Election Day is November 3rd! Make sure your voice is heard

Mourning Becomes Electra

Main Ideas

Themes

Main Ideas Themes

As Orin will remark to Lavinia in "The Haunted," the Mannons have no choice but to assume the roles of Mother-Son that organize their family history. The players continually become substitutes for these two figures, a substitution made most explicit in Lavinia and Orin's reincarnation as Christine and Ezra. In this particular case, Lavinia traces the classical Oedipal trajectory, in which the daughter, horrified by her castration, yearns to become the mother and bear a child by her father that would redeem her lack. Orin at once figures as this child as well as the husband she would leave to be with her son.

The Double/the Rival

The various substitutions among the players as structured by the Oedipal drama make the players each other's doubles. The double is also the rival, the player who believes himself dispossessed convinced that his double stands in his proper place. Thus, for example, Lavinia considers Christine the wife and mother she should be.

To take another example, Mourning's male players universally vie for the desire of Mother. The Civil War, generally remembered as a war between brothers, comes to symbolize this struggle. The men's rivalries are murderously infantile, operating according to a jealous logic of "either you go or I go." Because in these rivalries the other appears as that which stands in the self's rightful place within the Oedipal triangle, the rivals appear as doubles of each other as well. Orin's nightmare of his murders in the fog allegorizes this struggle, Orin repeatedly killing the same man, himself, and his father. This compulsive series of murders demonstrates the impossibility of the lover ever acceding to his "rightful place" within the Oedipal triangle—Mother will always want another, producing yet another rival.

The Law of the Father

In the Oedipal myth, what tears the son away from his incestuous embrace with the mother is the imposition of the father's law. Mourning's principal father, Ezra, serves as figure for this paternal law, though more in his symbolic form than in his own person. Ezra's symbolic form includes his name, the portrait in which he wears his judge's robes, and his ventriloquist voice. Indeed, his symbolic form almost usurps his person. Note how Ezra, in fearing that he has become numb to himself, muses that he has become the statue of a great man, a monument in the town square.

Ezra's death makes the importance of his symbolic function even more apparent. With the death of his person, he exercises the law with all the more force, haunting the living in his various symbolic forms. Thus, for example, Christine will cringe before his portrait, Lavinia will invoke his voice and name to command Orin to attention.