Mourning Becomes Electra, a trilogy consisting of Homecoming, The Hunted, and The Haunted, is, though set at the end of the American Civil War, an adaptation of the greatest of Aeschylus’s trilogies, Oresteia (458 b.c.e.; English translation, 1777). Eugene O’Neill’s play illustrates the struggle between the life force and death, in which human attempts to express natural sensual desires and love of others or even of life itself are overcome by the many forms of death: repression derived from the Puritan religion, death-in-life engendered by society’s values, isolation, war, and physical death. This struggle is present not only in the plot structure (each play culminates in a death) but also the setting, in the actors’ faces, stances, and costumes, and in repetitive refrains.
Darkness, associated with death, pervades the plays: Homecoming, for instance, begins with the sunset, moves into twilight, and ends in the dark of night; The Hunted takes place at night; The Haunted spans two evenings and a late afternoon and indicates the inevitable coming of night, darkness, and death as Lavinia retreats to rejoin the host of dead Mannons.
The Mannon house itself, seen by the audience at the beginning of each play, stands amid the beauty and abundance of nature. It has a white Greek temple portico that O’Neill directs should resemble “an...
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