Eugene O’Neill’s Mourning Becomes Electra tells the dramatic story of the cursed Mannon family. He manipulates ancient tragedy with a new Freudian psychoanalytic point of view. Every character represents a different kind of tragedy due to their psychological background. They act with their unconscious desires and lusts. These desires lead them to commit the crime. Every move of the characters explained with details of their psychological background to show people are bound to their unconscious minds. To do that O’Neill tries to recreate ancient tragedy by pushing forward the ancient Electra myth by asking “What happens to Electra after the crime?”. This paper will analyze Ezra, Lavinia, Christine and Orin’s unconscious and conscious acts, their Oedipus and Electra complexes and the reason behind their tragedy and the importance of the crime and the motif of island by comparing Aeschylus, Euripides’s and Sophocles’ ancient Electra myths by giving examples from psychological states of these characters.
Keywords: Oedipus complex, Electra complex, curse, psychology, conscious, unconscious, ancient tragedy
Eugene O’Neill was born in 1888. He was one of the major playwrights of his period. There are important tips from his life to understanding his works.
He grew up on stages because her father was a famous actor. He used to travel around the world to perform. He saw many plays in his early ages. But the thing is, children always stay in the background of the stages. So, he felt the absence of the father. Along with the absence of the father, her mother was a morphine addict. So, Eugene didn’t find a solid parenting background.
He was very productive and he is the first American playwright who has won Nobel Prize. 1
Collapsing moral values, a form of alienation, extreme emphasize of self-resulted from the fall of tragedy. How can we indulge the emergence of tragedy & tragic hero? Tragedy represents a hero in his excellences. Even he falls, he gains power. For example, in King Oedipus, reader admires him that he goes to find out the truth to help entire people. In the period of modernism, these qualities are absent. Therefore, O’Neill makes an effort to recreate tragedy in the 20th century. But this time his focus is not kings, noblemen. He tried to find tragic in ordinary, domestic places.
At the beginning of the 20th century, it was impossible to be original. Everything has been said before. Modernist express originality with personal tones in general ideas. O’Neill has an attempt to express original tone that somehow ancient writers did with mythical materials.
As mythology represents an extraordinary source for writers, O’Neill tried to revive tragedy with that source. The play tries to respect the form of the ancient structure. He borrowed ideas much from Aeschylus who wrote the story of Electra as trilogy and Mourning becomes Electra also consists of three parts.
In the play, the setting is not ancient Greece, chronotope is in America after the Civil War. We have the aftermath of the American Civil War. Ezra Mannon replaced to Agamemnon, Clytemnestra is Christine, Electra is Lavinia, Orestes is Orin, Aegisthus is Adam Brant. We have a more or less similar scenario as Aeschylus’s play. The motif of the cursed family is taken from Aeschylus. Although the word is not used in the play, it can be seen in the faces of the characters and their resemblances of each other. O’Neill’s characters fight with this curse, that’s why the power of destiny is revealed in O’Neill’s play. Through the struggle of strong Puritan society, sub-consciousness imitates freedom of perspective. Can an individual hold control of his/her ego, self or not? Are they controlled by their desires? These will be the conflicts in O’Neill’s play.
From Sophocles, O’Neill borrowed a lot too. Sophocles is the one who brought the psychological side to the theatre. In this manner, the play is influenced by Sophocles. O’Neill’s characters show excessive love and hatred. Daughter shows excessive hatred to mother, excessive love for father. Euripides is the one who influences O’Neill with psychological dilemmas. A different version of Orestes is a bit softened in Euripides’s play which puts Orestes under the influence of a woman. At least Orin deprived strong sense of masculinity instead of Euripides’s character who is his mother’s boy. Oedipus complex develops in O’Neill’s play. Play is embodied with Freudian psychoanalysis. What most influenced O’Neill was the suggestion about the aftermath of the crime. In Euripides there is a possibility of punishment, Orestes never sees Argos again and Electra is married with Plaudes. On this motive, O’Neill tries to be original and attempts to recreate tragedy, develops tragic guilt as inherited in ancient drama. For this tragic guilt with the modern expectation and with the destiny which is expected as a psychoanalytic interaction between consciousness- subconsciousness in relation to Puritan society and puritan ego. In terms of literary experimentation of the 20th century, O’Neill drops the social value. He focuses on human individuality. In O’Neill’s play, actions and decisions reflect the treats of one’s personality where the subconscious and conscious are produced with the family relations which determines the character’s acts in the play.
