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Mourning Becomes Electra

Homecoming, The Hunted, The Haunted, Oresteia

Literature Reference: American Literature, English Literature, Classics & Modern FictionEncyclopedia of Literature: Edgar Mittelholzer Biography to Mr Norris Changes Trains

a dramatic trilogy by Eugene O'Neill, produced and published in 1931, comprising Homecoming, The Hunted, and The Haunted. Reflecting O'Neill's absorption in Greek tragedy and Freud, the work transposes the situations and events of the Oresteia of Aeschylus to America at the close of the Civil War, with Brigadier Ezra Mannon as O'Neill's Agamemnon, his wife Christine as Clytemnestra, and his son and daughter, Orin and Lavinia, as Orestes and Electra. Lavinia, whose obsessional state of mind reflects important aspects of the American psyche, is at the centre. Ezra Mannon returns from the war to his New England home, in which Christine has been unfaithful to him with a sea-captain, Adam Brant, who is Mannon's socially outcast nephew intent on family revenge. Lavinia, who hates her mother, discovers the affair. Christine, who adores her son, Orin, vows never to submit to her husband's advances again. Pretending to succumb, she enters the bedroom where she poisons Ezra with supposed medicine supplied by Brant. On Orin's return from the war Lavinia, aware of her mother's act and Brant's complicity, drives her brother to avenge his father's death. Orin, reluctant at first, overhears Christine and Brant conspiring on Brant's moored ship; he kills Brant, whereupon Christine commits suicide. Lavinia and Orin leave for the South Seas. There Lavinia comes to accept that she has inherited her mother's fierce sensuality, while Orin becomes the victim of guilt and sorrow, of the puritan conscience, like his father. Back in America, neither brother nor sister can find satisfaction; Orin commits suicide after a temptation to incestuous relations with Lavinia who proceeds to immure herself in the Mannon family mansion. O'Neill combines the exploration of basic human drives with the tyranny of the family. Largely due to his secure placing of the characters in the tormented post-bellum years, they speak and act with the dignity of a historical predicament upon them, in the manner of Aeschylus, thus transcending their often sordid and compulsive speeches and acts.

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