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Mourning Becomes Electra

Eugene O'Neill

"The Haunted": Act IV

Summary "The Haunted": Act IV

Analysis

Returning us to the mise-en-scene that opens the trilogy, Act V moves from the prospect of Lavinia's escape from her the Mannon fate to her ultimate consignment to the family crypt.

The possibility of Lavinia's flight lies in her marriage with Peter. Lavinia cannot escape the Mannon home because, as she tells Seth, echoing the operative word in his "Shenandoah" chanty, she remains bound to its dead. The Mannon dead make their last intervention into the lives of the living in preventing Lavinia's flight with Peter. Hazel insists that Orin's memory and testimony will forever divide them, the Mannons' secret weighing heavily on their marriage. Already it has brought Peter grief, causing conflict within his family. As Lavinia remarks bitterly, the dead will simply not die.

The dead assert themselves with even more force in Lavinia's slip of the tongue. Hysterically declaring her love for a lover she is about to lose, Lavinia reveals the extent of her crimes, speaking in her mother's frantic voice. Inadvertently she cries out the name of her erstwhile beau, Adam. No longer can Lavinia deny the truth of her desire, the desire to take the Mother's place, and her implication in a tragedy that compulsively repeats itself across time. Note also in this respect how Orin's death strips Lavinia of her mother's image, returning her to her deep mourning. This transformation betrays how her accession to her mother's place is contingent on the reproduction of the mother- son dyad she realized with her brother.

Thus Lavinia relinquishes Peter, confessing to be the natives' "fancy woman" after all. Her lie is particularly tenable as it involves the mere reversal of the fantasies of love that dominate the play. As the native "fancy woman," Lavinia moves in Peter's eyes from the woman who learned innocence on the isles to she who lost it there forever, from the virgin to the whore. Appropriately, with Lavinia's degradation comes the recuperation of Peter's mother and sister. As he bitterly exclaims, Mother and Hazel were right about Lavinia after all.

Having given up her lover, Lavinia is left with her dead. The flowers she picked as her mother once did have now prepared her bower. Lavinia's retirement into the house is the consummation of the role of stiff-shouldered sentry she dons throughout the play. Lavinia entombs herself with the ancestors, masochistically taking the family's debts—the disgraces she keeps secret—upon herself. Rather than bring the family history to public judgment, her self- imprisonment enacts the revenge of the dead from within the family crypt. Lavinia turns defiantly from what Orin describes earlier as the "judging eye" of the sun to live out her days in darkness. Thus she fulfils Orin's curse, offering herself up to the ghosts that will hound and haunt her forever. Seth colludes in this repression of history to the end, quietly noting that he has not heard a word Lavinia has been saying.