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Mourning Becomes Electra

Eugene O'Neill


Important Quotations Explained

Important Quotations Explained

Important Quotations Explained

Important Quotations Explained

Important Quotations Explained

Important Quotations Explained

You're so like your mother in some ways. Your face is the dead image of hers. And look at your hair. You won't meet hair like yours and hers again in a month of Sundays. I only know of one other woman who had it. You'll think it strange when I tell you. It was my mother.

Brant makes this strange compliment, or rather confession, to Lavinia in Act I of "Homecoming." It situates him square in the Oedipal drama that structures the trilogy. Brant loves those who substitute for his mother, the defiant Marie Brantôme. The point of fixation of his fantasies is the Mannon women's lustrous hair. This fixation becomes a recurrent motif the Mannon men, similarly locating them in the incestuous Mother-Son relation.

Each time I come back after 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.

Christine complains of the sepulchral nature of the Mannon house in Act I of "Homecoming." The house is of course the tragedy's primary mise-en-scène. It functions as crypt to the family's secrets. Christine refers to this secret history in cursing Abe Mannon, who built the house to cover over the disgrace that sets this revenge cycle in motion. Thus the temple to Abe's hatred is also a monument of repression.

As Christine laments, its distinguishing feature is its portico, what the stage notes describe as the "incongruous white mask" hiding its ugliness. This mask makes doubles out of its residents, evoking the "life-like masks" the Mannons wear as their faces. Thus Christine personifies the house when she describes it as a "whited sepulcher." Here Christine alludes to a simile Jesus uses in Matthew 23:27 in condemning hypocrites exemplified by the scribes and Pharisees. In common usage, the metaphor refers to an evil person who hypocritically pretends to be holy or good.

It was like murdering the same man twice. I had a queer feeling that war meant murdering the same man over and over, and that in the end I would discover the man was myself! Their faces keep coming back in dreams—and they change to Father's face—or to mine

Orin relates his Civil War nightmare to Lavinia in Act III of "The Hunted." It allegorizes the lethal rivalries afoot between the play's male doubles. Mourning's male players are all at war in an Oedipal drama, vying for the desire of Mother. The Civil War, generally remembered as a war between brothers, comes to symbolize this struggle. The men's rivalries are murderously infantile, operating according to a jealous logic of "either you go or I go." Because in these rivalries the other appears as that which stands in the self's rightful place within the Oedipal triangle, the rivals appear as doubles of each other as well. Orin's nightmare of his murders in the fog allegorizes this rivalry. Here Orin repeatedly kills the same man, himself, and his father. This compulsive series of murders demonstrates the impossibility of the lover ever acceding to his rightful place within the Oedipal triangle—Mother will always want another, and producing yet another rival.

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.

Orin relates this fantasy of the Blessed Island to Christine in Act II of "The Hunted." A sanctuary from the war, the Island is a warm, peaceful, and secure paradise composed of the mother's body. Thus Orin can imagine himself with Christine without her being there. In terms of the trilogy's sexual drama, the Blessed Island is the realm of the pre-Oedipal, the time of plentitude and imperfect differentiation between mother and child. The war rips Orin from this maternal embrace at his father's behest. Orin goes to war to do his duty as a Mannon.

As with the motif of the mother's hair, the fantasy of the Blessed Island will recur amongst all the major players. Each yearns mournfully for the "lost island" removed from the Oedipal tragedy in which they are enmeshed.

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!

Lavinia relates this memory of the Blessed Island to Peter in Act I of "The Haunted." She has just returned with Orin from their trip to the South Sea. Here the Island figures again as a paradise apart from the Oedipal tragedy that drives the Mannons to their doom, but here it is in terms of race relations. As with Brant, the islands have come to figure as home of the innocent natives who dance naked on the beach and love without sin. The natives appear as timeless children, living in the simplicities of the present. Lavinia's reverie is one pole of the trilogy's fantasies of the native. The other, sustained by Orin and others, imagines them as figures of bestial sexual prowess.

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