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Mourning Becomes Electra

Eugene O'Neill

"The Haunted": Act II

"The Haunted": Act I, Scene Two

"The Haunted": Act III

Summary

One month later, Peter works intently at a manuscript at his father's desk. He now looks almost as old as Ezra.

Peter sardonically addresses his father's portrait, jeering that the whole truth and nothing but the truth will come out. Lavinia knocks sharply at the locked door; Peter locks his manuscript in the desk and lets her in. With forced casualness, she asks Orin what he is doing. Mockingly he replies that he is reading Father's law books.

Lavinia urges him to get some fresh air. For Orin, however, the two of them have forever renounced the "accusing eye" of daylight. He finds the lamplight more appropriate, as it is a symbol of man's life burning out in a world of shadows. Forcing a smile, Lavinia relents and she only worries about his health. Orin snaps that though she hopes for his demise, he feels quite well.

Lavinia replies that the walk with Hazel did him good then. Orin assents dully and then complains that, now that they are engaged, Lavinia never leaves them alone. She fears he may let something slip. Though he feels drawn to Hazel's purity, Lavinia cannot pass him off onto her. Hazel is another "lost island." When he sees her love for him, he feels an urge to confess his guilt as if it were "poisonous vomit." Lavinia and he cannot escape retribution. They must confess and atone for mother's death.

Lavinia cannot believe that Orin still loves a woman who would have left him. Orin retorts that Lavinia would do the same with Peter. He will stop her, however, with his manuscript. As the last male Mannon, he has written a history of the family crimes, from Abe's onward. He has tried to trace the evil destiny behind their lives.

Lavinia is the most interesting criminal of all. Orin recalls how she shed her mourning clothes in San Francisco and donned Mother's colors upon meeting the ship's first mate, a man who undoubtedly reminded her of Brant. She finally became pretty, like Mother, on Brant's Islands, with the natives staring at her with desire. Lavinia watched Avahanni stare at her body, "stripping her naked." Lavinia insists with quiet dignity that she only kissed him in gratitude for making love so "sweet and natural" for her.

When Orin presses Lavinia further, she assumes Christine's taunting voice. She states that she is not Orin's property. Reacting as Ezra did, Orin grasps his sister's throat in fury, threatening her murder. Shaken, Lavinia assures her brother that she was lying—an "evil spirit" made her speak against her will. They must forget all.

Orin insists quietly that he has taken Father's place and she Mother's. Perhaps she should murder him—he will even help. Lavinia's horror becomes a violent rage, and she repeats her mother's threat: "Take care, Orin! You'll be responsible if—!" She collapses in tears. "The damned don't cry" murmurs Orin. He commands her out of the room and resumes his work.

Analysis

Act II stages the return of the barely repressed history that haunts the Mannon children. Orin forces this return in his movement toward atonement and expiation—though, as we will learn later, for not the noble reasons he claims.

As Orin's taunts against Ezra's portrait make clear, atonement requires bringing the Mannons to judgment over and against the authority of his forefathers. Judgment demands the writing of the history the house and its residents would bury in the crypt. As the audience has been party to this history through snatches of gossip and conversation, Orin's forbidden record can only suggest that far more has been left unsaid.

As Orin fiendishly remarks, the most interesting criminal in this history is Lavinia herself. Orin goes on to detail Lavinia's transformation into Christine, a metamorphosis that begins when she steps into her mother's place—shedding her mourning and leaving her lover—for a first mate who stands in for the murdered Brant.

What completes this metamorphosis is their trip to "Brant's Blessed Islands. Lavinia becoming pretty like Mother under the desiring looks of the isles' native inhabitants. Again, the natives appear as almost symmetrical inverses of each other in the siblings' respective projective fantasies. For the jealous Orin, the natives are rapist-voyeurs, stripping his sister nude with their eyes. For Christine, they are absolute innocents, lovely freely and without sin. In the natives, a deluded Lavinia finds an illusory Eden whereas Orin finds an adversary vying for Mother's love, an adversary imagined to be equipped with frightening sexual prowess. Orin's native is a lascivious rival; Lavinia's is innocence incarnate. For Orin, this history he has written foretells their fate, and he and Lavinia have assumed Father and Mother's place respectively. The innumerable parallels between "The Hunted" and scenes from the trilogy's earlier installments underscore this substitution. Lavinia's frantic knock at the study door, for example, recalls Christine's desperate attempt to break into Lavinia and Orin's private exchange in "The Hunted." Like Christine, Lavinia is trying to pass Orin off onto Hazel and yearns for his death so she can flee to the Islands with her lover. Ultimately the dead come to possess her voice, Lavinia defying Orin to treat her as his property and then repeating her mother's infamous threat. As she protests in horror, an "evil spirit" compels the two of them to live out the love stories that precede them.

Though Orin would apparently turn to Hazel to escape the Mannon fate, the dead, as Lavinia will later remark, intervene between them. In extolling Hazel's magnetic purity, Orin casts her as yet another figure for the Mother. Like Christine, Hazel appears as another "lost island," a symbol of the prelapsarian love that the damned can never hope to attain. Orin yearns to deliver himself up to this mother-double and confess his crime. Chillingly his fantasy of this confession rehearses the memory of his father's murder. The poison Christine gives to Ezra becomes the "poisonous vomit" that Orin would cough up in guilt. Orin's submission to judgment is a submission to death as well. As we will see, atonement for Orin means death at Mother's hands.

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