared to know him in life.

Lavinia Mannon chastises him for being so callous. She says Ezra praised his bravery in battle. Orin tells her about the battle, having to kill and keep killing, to pretend he wasn't a coward. He says he felt like he was "murdering the same man over and over, and ... I would discover the man was myself!" He keeps seeing their faces in his dreams. But then, they change into his father's face. He talks about going crazy and killing men without orders and being hailed as a hero, though he disobeyed. Lavinia says she knows he's a hero and is proud of him.

She starts to tell him about Christine Mannon's affair and their father's murder. She shows him the poison. He takes it from her. Lavinia says he's let himself be manipulated by Christine, as usual. She reminds him that she's never lied to him. He counters that maybe she's not lying but shocked by their father's death. If she tries to report their mother for murder, he'll have her locked up in an asylum. Placing her hand on her father's body, she swears to Orin that she is telling the truth.

Finally, Lavinia says that if he doesn't want to report their mother, he should at least want her lover punished. Orin agrees that, if Captain Adam Brant is Christine's lover, he'll hate her and be convinced he is the murderer. Lavinia says they'll follow Christine until she meets her lover, then he'll see. Christine begins banging on the door, begging to get in. Lavinia says he should let Christine in and pretend he doesn't believe Lavinia. She takes the poison back from him and places it on Ezra's body, so Orin can see Christine's reaction.

Christine walks in, insane with worry. She throws her arms around Orin. He's repulsed but resists the urge to push her away. The stage directions make it clear that Orin now believes Lavinia. He feels Christine's guilt, but he claims he knows Lavinia is insane. Christine examines the body, her eyes coming to the box of poison. She starts with guilty fear and screams. Orin tells her to be quiet. He tries to comfort her, saying she's his lost island.

Orin leaves the room. Lavinia asks if it was Brant who got the medicine. Christine protests, but Lavinia sees it as confirmation. She leaves, and Christine begs the dead man for help.

Analysis

Orin's post-traumatic stress disorder is, again, on full display. He has seen horrible things in the war, and he is wracked with guilt about it. This will inform his behavior in the rest of the play. He seems to be saying that, now that he has killed, it would be easy to kill again. He will have the opportunity.

Here, Orin is at war with himself: his deep feelings for his mother fight with his own sense of right and wrong. He loves Christine and wants to believe she is telling the truth. Yet he has no reason to believe Lavinia would lie. Christine must realize this, because she has planted the seeds necessary for him to believe Lavinia is insane.

Yet despite it all he knows Christine is guilty. The fact that she wrote to him only twice confirms what Lavinia says: she was occupied with something, or someone, else. Because of his close relationship with Christine, he wants to take her side. However, this same close relationship makes him feel more betrayed by her. He is repulsed by her touch, the same touch he earlier relished, now that he knows she touched Brant. He is like a lover scorned. Not only did she betray his father by sleeping with Brant—she betrayed him. He wants to blame Brant. Yet he knows that, if Christine and Brant were lovers, Christine likely killed Ezra.

This act takes place in Ezra Mannon's study, which means the action all happens under Ezra's watchful eye. Orin tells of his dream of killing the same man over and over and seeing it had his father's face. All the Mannon men share a family resemblance. This is also shown in the portraits of the ancestors in the previous act. Therefore, Orin's dream of killing the same man over and over symbolized killing the Mannon family, including himself.

Orin threatens to have Lavinia thrown into an insane asylum if she embarrasses the family by reporting Christine to the police. Such action sadly occurred sometimes in the Victorian era. Women were institutionalized by their families for spurious reasons, including being overly educated, having premenstrual syndrome (PMS), or even for masturbating. Just disagreeing with her husband's views might land a woman in an asylum. In this way men of that era could exert control over women. Lavinia would likely have known this threat was a real and terrifying one.

The theme of revenge, always present, is especially on view in this act. While Orin loves his mother and wants to believe her, he suspects she may have dishonored his father by having an affair with Brant. If true, this affront to the family name must be avenged. Orin certainly doesn't want to do anything to cause the neighbors to gossip. But a man cannot steal his father's wife and participate in his father's murder and get away with it.

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