Mourning Becomes Electra

by: Eugene O'Neill

"The Haunted": Act II

When Orin presses Lavinia further, she assumes Christine's taunting voice. She states that she is not Orin's property. Reacting as Ezra did, Orin grasps his sister's throat in fury, threatening her murder. Shaken, Lavinia assures her brother that she was lying—an "evil spirit" made her speak against her will. They must forget all.

Orin insists quietly that he has taken Father's place and she Mother's. Perhaps she should murder him—he will even help. Lavinia's horror becomes a violent rage, and she repeats her mother's threat: "Take care, Orin! You'll be responsible if—!" She collapses in tears. "The damned don't cry" murmurs Orin. He commands her out of the room and resumes his work.

Analysis

Act II stages the return of the barely repressed history that haunts the Mannon children. Orin forces this return in his movement toward atonement and expiation—though, as we will learn later, for not the noble reasons he claims.

As Orin's taunts against Ezra's portrait make clear, atonement requires bringing the Mannons to judgment over and against the authority of his forefathers. Judgment demands the writing of the history the house and its residents would bury in the crypt. As the audience has been party to this history through snatches of gossip and conversation, Orin's forbidden record can only suggest that far more has been left unsaid.

As Orin fiendishly remarks, the most interesting criminal in this history is Lavinia herself. Orin goes on to detail Lavinia's transformation into Christine, a metamorphosis that begins when she steps into her mother's place—shedding her mourning and leaving her lover—for a first mate who stands in for the murdered Brant.

What completes this metamorphosis is their trip to "Brant's Blessed Islands. Lavinia becoming pretty like Mother under the desiring looks of the isles' native inhabitants. Again, the natives appear as almost symmetrical inverses of each other in the siblings' respective projective fantasies. For the jealous Orin, the natives are rapist-voyeurs, stripping his sister nude with their eyes. For Christine, they are absolute innocents, lovely freely and without sin. In the natives, a deluded Lavinia finds an illusory Eden whereas Orin finds an adversary vying for Mother's love, an adversary imagined to be equipped with frightening sexual prowess. Orin's native is a lascivious rival; Lavinia's is innocence incarnate. For Orin, this history he has written foretells their fate, and he and Lavinia have assumed Father and Mother's place respectively. The innumerable parallels between "The Hunted" and scenes from the trilogy's earlier installments underscore this substitution. Lavinia's frantic knock at the study door, for example, recalls Christine's desperate attempt to break into Lavinia and Orin's private exchange in "The Hunted." Like Christine, Lavinia is trying to pass Orin off onto Hazel and yearns for his death so she can flee to the Islands with her lover. Ultimately the dead come to possess her voice, Lavinia defying Orin to treat her as his property and then repeating her mother's infamous threat. As she protests in horror, an "evil spirit" compels the two of them to live out the love stories that precede them.