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Mourning Becomes Electra

  • Study Guide

"The Hunted": Act III

Summary "The Hunted": Act III

Stealthily Lavinia snatches up the box and marches out coldly. Christine implores her husband to not let her children hurt Brant. Reading an answer in the corpse's face, she rushes out in terror.


Act III provides Orin's account of the war, a war above all, as he tells Lavinia, symbolized by his father. Earlier we noted how the Civil War functions as a backdrop for the sibling rivalry that founds the Mannons' tragic fate. Here the war similarly appears as an allegory for the sexual drama afoot in the household. As Christine laments, war tears Orin from the "secret world" he shares with his mother and assumes his proper place within the Mannon line. Ezra and Lavinia imposes the service on him as his familial duty. His conscription is the assumption of the father's name and accession from the pre-Oedipal realm. Note Orin's fear of Ezra's wrath. This fear is greater that his fear of his demise at the hands of the rebels.

As noted above, this war is above all imagined here as a war between brothers, a war defined by sibling rivalry. Mourning's male players are all engaged such a rivalry, the son-lovers Orin, Brant, and Ezra vying for the desire of the mother. Their rivalries are murderously infantile, operating according to the logic of "either you go or I go." The result of Orin's delirious attempt to make peace with the enemy makes this inflexibility of this logic clear. For Orin, his service in his father's war means his destruction in one of these rivalries. As Orin tells Lavinia, he remained fearfully convinced that Ezra would outlive him and that the war would not end until his death.

As we have seen, because in these rivalries the other appears as that which stands in the self's rightful place, the men in battle here necessarily appear as each other's doubles. This doubling structures Orin's nightmare of his murders in the fog, where he repeatedly kills the same man, himself, and his father. This compulsive series of murders allegorizes the impossibility of the lover ever acceding to his "rightful place" within the Oedipal triangle, Mother will always want another, and producing yet another rival. The multiplication of death among these doubles also appears in the correspondences drawn between father and son in the stage notes. Ezra's mask-like face in death reproduces the portrait; this face resembles the "carven face of a statue"; Orin's candlelight face reproduces these in turn.

Despite Orin's misery, Lavinia, ever true to her father's name, refuses to hear his lament. Instead she insists that he must forget the war and that he can be assured of her pride in him. Though she would repress her brother's story, however, she knows to use his jealous rivalries against Christine. Despite Orin's eager readiness to believe his mother—note here his near- confiscation of the incriminating box—Lavinia knows she can goad him into revenging himself for his mother's "betrayal."

Notably the first demonstration of her mother's treachery involves a certain animation of the father's corpse. Not only does Lavinia enjoin the corpse to speak, but in placing Christine's box atop its heart, makes it her mother's accuser. Thus Christine enters into silent dialogue with the corpse at the close of the scene, reading an answer in the accuser's face.