Summary (Magill's Survey of American Literature, Revised Edition)
O’Neill conceived of creating a modern psychological drama rooted in Greek legend in the spring of 1926, but Mourning Becomes Electra was not completed until the spring of 1931. Actually a trilogy of three full-length plays, it opened in October and was deemed a masterpiece by more than one critic. O’Neill said: “By the title Mourning Becomes Electra I sought to convey that mourning befits Electra; it becomes Electra to mourn; it is her fate; black is becoming to her and it is the color that becomes her destiny.”
The Greek source for O’Neill was the Oresteia of Aeschylus, from the fifth century b.c.e., the trilogy detailing the relationships of the house of Atreus. In the first play, after the siege of Troy, Clytemnestra murders her husband, the victorious Agamemnon; in the second, their son Orestes, with his sister Electra, murders his mother and her lover Aegisthus; in the third, Orestes is hounded by the Furies for matricide but is eventually freed from his guilt and acquitted of the crime. O’Neill reworked much of this story; he also drew upon the versions of Electra by Sophocles and Euripides, which focus upon the daughter, a haunted woman, torn by hate and love and never at peace.
The Mannon family (the name may be associated with “mammon” and the family’s materialism) is the center of O’Neill’s play, which is set in New England immediately after the...
(The entire section is 1023 words.)
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Summary (Masterplots, Fourth Edition)
The American Civil War is over, and in their New England home Christine and Lavinia Mannon await the homecoming of Ezra Mannon and his son, Orin. Lavinia, who adores her father, detests Christine because of Ezra’s love for his wife. For her part, Christine is jealous of Orin’s love and hates her husband and daughter. In this house of hidden hatred, Seth, the watchful gardener of the old mansion, sees that Lavinia also despises Captain Brant, a regular caller at the Mannon home.
The Mannons, descended from old New England stock, have their family skeleton. Dave Mannon, Ezra’s brother, had run off with an American Indian woman named Marie Brantome. Seth, seeing the antagonism between Lavinia and her mother, discloses to Lavinia that Captain Brant is the son of Marie and Dave Mannon.
Embittered by her mother’s illicit romance with Brant and jealous of her hold on Ezra, Lavinia forces Christine to send her lover away. Christine is too strong a woman to give in entirely to her daughter’s dominance. She urges Brant to send her some poison. It is common knowledge that Ezra has heart trouble, and Christine plans to rid herself of the husband so that she will be free to marry Brant. Lavinia cruelly reminds her mother that Orin, her favorite child, had been born while Ezra was away during the Mexican War.
When Ezra, a kind and just man, comes home, he realizes that Christine shrinks from him while pretending concern for his health....
(The entire section is 1162 words.)
Homecoming: Acts I - IV Summary
Homecoming: Act I
In a small New England seaport town a group that functions as a Greek chorus—Seth Beckwith, Amos Ames, Louisa, and Minnie—sit in front of the Mannon home. They explain that the patriarch of the family, Ezra Mannon, serves as a general in Grant's army. A wealthy man, he is expected to return soon to rejoin his wife, Christine, and his two children, Lavinia and Orin.
As the scene progresses, Peter Niles asks Lavinia for her hand in marriage, which she refuses. Lavinia discloses that she followed her mother to New York, where she was carrying on an adulterous affair with Adam Brant. Seth, the family's elderly gardener, implies to Lavinia that Adam is David Mannon's son. The Mannon family disinherited David, Ezra's uncle, after he ran off with a French-Canadian nurse of humble origins, Marie Brantome.
Adam's arrival upsets Lavinia; they talk about ‘‘the Blessed Isles’’ of the South Pacific, which he has visited and describes as an early paradise. Lavinia tells Adam she knows the secret of his parentage. Adam informs Lavinia that he intends to take revenge on Ezra, who refused to help Adam's poor, sick mother when she was dying.
Homecoming: Act II
Talking in Ezra's study, Christine admits that she feels incapable of loving her daughter Lavinia, because she reminds her of her disastrous honeymoon and poor sexual relations with her husband....
(The entire section is 432 words.)
The Hunted: Acts I - V Summary
The Hunted: Act I
The second play in the trilogy opens outside the Mannon house two days after Ezra's death. Again, a group of five local people form a chorus, gossiping about what has occurred and repeating rumors.
Orin returns from the war. Lavinia is jealous over her mother's preferential treatment of Orin. Christine, who despised her husband and loves her son Orin, hates Lavinia; she blames Lavinia for convincing Orin to go off to war.
The Hunted: Act II
Ezra's body is laid out in the study. Lavinia tries to convince Orin that Christine murdered their father and shows her brother the box of poison. Orin refuses to believe her, though he takes the poison from her and hides the evidence. He does not seem to care that his mother has murdered her father—in his perverted mind, he considers it a chance to have a sexual relationship with his mother.
However, when Lavinia informs him of Christine's affair with Adam, Orin becomes jealous and threatens to kill him. Lavinia takes the poison back from Orin and places it on her father's body. Christine sees the poison and begs Lavinia not to tell Orin.
The Hunted: Act III
Lavinia enters and Orin tells her about his heroic deeds during the war. She tries to convince him that Christine murdered Ezra, but he will not believe until her until she reveals that their mother did so to...
(The entire section is 415 words.)
The Haunted: Acts I - IV Summary
The Haunted: Act I, Scene One
One year later, a chorus of local residents discusses the rumors that the Mannon house is now haunted. Lavinia and Orin enter; she looks like her mother Christine, while he resembles his father Ezra. Lavinia claims that the dead have ‘‘forgotten’’ them.
The Haunted: Act I, Scene Two
Inside the Mannon house, Lavinia and Orin discuss their recent trip to the ‘‘blessed isles,’’ where Lavinia hoped to free Orin of his feelings of guilt for Christine's death. It becomes clear that while on vacation Lavinia had a sexual experience with an island man. She claims to love Peter and expresses hope that they will be married. She asks Peter and Hazel to help console Orin, and ‘‘make allowances for any crazy thing he might say.’’
The Haunted: Act II
Alone in Ezra's study, Orin writes a letter describing the many sins of the Mannon family. When Lavinia enters, he criticizes her for not trusting him. Lavinia admits to her sexual relationship with Avahanni, one of the islanders; faced with Orin's jealousy, she then denies it.
Orin fears losing Lavinia to Peter; furthermore, he is afraid that Lavinia will kill Orin to marry Peter. Orin promises to give Peter the confession letter if Lavinia goes through with the wedding or if Orin should die.
The Haunted: Act...
(The entire section is 557 words.)