O’Neill’s characters have strong demands of choice. Aeschylus forces his characters to choose but O’Neill’s characters are not compelling to choose between two alternatives. His characters should make a choice between the image of the self, in each confrontation he/she discovered as the true self. O’Neill’s characters try to find the self but they fail. So, his characters are living in the illusion of the self.
Description of the House, Ezra, Christine and Lavinia Mannon
The house seems to be Greek with the column, not such purity is described in this house; ghost-like space is created by O’Neill.
The play is the modern approximation of Electra myth. First part is a homecoming like Aeschylus Oresteia. The setting is America in the 1860’s end of the civil war, the time when Puritanism is blooming still. The feeling of the dead is obvious. The puritan environment is preventing regeneration and nature to live, generally all instinctive wishes of individuals. All beings are suppressed by Puritan ego, norm, pathos.
Whiteness dominates the house, green flowers seem to be inefficient to make the house breathe. Nature seems to stop by the dominating whiteness. It doesn’t reflect something good.
The house is also like a museum. Walls are full of ancestor’s portraits that are similar to each other. It’s charming but also emphasizes death. According to Christine calls the house as “a tomb” while talking to Lavinia in Homecoming.
“I’ve been to the greenhouse to pick these. I felt our tomb needed a little brightening. (She nods scornfully towards the house.) Each time I come back from being away it appears more like a sepulcher! The “whited one” of the bible—pagan temple front stuck like a mask on Puritan gray ugliness! It was just like old Abe Mannon to build such a monstrosity—as a temple for his hatred! Forgive me Vinnie, I forgot you liked it. And you ought to. It suits your temperament. (Homecoming, Act 1)”
Also, Mannon Mansion is alienated from society, they have secrets and they like to show off their money. They are secluded. The house represents secrets. Even gardeners in the house don’t know what is going on inside the family.
LOUISA: SSShh! Someone’s comin’ out. Let’s get back here! (they crowd to the rear of the bench by the lilac clump and peer through the leaves as the front door is opened and Christine Mannon comes out to the edge of the portico to the top of the steps. […She] comes down the steps and walks off toward the flower garden, passing behind the lilac clump without having noticed Ames and the women. (Homecoming, Act 1)
We have an introduction of “Ezra Mannon” who is one of the most important character in the play. He is a true patriot, he gives up on his political career and goes to the war. According to the eyes of society, the Mannon family is “able to” achieve anything.
“As Joseph P. O’Neill points out all the Mannons, including Abe Mannon, are “able to” meet and conquer the hard realities of life except life itself” (1963, p.489). In this respect, it can be argued that their search for a pure and innocent love, prevented by pathological self-formation structures, is what brings the curse inevitable for all the family members no matter how hard they try to escape from. The continuous need for love and desire and the dissatisfaction due to their not being met not only bring hatred among the characters but the hatred against life as well.”2
He succeeded in the best possible manner from bottom to the top. Everyone respects him because he is a disciplined colonel. In the period of modernism and individualism, why did he decide to quit his job and go to the war to support patriotism? Something should have driven him away from his comfort zone. This is the crisis of the individual.
In Aeschylus, Oresteia Agamemnon goes to Trojan war driven by glory, fame and success. For him the house is not prior, all things inside his house will go on when he leaves Argos. As a basileus of the house, he has the power to decide. In O’Neill’s perspective, there is a private and personal crisis that drives Ezra away from his comfort zone. We can clearly understand this statement while he was talking with Christine after he had come home from the war.
MANNON: God, I want to talk to you, Christine! I’ve got to explain some things—inside me—to my wife—try to, anyway. Shut your eyes again! I can talk better. It has always been hard for me to talk—about feelings. I never could when you looked at me. Your eyes were always so—so full of silence! That is since we’ve been married. Not before, when I was courting you. They used to speak then. They made me talk—because they answered. (Homecoming, Act 3)
Christine is harsh and she has an attractive body. Her hair is curly, partly bronze gold. Even though she has all these charming functions, people hate her. But why?
