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Mourning Becomes Electra

Eugene O'Neill

"Homecoming": Act III

"Homecoming": Act II

"Homecoming": Act IV

Summary

One week later, Lavinia stands stiffly at the top of the front stairs like an Egyptian statue. A drunken Seth enters singing "Shenandoah." Lavinia chastises him for his drunkenness. Seth jokes that it is his patriotic duty to drown his sorrows upon the president's assassination. When he asks if Lavinia confronted Brant, she insists sharply that he was mistaken.

Lavinia asks Seth to describe Marie Brantôme. Seth remembers her as frisky and animal-like with hair like hers and Christine's. Everyone loved her, including the young Ezra. Ezra hated her more than anyone upon the revelation of her disgrace. Lavinia shudders, checks herself, and orders Seth into the house.

Seth makes a superstitious signal as the front door opens and Christine emerges in a green velvet gown. Lavinia catches sight of someone. Ezra enters and stops stiffly before his house.

Lavinia rushes forward and embraces him. Suppressing an undercurrent of feeling, Mannon chastises his daughter and greets his wife. Despite Lavinia's solicitations, he sits on the step at his wife's invitation. When Christine asks after Orin, Mannon somewhat jealously divulges he has been wounded in an act of heroism on the battlefield. He is recuperating in the hospital and for a time he kept hallucinating conversations with "Mother."

Christine suggests that Ezra retire. A jealous Lavinia insists that he stay up, since she has much to tell him about Captain Brant. When Ezra jealously turns to his wife, Christine smilingly informs him that he is Lavinia's latest beau. In any case, she would prefer to discuss the matter alone with Ezra. Under his wife's scornful gaze, Ezra orders Lavinia into the house.

Once they are alone, Christine insists with disarming simplicity that Ezra has nothing to suspect with regards to Brant. Moved, Ezra impulsively kisses his hand. Christine recoils with hatred. She closes her eyes with affected weariness.

Mannon turns away guiltily. Wanting to talk to her, he implores her to keep her eyes shut as he cannot discuss his feelings under her stare. The war has made him realize they must overcome the wall between them. He knows Christine had hoped for his death in the Mexican War and has spent his life becoming able to keep from thinking of the loss of her love. Something "queer" keeps him from speaking his feelings, making him nub like the "statue of a dead man in a town square."

Ezra is bent on making Christine love him again. Perhaps they could find some island to be alone. Christine silences him, and Ezra stiffens bitterly. Calculatingly she assures him that she loves him and all is well and they kiss.

Suddenly Lavinia interrupts them. The irritated couple retires. Staring at their bedroom window, Lavinia curses her mother for stealing her father's love. She decides to expose her and calls to Ezra. He exasperatedly orders her to bed. She submits, desperately staring at the window.

Analysis

With Ezra's return, the play continues its elaboration of the Mannon's incest drama. Note here how each character jealously manipulates the other's passionate attachments to their advantage. What is so particularly jarring about Mourning is that Oedipal rivalries are rendered explicit within the Mannon household. Thus Christine jeers, for example, that perhaps Lavinia awaits her father as if he were a lover in the moonlight, Lavinia childishly insinuates herself between husband and wife, and Orin, traumatized by a head injury, hallucinates his return to "Mother."

As for Ezra himself, Seth hints that Ezra in an analogous position in the central Oedipal relation of the play: that between mother and son. As Seth reveals, the young Ezra loved Marie, Christine's double, and felt betrayed by her affair with David. Similarly, note Ezra's echo of Brant's dreams of the Blessed Islands. As we will see in more detail, the Blessed Island represents the Eden-like, incestuous embrace mother and son that would exist prior to the institution of paternal law. Ezra's echo is less an instance of dramatic irony, as it is conventionally conceived. The spectator knows something that the players do not, producing the sense that Fate's machinations are afoot.

Within his own family, Ezra acts the figure of the father, husband to a wife who, as Christine reveals to Lavinia in the act previous, narcissistically loves her son because she imagines him to be hers alone. An object of his wife's disgust, Ezra has been forced into a stony and bitter state of self-restraint. As we learn, Ezra's stony "self-mortification" comes from the wall that divides him from Christine. In becoming "able" to forget the loss of his wife's love, the accomplished Ezra has become the "statue of a dead man in a town square." Later Orin will suggest that this petrifaction is part of Ezra's lot as figure of the unyielding law. Here, however, hardened mask symbolizes the denial of affect and work of repression that followed upon the loss of Christine's love.

Christine and Ezra's reunion involves a drama of looks. Ezra stares at his wife with guilty desire, a desire from which Christine recoils: "Why do you look at me like that?" she exclaims. In contrast, Christine looks with scorn, hate, derision, or with eyes "full of silence." Her look refuses him, and Ezra can only speak when her eyes are shut. Christine's closed eyes, shut in affected weariness, are of course part of the mask she has donned to conceal her murderous intentions. Christine withdraws into herself under the onslaught of Ezra's tragically ironic confessions.

Though Ezra hints that he had some hand in fostering his daughter's affection for him, Lavinia appears all but excluded from her parents' relationship. Here she decidedly appears as her father's daughter here and not his lover. Thus Lavinia curses her rival mother for stealing her father's love from her. Her interruption of Ezra's seduction and near-revelation of her mother's disgrace obviously functions as a moment of dramatic irony, the last moment at which Lavinia could have saved her father's life.

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