Analysis of Eugene O Neill’s "Mourning Becomes Electra" is an Aeschylean Model: Comparative Study on Trilogy- "Homecoming", "The Hunted" and "The Haunted"


Eugene O' Neill’s Mourning Becomes Electra which is about a brother and sister trying to avenge their father’s murder is constructed as a trilogy- Homecoming, The Hunted and The Haunted -on a very large scale. Eugene O' Neill’s play is adapted from Aeschylus’s tragic trilogy called the Oresteia. The model is Aeschylus, and the pattern of Homecoming and The Hunted follows very closely the pattern of Oresteia. Though each play has a beginning, a logical development and convincing and, the three plays cannot be taken separately. The sequence of parts, exposition, complication, climax and resolution, is reflected in the trilogy as a whole. The complication and climax naturally begin with the murder of Ezra Mammon and end with Orin’s suicide. 

The principal merit of Eugene O' Neill’s trilogy lies in the arrangement or patterning or a series of events. The story itself follows the Oresteia up to the middle of the third division of the play. In  Homecoming Ezra Mannon return from the American civil war to be murdered by his wife, Christine and her lover Adam Brant. In The Hunted, Lavinia’s brother Orin returns home, and Orin and Lavinia avenge their father. Read More American literature Brant is killed and Christine, driven by guilt and a sense of persecution commits suicide. In the 3rd part, The Haunted, which takes place after the interval of a year, O’Neill departs from Aeschylus or any other model. However, in this part the two surviving Mannons, Lavinia and Orin, are drawn together in a climax of guilt and incest. Too weak to carry this burden, Orin commits suicide, leaving Lavinia to bear the guilt of the Mannons alone. The trilogy ends with her final renunciation of a happy life. Bound for ever to the Mannon dead, Lavinia enters the house whose shutters will now be nailed shut, and closes the door behind her forever.       
Eugene O' Neill
Although certain significant departures are made from the Greek story, the main lines of the plot are recognizable as similar to those of the Oresteia. The main characters are also derived from the Greek analogue. Obviously Ezra Mannon is Agamemnon, Captain Brant Aegisthus, and Christine Clytemnestra, Lavinia Electra and Orin Orestes. In fact, The Agamemnon and Homecoming are concerned with situations that are fundamentally alike. Both Agamemnon and Ezra, after returning from war, are killed by their wives and by their lovers. In both cases, the children avenge the murder. But to dismiss the matters by saying that O’ Neill has merely repeated the Greek story in modern terms is to go off the tract. O’ Neil totally omits the Cassandra episode and does not suggest a direct parallel to the servitude of Iphigenia, as these seem to him irrelevant. Read More American literature But he had to punish some substitute for the material introduced in to the ancient story by these means. So instead of making Orestes the chief instrument of vengeance, as Aeschylus did in the second part of his trilogy, Eugene O' Neill at once gives to Lavinia the combined  dramatic function of the prophetess, the avenger Orestes and the choruses .it is Lavinia who in  Homecoming discovers that her father has been killed by her mother on the night of his return from war and convinces her brother Orin, in The Hunted, to kill Adam Brant, Christie’s lover, and they carry out the murder  together.     
After the act of revenge on Adam, Eugene O' Neill  makes another major departure from the Aeschyluan plot in ‘The Haunted’. For Orin Mannon there comes the sudden from of his desire incest, loves his sister as both mother and love, symbols of everything that has been represented by the Mannon in him. As he tells Lavinia, “can’t you see I’ am now his father’s place and your mother?” This incest motive is O Neil’s equivalent to furies or Erin yes in Greek myth; since it also corresponds to Freudian completes, the change effected by Eugene O' Neillshows that his re interpretation of the Greek myth is primary psychological. Orin realizes what it has all been about all along, his feelings towards his father, towards his mother, towards brand, towards Lavinia, and this recognition at his obsession is his avenging Erin yes. Moreover, while Oresteia is cleansed of his sin before the tribunal of Athena’s Aeropause, Orin, too weak to carry the Burden, commits suicide. 

Eugene O' Neill’s  originality in plot construction is also evident in Lavinia's tragic end. In the Greek model Electra though suffering the torments and agony of waiting, is at the end let off with the betrothal to Oresteia’s faithful friend, Pylades. In Eugene O' Neill’s play, Lavinia, the one surviving Mannon, does not seek an easy escape from the Mannon family curse by marring peter Niles. She realizes how illusory this hopes and therefore takes leave of peter and has the shutters of the house waited; she will enter it, never to go out again. O Neil’s psychological reinterpretation of the Greek myth is also seen in his substitution of the curse on the house of Atreus by the Mannon curse. Read More American literature Eugene O' Neill wanted to ‘get modern psychological approximation of Greek sense of fate, in to the play. This psychological approximation is found in the Mannon denial of life’; basic spontaneous, natural drives are thwarted by the morbid Mannon family and find out in torture, abnormal relationships. The obvious by neurotic relationship between the major charters and the Oresteian parallel serve primarily to emphasize the self destructive conduits which are the consequence of the ‘denial of life’ that is the Mannon curse.  

 (Character List: Lavinia Mannon   Orin Mannon   Ezra Mannon   Christine Mannon   Adam Brent   Peter Niles   Hazel Niles   Seth Beckwith   Dr. Blake   Landlady   Amos Ames   Mrs. Hills   Josiah Borden   Abner Small   Joe Silva   Rev. Hills   Louise Ames   Minnie Ames   Ira Mackel   Eben Nobel  Police officer   Mrs. Borden  )



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