LOUISA–Which is more’n you kin say fur his wife. Folks all hates her! She ain’t the Mannon kind. French and Dutch descended, she is. Furrin lookin’ and queer. Her father’s a doctor in New York, but he can’t be much of a one ’cause she didn’t bring no money when Ezra married her. (Homecoming, Act 1)
Christine is avoided by the people because she has a pale face which looks like a life-like mask that represents duplicity, secrets and repression. She was inspired by Aeschylus’s Clytemnestra in some ways. People avoided her from her too. Clytemnestra is a cruel, monstrous woman who wants to dominate the people around her. She hides her weaknesses, a liar, a two-timer and she is a woman of extreme hypocrisy. But on the other hand, she is a total political leader who plans things and plays the court games as a game of chess.
“To understand Clytemnestra as a femme fatale, one must first understand the Clytemnestra that is depicted in Aeschylus’s version of Agamemnon’s demise. As Agamemnon opens, King Agamemnon has been at war in Troy for exactly 10 years. A watchman sits waiting for a signal fire to tell him that the city of Troy has finally been taken as a chorus of the “old men of Argos” tell the story of Helen and Paris and the start of the Trojan war. The chorus then describes how Agamemnon sacrificed his daughter to calm the raging sea so that he and his army could join his brother in the war against Troy.
During their introductory narration, the chorus tells the audience that Clytemnestra has been in charge of the city for the past ten years while Agamemnon has been at war. The men describe Clytemnestra as “the architect of vengeance / growing strong in the house / with no fear of the husband / here she waits …. the mother —/ Memory womb of Fury child-avenging Fury!” (Aeschylus 31). This vivid description paints an image of a vengeful mother and shows that Clytemnestra has been planning her revenge for years.”3(Nikki Sneed)
As Nikki Sneed mentions that Clytemnestra has been planning the revenge for years which shows her as a true political leader. But O’Neill’s Christine is a bit softened. She is not furious like Aeschylus’s Clytemnestra. Christine resembles Euripides’s Clytemnestra. Christine gives orders too, but her aim is not to dominate but showing that she is the mistress of the Mannon house. But still, everybody is afraid of her because she walks around as if she has a mask on the face. But what is the function of the mask to the character?
The mask is not used for hypocrisy. For Christine the is for hiding emotions and vulnerability. Inside she is fragile but she doesn’t want to reflect that. So, she wears the mask of strength and puts distances to everyone except Adam and Orin. But another question emerges. Why does she want to hide her emotions?
If we analyze this woman, the reader can see that something disturbs her in the environment. “No! I loved him once—before I married him…But the marriage soon turned his romance into -disgust!” (-Christine, 249). The experience with her husband is not fulfilling. Ezra had difficulties of giving love or sexually satisfy his wife because of the stern Puritan background. Christine wants to enjoy her life at the age of 40. She wants to have joy. She wears green lively dresses in contrast to Puritan society. “The Puritans wanted simplicity in their clothing and many times wore dark clothing” 4 In this blackness of Puritan environment joy, power, love, vitality are banished. So, she challenges the principles of the society where she lives. This is the principle why everyone hates from her. She wants to exert her freedom.
The play opens with spring season which refers to freshness and rebirth. But Christine still desperately seeking out that freshness. On the other hand, Ezra is in the war with his frustration and expectations. So, nothing gives her that relief of joy. In contrast to Christine’s dress and frustration, Puritan background. As Ayşen Aslanoğlu says;
“O’Neill chooses New England and notes that it is “the best possibility for a ‘Greek plot of crime and retribution, chain of faith” because of the ‘Puritan conviction of man born to sin and punishment’” (quoted in Gatta Jr, 1979, p.227; P. O’Neill, 1963, p. 485). By choosing such a place, O’Neill benefits from how the characteristics of the Puritan society, which imprisons the individual will within the restrictions of the society. In addition to the choice of setting, he searches for the possibility where his characters are depicted as individuals who struggle with the clash of inner conflicts and external realities.” 2
Lavinia reminds the reader Euripides’s Electra. She stands up where her mother stays still. She dressed like Puritan society. Nothing is fancy or sophisticated about her dress, her hair is tightly bound to avoid any sensuality or femininity. In this way, she resembles Euripides’s Electra who refuses to beautify herself. But Lavinia’s physical appearance corresponds to the Puritan environment. She has her loyalty to her father, her affection, love, admiration for her father make her refuse to allow femininity to blow out. The way she speaks resembles militaristic view just like her father. Lavinia determines herself as much possible as her father. She is not disturbed by the puritan environment because that environment also represents her father who follows the puritan order and discipline. On the other hand, Lavinia’s transformation is one of the obvious ones in the play. As the story continuous this puritan environment starts to disturb her. “LAVINIA: He made me feel for the first time in my life that everything about love could be sweet and natural… I have a right to love!”
