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Mourning Becomes Electra

Eugene O'Neill

"The Haunted": Act I, Scene Two

"The Haunted": Act I, Scene One

"The Haunted": Act II

Summary

Lavinia stands at the doorway of the Mannon sitting room, her hair, dress, and movements identical to Christine's. The room has long been shut up and its furniture covered. She pauses beneath the portraits and addresses them resentfully: wondering why they stare at her.

A dazed Orin appears. He expected to find Mother in the study, but she is nowhere. Now she will never forgive him. In any case, he is no longer her son; he is a Mannon now and the house will welcome him. Lavinia harshly orders him to stop his rambling and then moves to sooth him. They must get back to normalcy and begin a new life with Peter and Hazel. They have every right to their love.

To Lavinia's shy delight, Orin grimly remarks on her new resemblance to Mother. Since they sailed East, she has been stealing Christine's soul. Death has set her free to become her. Lavinia rebukes her brother; he promised at the Islands that if he came home to face his ghosts, he would rid himself of his morbid spells and guilt over the past. Orin replies maliciously that it was his brotherly duty to get her from the Islands. Lavinia forces Orin to repeat after her: mother killed father, and they only did what was just. They set themselves to cleaning the house.

Peter enters from the rear and gasps, thinking he has seen Christine's ghost. Lavinia approaches him with eager possessiveness. Peter is especially stunned to see Lavinia out of black; Lavinia replies that she was dead back then. Orin mocks his sister, accusing her of stealing Mother's colors and becoming a true romantic while under the influence of the Islands. Indeed, the Islands and their men in particular turned her into a regular pagan. Another month more and Lavinia would have joined the natives naked under the palm trees.

An angry Lavinia forces a smile. She straightens Orin's clothing and sends him off to Hazel. When she criticizes his rigid posture, Orin cunningly retorts that she'd rather he play the clipper captain than Father. Orin departs.

Lavinia declares her love for Peter and warns him against falling for of Orin's morbid spells. She did not flirt with any of the native men. The Islands did finish setting her free, but her time among natives and ignorant of sin enabled her to forget death and come to love and beauty. Now she and Peter will marry, leave the region, and make an island for themselves in the country. They embrace. Suddenly Hazel and Orin appear in the doorway. Orin starts in a jealous rage but Lavinia commands him to be still. She stares at her brother in dread.

Analysis

As we have noted throughout, though mourning may become Electra, her double Lavinia refuses mourn. The sentry-like heroine is an agent of repression, ensuring that the family secrets never come to light. Lavinia cannot mourn because she would attempt at all costs to forget. She defies the judgment of the ancestors, the ghosts that torment her brother relentlessly. For Lavinia, Orin must forget what has transpired and look toward a new life with Peter and Hazel. Stubbornly will she refuses Orin's pleas, dismissively attributing them to his morbidity, and force him to recite mantras that assure them of the justice of their actions. Though clearly haunted, Lavinia would still have no debt to the dead.

An increasingly psychotic Orin seeks for the ghost of his mother, wandering the house to beg for her forgiveness. In his strange state, he quickly comes to decipher the course of the Mannon tragedy. Here he confronts the dauntless Lavinia with her desire to take her mother's place. Christine's death has freed Lavinia to become her, to steal her colors and soul. Lavinia's disturbingly shy eagerness at what she first understands as Orin's compliments only betrays her further.

By becoming her mother, Lavinia accedes to femininity and sexual desire. This transformation rehearses a familiar Oedipal trajectory. Within the classical Oedipal schema, the daughter's perception of the mother's castration precipitates her Oedipal complex. Her experience of her own castration may result in an identification with the father in the famous "masculinity complex." Lavinia's identifications with Ezra are clear. Identification with the castrated mother and her femininity become tenable once the daughter can locate herself within a structure of desire that would make good on her lack. Here Lavinia would play mother and wife at once, Orin figuring as the child that compensates for her castration.

As we learn in more detail in their final confrontation, Lavinia completes her metamorphosis on Brant's Blessed Island. Both Orin and Lavinia cast the Islands as the setting of Lavinia's metamorphosis though imagine this metamorphosis in almost diametrically opposite ways. Both involve fantasies of the native. For the fiendish Orin, the Islands intertwine Lavinia's sexual and racial degradation. As he tells Peter, a month longer on the Islands and Lavinia would have become a veritable pagan, dancing nude with their beautiful men under the palm trees. Orin quivers with jealousy at the specter of the native's sexual prowess. He rescues his sister in fear that they can provide her with what he cannot.

In contrast, Lavinia emphasizes the Islands' innocence. There, among their simple, docile people, she came to love and beauty anew, forgetting all the death behind her. Indeed, Lavinia's natives appear almost free of sexuality altogether—note, for example, her account of the chaste kiss in Act IV.

These projective fantasies are decidedly narcissistic, splitting of the native into its hyper-idealized and degraded, "good" and "bad" forms. Mourning maps these fantasies onto those of gender, the image of the pure or lascivious native fitting easily with that of the woman cast as either virgin or whore.

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