Mourning Becomes Electra | Study Guide

Eugene O'Neill

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Mourning Becomes Electra | The Hunted, Act 4 | Summary

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Summary

This act takes place in Boston Harbor. On the deck of Captain Adam Brant's clipper ship, the Flying Trades, a drunk chantyman sings "Shenandoah." Brant enters, and the chantyman mentions there have been robberies on the ships in the area. There's death in the air. He says, "Everything is dyin'! Abe Lincoln is dead. ... [I saw] ... Ezra Mannon was dead!" He doesn't believe it was heart failure and wonders who gets Mannon's money. Brant chases him off, then begins singing his own song about a hangman, including the lyric, "They say I hanged my mother."

Christine Mannon enters. She has traveled to Boston to see Brant, telling her family she's going to New York to see her father. Brant explains he fired the watchman from the ship so no one would see what was going on. Christine tells Brant that Lavinia Mannon knows she murdered Ezra Mannon. She says she persuaded Orin Mannon that Lavinia is crazy, but she doesn't know how long it will last. The audience then sees that Orin and Lavinia are hiding, overhearing all. They have secretly traveled to Boston while saying they were visiting friends.

Brant is upset that Christine didn't hide the crime better but also gloats that Ezra Mannon knew of their affair before he died. It's the revenge he wanted. He wishes, however, that he had fought Ezra in a duel.

They plan their escape. Brant will find another ship and book passage. They'll go to the islands. Christine says Orin told her of an island. They kiss. Christine says she hopes Brant has no regrets. Then, they leave.

Left alone with Orin, Lavinia says he has his proof. Angry that Christine plans to go to his island with Brant, Orin says he wishes he'd shot Brant in front of her. Lavinia urges him to exercise caution. She tells him to wait until Brant comes back. Orin says he knows what to do, that he's had "a thorough training at this game—thanks to you and Father."

Brant reenters, and Orin shoots him. Orin and Lavinia run around, trying to make it look as if there's been a robbery. Lavinia urges Orin to take everything valuable. Then, she stands over Brant and contemplates his face. She wonders how he could have loved such a vile woman as her mother.

Orin comments how Brant looks like his father. He realizes this is the dream he had of killing the same man over and over. Then, each man's face changed to his father's face. He says Brant looks like him too. "Maybe," he says, "I've committed suicide!" Lavinia tries to get him to leave, but he stays, saying, "If I had been he I would have done what he did," meaning he would have loved his mother and killed his father for her. Lavinia finally persuades him to leave.

Analysis

The chanty "Shenandoah" is sung in this act by the chantyman and adds to the aura of foreboding. It is a beautiful and haunting song that, O'Neill states, holds "the brooding rhythm of the sea" in it. The lyrics of "Shenandoah" contain the line, "I'm bound away," significant as the characters are planning to run away, a trip they will never take. This rendering of the song also includes the line, "I love your daughter." This is a bit of situational irony (in which what happens is different from what is expected to happen), since Adam Brant pretended to court Lavinia while he was having an affair with her mother.

This scene, like the one in which Ezra Mannon was killed, takes place in darkness. As in Homecoming, Act 4, the darkness represents deceit and murder.

Orin Mannon is outraged to find that his mother is planning to disappear to the islands with Brant. He explodes, saying, "And my island I told her about—which was she and I!" Here, as before, Orin's Oedipus complex is apparent. Orin didn't believe Christine was having an affair with Brant because he didn't want to believe she wanted any man but him. When he realizes this is not the case, his rage at the scorned love of his mother pushes him to murder. Lavinia wants to kill Brant as revenge on both him and Christine. Orin does so in the hope that he and Christine can now be together.

Similarly, Lavinia's romantic love for her father is visible when she stares into Brant's face and remarks the family resemblance between the two men. Lavinia purported not to love Brant. However, she stands over his dead body and wonders how he could have loved an old woman like her mother. She may have wanted him for his resemblance to Ezra.

Themes of death and revenge are strongly present in this act. Brant learns he has gotten his long-awaited revenge on Ezra through his death. He is first exhilarated to realize that Mannon knew he was having an affair with Christine. But he eventually is saddened because he didn't kill Ezra himself. It was his life's goal to avenge himself upon the Mannons, but nothing has changed by the act. He isn't going to assume his rightful place in the family, and now he has no overriding goal.

Similarly, Orin gets his revenge for Ezra's death by killing Brant. But he hated his father, so that wasn't his real goal. He can't have what he really wants, which is to disappear to the islands with his mother. He wants to be the only one she loves. For this reason, as with Brant's revenge, it is unsatisfying.

Orin tells Lavinia of his dream of killing many men and then having them turn into his father. He realizes this was symbolic of his killing Brant, who resembled Ezra, or perhaps of killing himself. All the men in the Mannon family look alike, as the audience has repeatedly been reminded. Their portraits hang on the wall, all alike. Christine may hate Ezra, but she chose his doppelganger for her affair. If Orin hates his father, perhaps he also hates himself. In this way O'Neill shows the interconnectedness of family and how if a man hates his family, perhaps that is a form of self-hate too.

Orin's statement also foreshadows his own later suicide.

Christine talks of wanting to go with Brant to the island Orin mentioned. That island is the one portrayed in Herman Melville's novel Typee, which was beautiful but inhabited by cannibals. Therefore, Christine's and Orin's fantasies of escape are short-sighted. Even in their fantasies there is nowhere safe to go.

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