Apart from this obvious “Father needs me!” signals, her exaggerated love to father also comes from her hatred to mother. She avoids any psychical resemblance to her mother Christine. The more Christine tries to look feminine, the more Lavinia acts masculine.
The play continues under the term of “oppositions” of consciousness and unconsciousness. The reader can see Lavinia’s tragedy about how she is entrapped. She not willing to bloom and she is refusing to accomplish herself as a woman. Peter who is in love with Lavinia since childhood seeks affection whereas Lavinia rejects love. When she escapes all of these rights and characteristics of a woman, being cared and loved she rejects what her mother wants. She goes against her nature and suppresses all her instincts. And the result is; neurosis. As we can read from lines below, Lavinia is represented as cold and have no tolerance to love
LAVINIA: I remember your admiration for the naked native women. You said they had found the secret of happiness because they had never heard that love can be a sin.
BRANT: So you remember that, do you? Aye! And they live in as near the Garden of Paradise before sin was discovered as you’ll find on this earth! Unless you’ve seen it, you can’t picture the green beauty of their land set in the blue of the sea! The clouds like down on the mountain tops, the sun drowsing in your blood, and always the surf on the barrier reef singing a croon in your ears like a lullaby! The Blessed Isles, I’d call them! You can forget there all men’s dirty dreams of greed and power!
LAVINIA: And their dirty dreams—of love?
BRANT: Why do you say that? What do you mean, Lavinia?
LAVINIA: Nothing. I was only thinking–of your Blessed Isles. (Homecoming, Act 1)
Lavinia suspects from Christine’s adultery with Adam Brant. She hates indulging in love and loving back. The obsessive manner “Father needs me!” reminds the reader Euripides’s Electra. Agamemnon is not a perfect father, he went to war leaving the house back. And Electra creates virtual father, she idealizes him and Lavinia does that too. She refuses any imperfection about her father and she has a sacred image of the father. She puts herself as a father figure of the house. The idea of “Son takes after father, daughter takes after father” can be seen in the O’Neill’s play.
• “CHRISTINE: I know you, Vinnie! I’ve watched you ever since you were little, trying to do exactly what you’re doing now! You’ve tried to become the wife of your father and the mother of Orin! You’ve always wanted to steal my place! (Homecoming Act 2)
These words of Christine explain how Lavinia is obsessed with her father since childhood. O’Neill point is to explain the danger of suppression of living in such a society which all desires are suppressed.
On Adam and Ezra’s Neuroses and Christine’s Manipulation
When Orin was born, Christine thought that he was her child, not Ezra’s instead of Lavinia. That’s why Orin grew as mother’s boy. So, the Oedipus complex emerges because of this. The desire to mother makes him desire father’s place.
The moment Christine persuades Adam Brant to commit the crime, lovers speak passionately about the future. O’Neill tries to develop some aspects of ancient tragedy. That is the persuasion for the crime which leads the crime. O’Neill reworks this ancient mother-daughter conflict as we expect Orin who is in between this conflict commits the crime. This interlocked relationship and battle of persuasion represent the hypothesis of femme fatale figure. Christine tries to bring the idea of crime to Adam Brant and his only aim is to make Mannon’s suffer.
BRANT: I remember the night we were introduced and I heard the name Mrs. Ezra Mannon! By God, how I hated you for being his! I thought, by God, I’ll take her from him and that’ll be part of my revenge! And out of that my love came! It’s damned queer, isn’t it? (Homecoming, Act 2)
But he has hesitations. Even though he is 40 years old he not mature enough to acknowledge the consequences. But in Euripes’s Electra, Orestes kills Aegisthus such brutal manner. Orestes overlaps Adam.
BRANT: We’ve got to decide what we must do. The time for skulking and lying is over—and by God, I’m glad of it! It’s a coward’s game I have no stomach for! (Homecoming, Act 2)
Even though Adam wants to be a man and challenge Ezra to a duel and let the powerful man to win, Christine manipulates him again and put the idea of “my is the right way” to Adam’s head.
BRANT: Poison! It’s a coward’s trick!
CHRISTINE: Do you think you would be braver to give me up to him and let him take away your ship?
CHRISTINE: Didn’t you say you wanted to kill him?
