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Mourning Becomes Electra

Eugene O'Neill

"The Haunted": Act I, Scene One

"The Hunted": Act V

"The Haunted": Act I, Scene Two

Summary

A year later, it is a clear summer day in front of the Mannon house. The shutters are closed and the front door boarded up. Lavinia and Orin are abroad in China. Seth, Amos, and three old townsmen—Abner, Silva, and Mackel—are carousing about. They appear grotesquely as if they are boys out on a forbidden prank.

Seth bets Small ten dollars and a gallon of liquor that he cannot stay alone in the Mannon house until moonlight. Rumors say that the house is haunted. Seth guides Small inside. Mackel notes that if the town were not at the Mannons' feet, "queer doin's" would have come out regarding the recent deaths.

Hazel and Peter arrive, announcing Lavinia and Orin's imminent return. Suddenly Small bursts out of the house, screaming that he saw Ezra's ghost in judge's robes coming out of the wall. The men roar with laughter and walk off. Peter and Hazel rebuke Seth for his prank. Seth replies that he only staged it to dispel the rumors circulating in town about the house being haunted. He himself, however, feels there is something rotten in the house's walls. He urges them to not let Lavinia and Orin take up residence there again. They begin to ready the house for the Mannons' return.

A strikingly different Lavinia appears on the drive. Her body has filled out and lost its military stiffness; she resembles her mother perfectly, even wearing the same green dress. Lavinia turns and coaxingly calls Orin as if he were a child. Orin has grown dreadfully thin and bears the statue-like attitude and mask-like face of his father. He has grown a beard that accentuates this resemblance.

In a mothering voice, Lavinia urges Orin to be brave before this test and face the house. There are no ghosts. As she leads him up the steps, Orin stammering points out the last place he saw Christine alive. Lavinia declares all that finished: the dead have forgotten them, and they the dead. They go inside.

Analysis

"The Haunted" begins once again before the Mannon house with another chorus of townsfolk serving as backdrop to the major players. Here the chorus, a group of drunken, grotesquely boyish old men, prepares the way for the dead's second "homecoming." Though this scene about ghosts is played for comic relief, Seth quickly admits that there may be something rotten in the house's walls. As the title of the third installment suggests, the Mannon house, with its shutters boarded up and its furniture covered, has decidedly become a haunted one, the ancestors waiting to exact their vengeance.

Notably, the ghost Small supposedly sees is that of Ezra in his judge's robes—the implication being of course that he simply came upon the portrait in the study. This apparition once again introduces the tropes of judgment, accusation, and punishment that recur throughout the trilogy. As in the previous plays, the father continues to make himself felt in his symbolic form, such as statues and portraits. Here, however, the dead also come home to the Mannon manor in the form of the living. Chillingly, brother and sister arrive from their trip East as the reincarnations of their mother and father. Lavinia has acceded to femininity in taking her mother's place. She has become beautiful and seductive in identification with Christine, an identification involving the murder and incorporation of the maternal other. Similarly the haggard Orin appears the spitting image of his father, bearing his military gait and statue-like stiffness. Mother and Husband/Son have returned anew, ready to rehearse the fate of those who precede them.

In their new incarnations, Orin and Lavinia are substitutes for the Mother-Son pairs that appear throughout the trilogy. Their status as substitutes partially explains why O'Neill continuously describes them through series of correspondences to aesthetic objects—masks, portraits, statues, and automata—objects that substitute for the human form. Substitution is the necessary effect of Lavinia and Orin occupying the Mother and Son's places in an Oedipal drama that precedes and determines them.

As substitutes for the lovers who precede them, they will similarly take substitute love objects to complete the narrative they are doomed to repeating. Thus, as O'Neill begins to intimate here, Peter will come to figure as Lavinia's Brant and Hazel as another of Orin's maternal "lost islands." What O'Neill describes in his work diary as Peter and Hazel's "characterlessness" likely facilitates the Mannon children's projective fantasies.

Lavinia leads her brother to the house under the guise of confronting the ghosts that await them. This confrontation, however, involving an almost mantra-like recitation to ward off evil, is more an exorcism than an effort at remembrance or mourning. Lavinia brusquely insists that there are no ghosts and demands that Orin put his memories in the past. Orin, on the other hand, transfixed by the memory of his mother's last moments, has returned to repay the debt to the dead and fulfill the Mannon destiny.

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