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Electra, the protagonist of the drama, has an extremely complex role in that the principles of justice and honor to which she so stubbornly adheres require her to do the unthinkable—to participate in her mother's death. What adds to the inherent complexity of Electra's position is the increasing evidence throughout the play of the uncertainty of Electra's grasp on the very standards of justice that motivate her.
It is clear from the outset that Electra is right to mourn her father's murder by her mother. Her mourning is a natural response to an awful occurrence, and she claims that although she does not necessarily choose grief, she feels forced, as if by the principles of honor, to act as she does. Electra's mourning results in her abuse by both Clytemnestra and Aegisthus, who, perhaps threatened by Electra's refusal to let go of the past, treat her as little better than a slave in her own house. Electra is willing to suffer in the name of honor, and, in the name of justice, she rightfully longs to avenge her father's death. Yet Electra soon undermines her position in her initial encounter with Clytemnestra. Clytemnestra insists that she murdered Agamemnon to exact revenge for his sacrifice of their daughter. Electra counters by arguing that justice cannot be achieved by answering a killing with another killing but this raises questions about the integrity of Electra's character for Electra herself longs to avenge her father's death.
Electra's character is called into further question as the play progresses. After Orestes has revealed his true identity to her, her enthusiasm at the prospect of finally exacting revenge snowballs, and she seems to lose an element of rationality, demonstrating a profound contradiction to her initial insistence on justice and honor. Electra cries out for further violence as she listens to Orestes deal fatal blows to Clytemnestra, and she baits Aegisthus as he returns home, feigning a humbleness that she sadistically turns on its head as soon as Aegisthus realizes he is trapped. She denies Aegisthus the right to speak before he dies, and she advocates leaving his corpse out for scavengers to eat. Initially the exclusive vehicle for justice and honor, Electra becomes filled with contradictions that render the play morally ambiguous.
Ace your assignments with our guide to Electra!