BRANT: Aye! But I’d give him his chance!
CHRISTINE: Did he give your mother her chance?
BRANT: No, damn him!
CHRISTINE: Then what makes you suddenly so scrupulous about his death? It must be the Mannon in you coming out! Are you going to prove, the first time your love is put to a real test, that you’re a weak coward like your father?
BRANT: Christine! If it was any man said that to me–!
CHRISTINE: Have you thought of this side of his homecoming–that he’s coming back to my bed? If you love me as much as you claim, I should think that would rid you of any scruples! If it was a question of some woman taking you from me, I wouldn’t have qualms about which was or wasn’t the way to kill her! But perhaps your love has been only a lie you told me–to take the sneaking revenge on him of being a backstairs lover! Perhaps–
BRANT: Stop it! I’ll do anything you want! You know it! And you’re right. I’m a damn fool to have any feeling about how Ezra Mannon dies!
With doing this manipulative act she is thinking about the aftermath of crime. She doesn’t simply push passion against as she tricks Adam’s ego. He includes Christine in his dream about the island but his priority in his dreams is to have a ship as it is a beautiful woman. This inner desire tempts his consciousness into the unconsciousness. The blessed island represents maternity, rebirth, and a womb.
Island is somehow opposite of the Mannon’s house. The house is inherited by Mannon’s. Everywhere is full of dead ancestors which gives the house the image of a tomb and signifies death. Whereas island, the womb, regeneration, returning to life, seeking life, returning to the matriarchal world which is totally different from the world of Puritanism. This obsession of freedom is emphasized in the mind of Adam Brant. That’s why his imagination is productive and lets him unguarded against manipulative acts of Christine.
O’Neill represents the femme fatale hypothesis to acknowledge Adam for his need to murder. At the first place, he came to Mannon’s house to seek revenge. Adam’s crime leads him to the tragedy of a modern man. He chooses unconsciously, his acts are primitive and are controlled by his subconscious ego, he has no freedom. He is trapped and stimulated primitive.
When Ezra comes, he is tired, he missed everyone in the house, so much death depressed him during the war. Now he tries to fight with the unconscious, he is expressing a strict Puritan environment. Seeing so many deaths makes him think “only expectation in life is to waiting for death.” Death is represented as the end, no promise for happiness in Ezra’s epiphany. He sees death only as an existentialist annihilation.
The relationship between Christine and Ezra is traumatic. He wants to declare his love to Christine but there is something that makes him act like all the Mannon’s. He is afraid of Christine’s eyes, he sees the emptiness of her eyes, something is omitted with her eyes.
MANNON: God, I want to talk to you, Christine! I’ve got to explain some things—inside me—to my wife—try to, anyway. Shut your eyes again! I can talk better. It has always been hard for me to talk—about feelings. I never could when you looked at me. Your eyes were always so—so full of silence! That is, since we’ve been married. Not before, when I was courting you. They used to speak then. They made me talk—because they answered. (Homecoming, Act 3)
It’s different. He wants to speak with her but he is afraid. This epiphany of Ezra leads him to his neurosis stems from the tragedy of modern man. Ezra is conscious of death. It means nothing to him. Ezra is mature enough in contrast to Adam.
Theme of Island and Tragic End of Orin and Lavinia
Last part focuses on Lavinia’s change. “The Haunted” is structurally resembles Aeschylus’s Oresteia’s 3rd part. In Oresteia, after Orestes is being haunted by furries, he eventually trialled and purified by washing his body in the river. Electra is totally abandoned, she is driven into insanity. In Sophocles, two siblings carry the burden, unlike others. Sophocles sees the moment of crime as the culmination of justice. Sophocles gives the idea of retribution which is complete in two characters. In Euripides, after the crime Orestes feels extreme remorse, there is a punishment for crime. He will be separated from his sister and leaves Argos never to come back again.
Electra almost gets insane with the hatred in Euripides’s tragedy. She is dominated by the hatred for Aegisthus who mocks the tomb of her father. Moreover, Electra is driven to commit the crime by hatred to her mother. This hatred corresponds being rejected, insufficiently loved.
