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An anguished Lavinia appears inside her father's study. A portrait of Ezra in a judge's robe hangs above the fireplace. His face strikingly resembles Adam Brant's and bears the same mask-like quality of his wife and daughter's. Lavinia protectively lays her hand one of Ezra's.
Christine enters affecting a scornful indignation and questions why Lavinia has summoned her. Lavinia reveals that she followed her to New York and discovered her kissing Brant in a rented room. Christine starts momentarily and then regains her defiant coolness. She tells her daughter that she has hated Ezra since the beginning of their marriage. Lavinia was born of her disgust. Christine tried to love her but always felt that she was of Ezra's flesh. She loves Orin precisely because he has always seemed hers alone. If Orin had remained with her, she would have never taken up with Brant.
Lavinia taunts that Brant only seeks revenge and does not love her. Christine already knows Brant's secret past and asks what Lavinia intends to do. To her surprise, Lavinia wants to keep Christine's secret for Ezra's sake though she has written Ezra and Orin of Brant to arouse their suspicions. Christine must promise only to never see Brant again.
Laughingly Christine accuses her daughter of wanting Brant herself. Lavinia has always schemed to steal her place; she has always tried to become the wife of her father and mother of her brother. When Christine threatens to refuse, Lavinia reminds her that Ezra would ruin Brant and never divorce her. As she aged, Christine would become an anchor around Brant's neck.
After a sinister pause, Christine agrees to Lavinia's terms. A suspicious Lavinia threatens that she will be watching her. She leaves to get the latest news on Ezra's return. Brant awaits Christine outside. Alone, Christine pauses in tense, sinister calculation, decisively takes a slip of paper on the table, and writes two words on it. "You can thank Vinnie, Ezra!" she cries at the portrait.
Brant enters and bristles tensely at Ezra's portrait and then unconsciously assumes its position at the desk. Asking if Orin resembles his father, he notes that it would be "damned queer" if Christine fell in love with him because he recalls Ezra. He remembers hating her for being Ezra's when they first met and pledging to take her from him in revenge.
Brant intends to confront Ezra upon his return. Christine warns that Ezra will only have him arrested and keep her out of spite. If Ezra were only dead, they could take their share of the estate, buy Brant's ship, the "Flying Trades," and travel the world. Christine proposes that they poison him and attribute his death to his heart trouble. She asks Brant to pick up the poison, culled from her father's medical books, in Boston. Brant dislikes such a cowardly plot but succumbs to Christine's goading and departs. "You'll never dare leave me now, Adam—for your ships or your sea or your naked Island girls—when I grow old and ugly!" Christine cries to his retreating figure.
Act 2 introduces Ezra's study, a space characterized by symbols of the law. Note, for example, Ezra's law books, the portraits of the founding fathers, and the portrait of Ezra in judge's robes. Law here does not refer only to state authority but, more importantly, to the law of kinship, the law prohibiting incest and determining the appropriate relations of desire in the household through the institution of the family name.
Ezra's symbolic form, much more than Ezra's himself, especially symbolizes this law in this capacity. Ezra appears in symbolic form throughout the trilogy: as a portrait, voice, and name. As Orin notes later, Ezra is the "statue of an eminent dead man," cutting the living dead for the impropriety of their living. Throughout Mourning Becomes Electra, the characters will address his symbolic form, defying, bringing others, or delivering themselves up to their judgment. Tellingly, the players compulsively return to the study when justice must be done. It also makes sense that Christine and Orin kill themselves here.
Ezra's portrait in particular also functions as his double, a double against his other alter egos, namely, Brant and Orin, who in turn face off. Recalling the original rivalry between Abe and David Mannon, these alter egos appear above all as rivals for the mother's desire. The resemblance between them underscores the repetition of an original sexual drama. As Brant tells Christine uneasily, it would be "damned queer" if she loved him for their resemblance.
Brant makes their rivalry especially clear in his reaction upon encountering Ezra's image. Brant instinctively bristles before the man who would have claim to his love object. Unconsciously then does Brant adopt Ezra's pose, making himself the portrait's mirror and installing himself in the husband's place. Note also Brant's proposal that he and Ezra's duel—that is, engage in a face-off.
Ezra, as one of the nation and town's great fathers, has recourse to the law. He locates himself above these sibling rivalries. As Christine shrewdly notes, Ezra would not duel with Brant but simply arrest him, as he can appeal to the law to authorize his claim to Christine. Ezra's authority forces his rival and Christine into underhanded dealings, and as a result, they will secretly poison him.
Their scheme situates them on the underside of the social order, figuring as the legacy of the illegitimate Mannon line. Thus, in poisoning Ezra, Brant fears that he has inherited the cowardice of his father. Note also how Christine retrieves the name of the poison from her own father's medical textbooks. Her treachery, turning medicine into poison, involves the abuse and appropriation of paternal authority.
As Christine triumphantly proclaims, the father's murder seals their illicit union. Thus Christine's displays her violently incestuous desire to eliminate the father from the Oedipal triangle and be alone with her son. Brant is mistaken in fearing Christine loves him as another Ezra. As she ingenuously assures him, she loves him because he reminds her of Orin. Within the Oedipal drama, Christine figures as the mother who prizes her son as that which makes good on her castration. Thus Lavinia's taunt that soon Christine will be too old for her boyish lover devastates her.
On her part, Lavinia takes her mother as rival. As Christine sneers, Lavinia has always schemed to take her place, to become her father's wife and son's mother. The extent of her identification with Christine, one founded in the hate-filled belief that Christine stands in the place that is properly hers, will become chillingly clear in the subsequent plays.
As her closing exclamation makes clear, Christine would ensure her union against the threat of the Island girls. For her, the native functions as a cipher of sexual pleasure and excess. Her exclamation that closes the scene brims with envy. Christine is tormented by the fantasy of the pleasures that would be accessible only to the foreign other.
Ace your assignments with our guide to Mourning Becomes Electra!