Mourning Becomes Electra

by: Eugene O'Neill

"Homecoming": Act I, Scene One, Part Two

Summary "Homecoming": Act I, Scene One, Part Two

When Brant persists, Lavinia refuses his embrace. Taking advance of his confusion, she deliberately derides the memory of his mother. Brant explodes: no Mannon has the right to insult her. He forces the story on Lavinia. Abe Mannon loved his mother and jealously cheated his brother out of the business they inherited. Their money ran out, and his father took to drinking and beating his mother. One night, David Mannon was found hanging in a barn. Brant's mother blamed him for the suicide and, bent on making him a gentleman, sent him to school.

Brant rebelled and fled to the sea, forgetting he had a mother. Years later, when he returned to New York, he found her dying of starvation. She had sunk so low that she had written Ezra Mannon for a loan. He denied it. Brant has sworn to revenge. Lavinia condemns his vile cowardice and wonders whether she is his only means of revenge. A stammering Brant professes ignorance and grotesquely resumes his lover's manner. Lavinia marches into the house.

Analysis

The remainder of Act I charts the mythic origin of the Mannons' fate, staging the forceful unearthing of a history tenuously repressed. Tellingly the backdrop for this unearthing is one of Mourning's many scenes of botched and grotesque seductions.

As noted above, the Mannon house itself symbolizes this history's repression. As Seth relates, Abe Mannon build the house to cover over the founding rivalry and disgrace that sets the revenge tragedy in motion. This repressed past is the history of Abe and David Mannon's rivalry over the beautiful Marie Brantôme, David's ultimate victory, and the couple's expulsion from the house.

Set against the epic backdrop of the Civil War, the founding conflict in the Mannon household is a fraternal one. The conflict splits the Mannons into two "houses"—one legitimate and the other dispossessed. Brant and Ezra inherit this sibling rivalry, the ghost of the outcast returns to make his claim in the figure of the former. Christine functions here as Marie's double. As noted earlier, the relations of desire in Mourning are variations on an Oedipal theme, the doubling between its characters representing the Oedipal structure in various constellations. The story of Marie elaborates Oedipus in its classical form: the desire of the sons for the mother.

Brant makes this structure clear in his fascination with Lavinia's striking hair, the hair that, as a point of similarity, establishes the Mannon women as substitutes for his mother. For all the play's male lovers, the memory of this hair will consistently evoke the figure of the mother. This hair serves as the point around which the play's male lovers organize their fantasies. Tellingly Brant's mother is named Marie—that is, the virgin—and known to be a whore. As Freud famously observes, this fantasy of the hyper-idealized and denigrated woman characterizes the male child in the throes of Oedipus. Such a child imagines the mother as at once belonging to him alone. For example, a child imagines the mother as having produced him in Immaculate Conception and as being harlot in taking up with his rival.