Euripides represents Electra as neurosis almost abandoned consciousness, driven with bloodthirst, excited by hatred. That hatred dissipated after Clytemnestra is killed. For Euripides, Clytemnestra’s death can be considered as a necessary sacrifice to bring Electra’s consciousness back. In Aeschylus she is driven insane, in Euripides Electra becomes tragic after the murder is committed, it is hatred pushed her to commit the crime. And after that, that state of shock awakens her, brings her back to consciousness. That is the cruel moment to understand the degree of transgression. A person cannot go into the depths of the issue when he/she is obsessed, alluded, driven by hatred.
Lavinia is a person fully aware of strong Puritan ethos, she embodies herself as absolute justice. That’s why she judges everyone from her perspective. There is only one emotion drives Lavinia which is jealousy. She is extremely jealous of Christine because she has the father. She attracts Adam Brant. She accuses Christine but she acts like Christine too. The way Christine manipulates Adam Brant to commit the crime, Lavinia manipulates Orin. She stimulates Orin’s sense of jealousy. Orin doesn’t want to kill Adam Brant but Lavinia forces him by getting inside his head and infecting his mind. When Orin kills Adam Brant, Christine explains how she loved Adam more than him. After that Christine commits suicide.
Suicide is committed. Orin and Lavin go to the island. They try to escape from the responsibilities and consequences of the crime. In the island there are some native tribes, naked women are dancing. It’s a world of freedom. That’s what they wished for. For Orin;
ORIN: those Islands came to mean everything that wasn’t war, everything that was peace and warmth and security There was no one there but you and me. And yet I never saw you, that’s the funny part. I only felt you all around me. The breaking of the waves was your voice. The sky was the same color as your eyes. The warm sand was like your skin. The whole island was you. (Act II)
As for Lavinia;
LAVINIA: There was no hereafter. There was only this world—the warm earth in the moonlight—the trade wind in the coco palms—the surf on the reef—the fires at night and the drum throbbing in my heart—the natives dancing naked and innocent—without knowledge of sin!
The island is the representation of primitive emotions when a human being is not driven by jealousy and hatred. It belongs to the Edenic space or a kind of divinity. From the psychoanalytic point of view, the island is the motif for the link between consciousness and unconsciousness part of human.
Lavinia: I your admiration for the naked native women. You said they had found the secret of happiness because they had never heard that love can be a sin.
Brant: so you remember that, do you? Aye! And they lived in as near the Garden of Paradise before sin was discovered as you’ll find on this earth! Unless you’ve seen it, you can’t picture the green beauty of their land set in the blue of the sea! The clouds like down on the mountaintops, the sun drowsing in your blood, and always the surf on the barrier reef singing a croon in your ears like a lullaby! The Blessed Isles I’d call them! You can forget there all men’s dirty dreams of greed and power (279)!
Ans. O’Neill has interwoven the “Blessed Islands” in “Mourning Becomes Electra” — influenced by Melville’s Typee — as the motif of an unattainable pipe-dream. The Blessed Islands show the desire for love, harmony, and sexual freedom of all the protagonists in the play. They are the counterpart of puritanism and civilization. However, these islands do not really offer an escape.5
For Orin, surrounded by water corresponds to the maternal womb. He is still under the effects of Oedipus complex which represent union with the mother in perspective of island love. He blames himself about Christine’s suicide. By doing this blame, he actually kills his dreams about island and regeneration and personal retribution.
When Lavinia goes to the island, that’s where she transforms. When she returns to home, Peter and Hazel can’t recognize her because she resembles her mother. From her dresses till haircut. She asks flowers. It’s a true metamorphosis. At first, she was military disciplined, strict and she was refusing to grow into womanhood. She goes to the island and she changes completely.
Adam and Eve didn’t know the embarrassment of nakedness. It is this primitive innocence without sins. It is a natural instinctive consideration of love, celebrating life without awareness of sins that keeps them innocent. Also, this is the moment of awareness for Lavinia in the island. She refused to love whereas after island Lavinia discovers a feminine side of hers. She feels love and life. That makes her bloom as a woman. “Those islands … finished setting me free. (Lavinia Act 2) A daughter inherits the mother, this idea shows itself in the last part of the play. Christine’s desire to live and love passes to Lavinia. Now Peter could speak and even kiss her easily because she is feminine and represents femininity.
Lavinia is stronger than Orin. She fights with the sense of guilt by covering herself with another mask. The mask of Christine. She is wearing the mask that every Mannon wears. But Orin can’t wear the mask because he never expected the feeling of freedom, he always manipulated. He cannot exert any desire to live and love. Orin feels remorse but he is also scared, frightened by a Puritan ethos as the atonement is not possible for him. The strict puritan Calvinism offers no hope for Orin to confess. Confessing will not purify him so he chooses death through suicide.
