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Mourning Becomes Electra

Eugene O'Neill

"The Hunted": Act II

"The Hunted":Act I

"The Hunted": Act III

Summary

Hazel and Peter appear in the Mannon sitting room. Orin is heard in the hall calling his mother. A number of ancestral portraits bedeck the walls, including one of a minister of the witch-burning era and one of Abe Mannon. Orin and Christine enter, the former questioning his mother suspiciously. A lie about a fainting spell immediately mollifies him.

Orin boyishly revels in being coddled by Hazel and Christine. He then jealously recalls how Lavinia is always coddling Father, causing his mother shudder in horror. He is speaking as if Ezra is still alive. Orin remarks strangely that Ezra remains: "He's the same and always will be—here—the same!" Orin somewhat bitterly notes that Christine has changed a great deal; she is more beautiful than ever and younger somehow. Lavinia silently appears in the doorway.

Recalling how long ago Hazel saw him off to the war, Orin harshly declares that they ought to send the women out to the battlefield so they would stop gabbing about their heroes. He apologizes and recalls how the memory of her singing, dreams of Mother, and memory of Lavinia's bossing him around reminded him of life while he was in battle.

Lavinia orders Orin to come see Ezra in their father's brusque, commanding tone. Orin mechanically stands and salutes, and then shamefacedly starts in confusion. Christine protests and implores Orin to stay. He immediately relents, and Lavinia stalks off. An uncomfortable Hazel and Peter excuse themselves. Christine urges Hazel to come back soon.

Suspiciously Orin asks why Christine has suddenly taken to Hazel. He only made a show of liking her long ago to make her jealous, but now Christine is a widow. He wonders why she is trying to rid herself of him and why she has only written him twice in six months.

Orin asks Christine about Captain Brant. Prepared, Christine explains that Lavinia has gone mad and begun to accuse her of the impossible. Only Orin is her "flesh and blood," while Lavinia is Father's. Christine recalls the secret world she shared with Orin in his childhood with their unforgivable password, "No Mannons allowed," and reveals that Ezra always hated Orin jealously.

Christine explains that Lavinia believes she has taken up with the illegitimate son of Marie Brantôme and murdered Ezra. When she mentions Brantôme's son, Orin frightening becomes like his father for a moment and threatens his murder. "Except for that other," Orin dedicates himself to his mother wholeheartedly, even if she has done wrong.

Orin sits at Christine's feet and takes her hand. He recounts his wonderful dreams about her, dreams inspired by Melville's tales of the South Sea Islands. The Islands represented all the war was not: peace, warmth, and security, or simply Christine herself. Orin fondly caresses his mother's hair, recalling how, to his father's displeasure, he would brush it as a child. Christine shudders.

Lavinia reappears and coldly calls Orin anew. Annoyed, Orin exits. Maniacally triumphant, Christine announces that she has won Orin to her side. She then collapses and implores Lavinia to leave Orin alone: he has become hard and cruel and would certainly kill Brant. Lavinia marches out silently. Christine resolves to warn Brant.

Analysis

As the Chantyman will remark in the subsequent scene, the trilogy unfolds in a moment when all the fathers have died, the family and the nation's alike. At the same time, their deaths hardly diminish their authority. Indeed, it is quite the opposite. The effect of Ezra's portrait on the guilty household indicates how the father imposes his law all the more forcefully from the grave. For Orin, Father will never die: "He's the same and always will be—here—the same!" As noted above, Lavinia in particular assumes the mantle of paternal authority, adopting Ezra's rigid posture and martial bark.

Lavinia embodies her father to intervene into the incestuous relationship Orin attempts to resume with Christine. As their conversation makes clear, Orin is ready to eliminate his father, a father that always envied him, from their affair. Indeed, he is even willing to forgive his mother's act of patricide. Now that Christine is a widow, they can finally be together. His would-be fiancé Hazel has but served as a ploy in his attempts to seduce her.

Orin and Christine's relationship is created through pre-Oedipal terms, the imagined mother-child realm that pre-exists the institution of Oedipal desire. Thus Christine and her only "flesh and blood" child share a "secret world" with a telling password: "No Mannons allowed." Their password would bar the paternal name that, in ordering the appropriate relations of desire in the household, imposes the prohibition on incest.

Orin re-imagines the secret world he once shared with his mother in his fantasy of the South Sea island. Orin's incestuous reverie is the central elaboration of the motif of the Blessed Island. Orin's island, imagined as Christine incarnate, is nothing short of a womb, a life-giving space of peace, warmth, and security away from the father's war. Here can mother and son finally be alone. His constant appeals to this "lost island" act out the play's central labors of mourning, the mourning of the advent of sexual desire and loss of pre-Oedipal plentitude. This mourning is obsessively reiterated in the recurring lyrics from "Shenandoah": "Oh, Shenandoah, I can't get near you/ Way-ay, I'm bound away."

Orin's island can of course also only recall Brant's, echoing the incestuous, mother-son relation that structures his love affair with Christine. Orin's reveries thus bear witness to the workings of "Fate," their echoing of Brant's and Ezra's marking the repetition of a forbidden structure of desire over and against the "individuality" of its players. Note in particular Orin's fondling of Christine's hair, Christine shuddering at the uncanny repetition of this echo among her lovers.

Christine especially has cause for fear at this echo as, like Ezra and Brant, her third suitor considers his doubles with the same murderous rage. As his outbursts indicate, Orin will not accept the disruption of this plentitude, responding with a murderously infantile jealousy. Though forbidden from killing his father, he would most certainly kill Brant.

Finally, we should also note how the motif of the Blessed Island implicates the play's racial fantasies with its sexual ones. The fantasy of the time before Oedipus is intertwined with the fantasy of the innocent native who can love without the institution of law and judgment, sin and shame.

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