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Mourning Becomes Electra

Eugene O'Neill

"The Haunted": Act IV

"The Haunted": Act III

Important Quotations Explained

Summary

Three days later, Seth wanders up the front drive singing "Shenandoah" in his wraith of a baritone. The house looks as it did in the first act of "Homecoming." Seth peers at the flower garden and notes that Lavinia is picking flowers again like Christine would. She has already filled the house with them.

Lavinia appears dressed in deep mourning, sleepless and haggard anew. She gives Seth a bunch of flowers and emptily orders him to keep them to the maid, since the house must be cheerful for Peter. Seth coaxingly offers to haul out a sofa so she can sleep. Lavinia declines and then pauses; Seth knows that there can be no rest in that house. Seth urges her to go away. Lavinia resolves anew to flee with Peter and let the house rot. He moves off and greets a resolute Hazel, also dressed in mourning.

Hazel insists that she knows Orin killed himself and his blood is somehow on Lavinia's hands. Whatever the case, she has come to discuss Peter. Lavinia cannot marry him. The Mannon secrets will come between them and prevent their unhappiness. Moreover, she has caused strife within their family. When his mother approached him about his marriage, he left home and vowed to never speak to her to Hazel again. Lavinia commands her to leave her alone or else die by Orin's pistol. Hazel moves to go. She asks that Lavinia let Peter read what was in Orin's envelope, since she has told Peter of it already. Closing her eyes, Lavinia wonders why the dead cannot die.

Peter arrives, and Lavinia immediately tries to appear cheerful. She keeps her eyes closed in fear. They pledge their love anew. Lavinia is startled, however, by the bitterness in his voice. She makes him promise that he does not suspect her and suggests that they marry immediately. Peter suspiciously refuses, sating that they cannot marry on the day of Orin's funeral.

Lavinia flings herself into his arms, begging for a moment of joy, imploring Peter to want her. In the throes of her passion, she cries: "Take me, Adam!" Horrified Lavinia realizes that the dead will always intervene between them. She orders Peter to go home, feigning that she was indeed that native man's "fancy woman." Peter recoils in repulsion.

As Lavinia, square-shouldered, watches Peter go, Seth returns singing "Shenandoah" under his breath. Lavinia cackles that she is bound to the Mannon dead. Since there is no one left to punish her, she must punish herself. She will nail the shutters and live in the house with the dead until the curse is paid out. She orders Seth to close the shutters and have the maid dispose of the flowers. Lavinia ascends the portico and stares into the sunlight. Seth leans out of and closes the right window, and she marches woodenly into the house, closing the door behind her.

Analysis

Returning us to the mise-en-scene that opens the trilogy, Act V moves from the prospect of Lavinia's escape from her the Mannon fate to her ultimate consignment to the family crypt.

The possibility of Lavinia's flight lies in her marriage with Peter. Lavinia cannot escape the Mannon home because, as she tells Seth, echoing the operative word in his "Shenandoah" chanty, she remains bound to its dead. The Mannon dead make their last intervention into the lives of the living in preventing Lavinia's flight with Peter. Hazel insists that Orin's memory and testimony will forever divide them, the Mannons' secret weighing heavily on their marriage. Already it has brought Peter grief, causing conflict within his family. As Lavinia remarks bitterly, the dead will simply not die.

The dead assert themselves with even more force in Lavinia's slip of the tongue. Hysterically declaring her love for a lover she is about to lose, Lavinia reveals the extent of her crimes, speaking in her mother's frantic voice. Inadvertently she cries out the name of her erstwhile beau, Adam. No longer can Lavinia deny the truth of her desire, the desire to take the Mother's place, and her implication in a tragedy that compulsively repeats itself across time. Note also in this respect how Orin's death strips Lavinia of her mother's image, returning her to her deep mourning. This transformation betrays how her accession to her mother's place is contingent on the reproduction of the mother- son dyad she realized with her brother.

Thus Lavinia relinquishes Peter, confessing to be the natives' "fancy woman" after all. Her lie is particularly tenable as it involves the mere reversal of the fantasies of love that dominate the play. As the native "fancy woman," Lavinia moves in Peter's eyes from the woman who learned innocence on the isles to she who lost it there forever, from the virgin to the whore. Appropriately, with Lavinia's degradation comes the recuperation of Peter's mother and sister. As he bitterly exclaims, Mother and Hazel were right about Lavinia after all.

Having given up her lover, Lavinia is left with her dead. The flowers she picked as her mother once did have now prepared her bower. Lavinia's retirement into the house is the consummation of the role of stiff-shouldered sentry she dons throughout the play. Lavinia entombs herself with the ancestors, masochistically taking the family's debts—the disgraces she keeps secret—upon herself. Rather than bring the family history to public judgment, her self- imprisonment enacts the revenge of the dead from within the family crypt. Lavinia turns defiantly from what Orin describes earlier as the "judging eye" of the sun to live out her days in darkness. Thus she fulfils Orin's curse, offering herself up to the ghosts that will hound and haunt her forever. Seth colludes in this repression of history to the end, quietly noting that he has not heard a word Lavinia has been saying.

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