From the Puritan point of view, confession is futile. Orin is not strong enough to deal with the guilt and consequences. His suicide represents his immaturity and his instinctive desire to meet with the mother again. He is desperately screaming to Lavinia “Let’s find peace” but it is impossible to find the peace you die because according to puritan society, it is not a relief. Only relief will be there for him when he reaches his mother.
ORIN: And I suppose you think that’s all it means, that I’ll be content with a promise I’ve forced out of you, which you’ll always be plotting to break? Oh, no! I’m not such a fool! I’ve got to be sure–You said you would do anything for me. That’s a large promise, Vinnie–anything!
LAVINIA: What do you mean? What terrible thing have you been thinking lately–behind all your crazy talk? No, I don’t want to know! Orin! Why do you look at me like that?
ORIN: You don’t seem to feel all you mean to me now–all you have made yourself mean–since we murdered Mother!
ORIN: I love you now with all the guilt in me–the guilt we share! Perhaps I love you too much, Vinnie!
LAVINIA: You don’t know what you’re saying!
ORIN: There are times now when you don’t seem to be my sister, nor Mother, but some stranger with the same beautiful hair– Perhaps you’re Marie Brantôme, eh? And you say there are no ghosts in this house?
LAVINIA: For God’s sake–! No! You’re insane! You can’t mean–!
ORIN: How else can I be sure you won’t leave me? You would never dare leave me–then! You would feel as guilty then as I do! You would be as damned as I am! Damn you, don’t you see I must find some certainty some way or go mad? You don’t want me to go mad, do you? I would talk too much! I would confess! Vinnie! For the love of God, let’s go now and confess and pay the penalty for Mother’s murder, and find peace together! (The Haunted, Act 3)
With these lines, we can see Orin’s incest fantasies comes into real life as Lavinia starts to look like his mother. He wants to possess Lavinia like he possesses his mother in his dreamland. When Orin understands there is no mother in here, he commits suicide.
Being inside the cursed family drives Lavinia an unconscious end. When she seeks felicity and love she realizes that her marriage will be haunted. She says “Love is permitted for me, death is so strong.” Happiness is not for Lavinia. Pain, sorrow, death befits her. All her attempts will be futile. Mourning befits her, it is her fate. It is her fate to mourn.
The symbol of shutter, no sunlight means isolation. And darkness. She makes the house an actual tomb. Last minutes of Lavinia is her tragic fate. No one imposes her anymore, it’s all her responsibility.
To be alive with all your senses and crimes in your own tomb, this is what Lavinia becomes. From a psychoanalytical point of view, self-isolation expresses terror of being alone. Stems from rejected by mother. O’Neill expresses extreme courage when Lavinia lock herself in the house. As a result of tragic suffering, Lavinia experiences victory of consciousness. She is the only character who tries to fight with the unconsciousness and instincts. It’s a tomb which keeps the family secrets. Lavinia is the most tragic one because there is no possibility of atonement or purification in the age of extreme individualism.
To conclude this paper, every character act by their psychological side of their brain. Lavinia act what the environment said her, she tried to act like father even though she virtualizes her father. But mother side is still in her brain so she becomes feminine. Orin is dominated by the mother, so he follows Lavinia as she transforms into Christine. Ezra saw the war so his expectations changed. Christine is bored because at first, she wasn’t a Mannon and Puritan so she tried to escape that. Every move and tragedy happened unconsciously. Characters are slaves of their unconscious mind.
Gelb Arthur, Gelb Barbara, Eugene O’Neill (12 October 2019) Encyclopædia Britannica, inc.
Arslanoğlu Ayşen, The Formative Effect Of Past On The Perception Of Time And Selfhood (2012) Dokuz Eylül Üniversitesi Edebiyat Fakültesi Dergisi Cilt:1 Number:2 Sneed Nikki, Clytemnestra as Femme Fatale http://www.belmont.edu/burs/pdf/Theatre%20-%20Sneed.pdf
Hayden Kellie, The Puritan Daily Life – Research Topic Ideas on Life as a Puritan
Asghar Shahbaz, SHORT ANSWERS – MOURNING BECOMES ELECTRA BY EUGENE O’NEILL(11 November 2016)
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