Mourning Becomes Electra

by: Eugene O'Neill

"The Haunted": Act I, Scene Two

Summary "The Haunted": Act I, Scene Two

Analysis

As we have noted throughout, though mourning may become Electra, her double Lavinia refuses mourn. The sentry-like heroine is an agent of repression, ensuring that the family secrets never come to light. Lavinia cannot mourn because she would attempt at all costs to forget. She defies the judgment of the ancestors, the ghosts that torment her brother relentlessly. For Lavinia, Orin must forget what has transpired and look toward a new life with Peter and Hazel. Stubbornly will she refuses Orin's pleas, dismissively attributing them to his morbidity, and force him to recite mantras that assure them of the justice of their actions. Though clearly haunted, Lavinia would still have no debt to the dead.

An increasingly psychotic Orin seeks for the ghost of his mother, wandering the house to beg for her forgiveness. In his strange state, he quickly comes to decipher the course of the Mannon tragedy. Here he confronts the dauntless Lavinia with her desire to take her mother's place. Christine's death has freed Lavinia to become her, to steal her colors and soul. Lavinia's disturbingly shy eagerness at what she first understands as Orin's compliments only betrays her further.

By becoming her mother, Lavinia accedes to femininity and sexual desire. This transformation rehearses a familiar Oedipal trajectory. Within the classical Oedipal schema, the daughter's perception of the mother's castration precipitates her Oedipal complex. Her experience of her own castration may result in an identification with the father in the famous "masculinity complex." Lavinia's identifications with Ezra are clear. Identification with the castrated mother and her femininity become tenable once the daughter can locate herself within a structure of desire that would make good on her lack. Here Lavinia would play mother and wife at once, Orin figuring as the child that compensates for her castration.

As we learn in more detail in their final confrontation, Lavinia completes her metamorphosis on Brant's Blessed Island. Both Orin and Lavinia cast the Islands as the setting of Lavinia's metamorphosis though imagine this metamorphosis in almost diametrically opposite ways. Both involve fantasies of the native. For the fiendish Orin, the Islands intertwine Lavinia's sexual and racial degradation. As he tells Peter, a month longer on the Islands and Lavinia would have become a veritable pagan, dancing nude with their beautiful men under the palm trees. Orin quivers with jealousy at the specter of the native's sexual prowess. He rescues his sister in fear that they can provide her with what he cannot.

In contrast, Lavinia emphasizes the Islands' innocence. There, among their simple, docile people, she came to love and beauty anew, forgetting all the death behind her. Indeed, Lavinia's natives appear almost free of sexuality altogether—note, for example, her account of the chaste kiss in Act IV.

These projective fantasies are decidedly narcissistic, splitting of the native into its hyper-idealized and degraded, "good" and "bad" forms. Mourning maps these fantasies onto those of gender, the image of the pure or lascivious native fitting easily with that of the woman cast as either virgin or whore.