Mourning Becomes Electra | Study Guide

Eugene O'Neill

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Mourning Becomes Electra | The Hunted, Act 5 | Summary

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Summary

Christine Mannon is at home in front of the Mannon house. It is in shadow and shuttered. Hazel Niles arrives, and Christine tells Hazel she's afraid. She was expecting Orin Mannon and Lavinia Mannon home from seeing friends, but they haven't arrived. She's not sure if she can stay in the house alone at night. Hazel offers to stay with her that night. Christine agrees, asking Hazel to keep her awake because she can't sleep right now. Hazel goes to tell her family she's staying.

Orin and Lavinia arrive home. Orin explains that they followed Christine to Boston. There, they spied on Christine and killed Captain Adam Brant. He shows Christine the newspaper article as proof. Waterfront thieves have been blamed for the murder. Orin chastises his mother for grieving a servant's bastard. He knows Brant hypnotized her. He saw her planning to go to the islands with Brant—their islands.

Orin sees that Christine is horrified. He begs her to forgive him. Lavinia scolds him for being a crybaby. He goes inside, commenting that they should open the shutters and let in the moonlight.

Left alone with her mother, Lavinia says Brant paid the just penalty for what he did. Christine starts to leave, and Lavinia asks, "Mother! What are you going to do? You can live!" Christine mocks this, and as Seth Beckwith sings "Shenandoah," she goes into the house. There is a gunshot.

Orin screams that his mother has killed herself. He comes out. Wracked with guilt, he says he drove her to it. He should have just let her believe burglars killed Brant. Then, she would have turned to him. He has to make his mother forgive him.

Seth is heard offstage, singing, "She's far across the stormy water." He enters, and Lavinia tells him to call Dr. Blake and say her mother killed herself in grief over Ezra's death. He goes.

Analysis

Many scenes in Mourning Becomes Electra take place in front of the Mannon house. It may seem unusual that these characters are standing around in their entrance portico all the time. O'Neill set these scenes there to show the contrast between the grand entranceway and the gray, ugly house behind. It represents the façade of perfection of the high-and-mighty Mannons. This façade is crumbling as the audience watches, and O'Neill returns them to this façade over and over, to remind them of it. Here, the house is shuttered and in partial shadow, the shutters symbolizing the mourning of death. The shadows show the secretiveness of those inside, particularly Christine.

Although the third play in the trilogy is called The Haunted, Christine is already haunted, in the figurative sense, in the second play. She felt justified in what she did to Ezra, but now she feels his presence in the empty house, judging her. It is significant that Ezra was a judge because now, even his ghost judges the living.

Hazel represents goodness and normalcy and provides a contrast to the Mannons. She sees Christine is troubled, but it never occurs to Hazel that Christine is guilty. Because Hazel is so pure, she cannot fathom the black hearts of others.

When Christine commits suicide, she does so partly out of a sense of hopelessness. Adam Brant was her ticket out of her situation, away from her children and her tomb of a house. Without him she cannot leave. However, she also does it out of a sense of guilt. She, unlike Orin, knows she is solely responsible for Ezra's death. Brant didn't influence her. If anything, she took advantage of his anger at the family, to make him get the poison.

"Shenandoah" makes its appearance at the end of this act, this time with the lyric, "She's far across the stormy water." This is sung directly after Orin has pleaded, "How can I ever get her to forgive me now?" Christine wanted to be far away, across the stormy water with Adam Brant. Though that didn't happen, she's still far away, unreachable, in the world of the dead. She's too far away, now, for Orin to beg for forgiveness. She is lost to him forever. It is a wound from which he will never heal.

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