Mourning Becomes Electra: Play - Summary & Analysis

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      The first part of the trilogy, Homecoming, opens as the Mannon family eagerly awaits the victorious return of General Ezra Mannon from the Civil War. His wife, Christine, who is having an affair with a Captain Brant, and his daughter Lavinia, who knows about her mother’s infidelity, hate each other. Christine plots with her lover, Brant, to poison Ezra Mannon on his arrival to get rid of him.

      In the second part, The Hunted, marks the arrival of Orin, Lavinia’s brother, and Lavinia lays a trap for Christine to convince him of their mother’s guilt and the immediate need of eliminating her accomplice Brant, who has brought disgrace to the Mannons family. Orin approves of this plan and kills Brant, but leaves it up to Lavinia to tell their mother that vengeance has been taken. Driven by guilt and a sense of persecution, Christine commits suicide.

      In the third part, The Haunted, Lavinia and Orin, are drawn together in a climate of guilt and incest. Lavinia’s incestuous love for her father is slowly transferred to her brother. She now comes to play her mother’s role. Orin loves his sister, as he loved his mother, Chritine, as a woman, and they suffer from a sense of guilt. They fail to get rid of their past even after undertaking a voyage to the South Seas Orin’s failure to isolate himself from his guilt-ridden past prompts him to commit suicide, leaving behind Lavinia to bear the guilt of the Mannon dead alone. Bound forever to the Mannon dead, Lavinia enters the house, and shuts the door behind her.

Critical Analysis

      Both in the story the play unfolds and in the destiny-charged atmosphere enshrining it, this play keeps close to the tradition of ancient drama, though in both respects it is adjusted to modem life and to modem lines of thought. The scene of this tragedy of the modern house of Atreus is laid in the period of the great Civil War - America’s Iliad. That choice lends the drama the clear perspective of the past and yet provides it with a background of intellectual life and thought sufficiently close to the present day.

      The great secret of O’Neill’s Electra is that it presents the Oresteia to the letter without sacrificing its own integrity as an independent, self-sufficient work.

      The ancestral home of the Mannons becomes the prison house of the past without a future, and it is only the future, where things can be acted upon and changed, that freedom becomes possible. In the final scene, the daughter of the murdered father takes on his ghostly spirit as she cohabits with the dead. Lavonia has all the shutters closed to the mansion, knowing that time has come to an end as life and death become and the same.

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