Themes, Motifs, and Symbols IN MOURNING BECOMES ELECTRA
Although O’Neill supposedly derived Mourning Becomes Electra from the Oresteia, structures the play’s action is overwhelming that of Oedipus. Oedipus was the Theban king who unwittingly killed his father and murdered his mother, bringing ruin to the land. Famously Freud elaborated this myth into his , the structure through which children are conventionally introduced into the social order and normative sexual relations.
Atof this complex in what Freud defined as its positive form child’s incestuous desire for the parent of sex, a desire possibly surmounted course of the child’s development subject to repression. Its development is starkly differentiated for boys and girls. Both begin with a primary love object, the mother. The boy child only moves from the mother upon the threat of castration posed by his rival, the father. In other words, the boy fears that would cut his penis off if he continues to to the mother who rightfully belongs to her husband. By prohibiting incest and instituting relations of desire within the household, becomes a figure of the law. In surmounting his Oedipal desires, the boy would then abandon his mother as a love object and identify himself father.
In contrast, the girl abandons the mother upon realizing both the mother’s castration and her own. To her dismay, neither she nor her mother have a penis. She then turns toin hopes of bearing by him substitute for her missing penis; the girl would become a mother in her mother’s place. Thus, whereas castration ends the for the boy, it begins it for the girl.
The Oedipal drama in its many permutations determines the course of the trilogy. Lavinia,, yearns Christine as wife to her father and mother to her brother. Christine clings to Orin as that the “flesh and blood,” entirely her own, on her castration. Brant, in turn, is but a substitute for her precious son. Orin yearns to re-establish his incestuous bond mother. But the war, where he would finally assume the Mannon name, forces him from their pre-Oedipal embrace first place.
Though titled after Electra, the predominant pair of lovers in mourningMother-Son. Put bluntly, the male Mannons in or another take their female love objects as Mother substitutes, women pose them as their sons. The Fathers of the play, Ezra and otherwise, figure rival who would break this bond . As see, primarily being mourned here loss of this love relation, this “lost island” where Mother and Son together.
Fate, Repetition, and Substitution
As Travis Bogard notes, O’Neill wrote Mourning to convince modern audiences of the persistence of Fate. Accordingly, throughout the trilogy, the players will remark uponagency driving them into their illicit , murders, and betrayals. What O’Neill terms fate repetition of a mythic structure of desire across the generations, the Oedipal drama.
As Orin will remark to Lavinia in “The Haunted,” the Mannon’schoice but to assume the roles of Mother-Son that organize their . The players continually become substitutes for these two figures, a substitution made most explicit in Lavinia and Orin’s reincarnation as Christine and Ezra. particular case, Lavinia traces the classical Oedipal trajectory, the daughter, horrified by her castration, yearns to become the mother and bear by her father redeem her lack. Orin figures as this child husband to be 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 doublethe rival, the player who believes himself dispossessed convinced that his double stands in his proper place. Thus, , Lavinia considers Christine the wife and mother she should be.
To take another example, Mourning’s male players universally vie forof Mother. The generally remembered as a war between brothers symbolize this struggle. The men’s rivalries are murderously infantile, operating a jealous logic of “either you go or .” Because se rivalries appears as that which stands in the self’s rightful place within the Oedipal triangle, the rivals appear as doubles other . Orin’s nightmare of his murders fog allegorizes this struggle, Orin repeatedly killing man, himself, and his father. This compulsive series of murders demonstrate the impossibility of the lover ever acceding to his “rightful place” within the Oedipal triangle—Mother will always want another, producing rival.
The Law of
In the Oedipal myth, what tears the sonhis incestuous embrace with the mother imposition of the father’s law. Mourning’s principal father, Ezra, a 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 he wears his judge’s robes, and his ventriloquist voice. Indeed, his symbolic form almost usurps his person. Note how Ezra, in fear that he has become numb to himself, muses that he has become the statue of man, a monument 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,, Christine will cringe before his portrait, Lavinia will invoke his voice and name to command Orin to attention.
The Blessed Islands
The fantasy of the Blessed Island recurs amongplayers lost Mother-Son dyad disrupted by the Oedipal drama. It, any of their deaths, trilogy’s principal object of mourning.
Orin offersextensive vision of the Blessed Island to Christine in Act II of “The Hunted.” A sanctuary from the war, the Island warm, peaceful, and secure paradise composed of the mother’s body. Thus Orin can imagine himself with Christine without her being there. In terms of the trilogy’s sexual drama, the Blessed Island realm of the pre-Oedipal, the time of plentitude and wholeness shared by mother and child. However, Orin goes to war his duty as a Mannon.
The Blessed Islandspopulated, players’ imaginations, by natives, which entwine their fantasies of sex with those of race. Generally, the native appears through two divergent images: the sexually innocent sexually depraved. Thus, , Lavinia will recall the islands home of timeless children, dancing naked on the beach and loving without sin. This island perfect home for a pre-lapsarian . For Orin, however, the natives display an almost bestial sexual prowess, stripping his sister with their lascivious gazes. The native assumes these proportions when imagined as rivals, the prowess, and pleasure ostensibly provide the lover becoming objects of envy.
Though Mourning is rife with symbolism, the symbol that dominates the playing space is certainly the Mannon house. Theof a Greek temple, with a white-columned portico covering its gray walls. As Christine complaints in Act I of “Homecoming,” the the Mannons’ “whited sepulcher.” It functions not only as a crypt to the family’s death but also to its secrets. Its founder, Abe Mannon, designs it as a monument of repression, building it over the disgrace that sets this revenge cycle in motion. What symbolizes this repression house’s distinguishing feature, the “incongruous white mask” of a portico hiding its ugliness. This mask doubles those of its residents, evoking the “life-like masks” the Mannons wear as their faces.