Comment on the theme of love and lust that unfolds in "Mourning Becomes Electra."
The theme of love and lust that unfolds in "Mourning Becomes Electra" is crucial to the plot's development. All of the important events that happen in the play ultimately derive from either love or lust. Lavinia loves and lusts after her father. Caroline, Lavinia's mother, lusts after her lover, Adam. And Orin, Lavinia's brother, loves and lusts after her as well as lusting after revenge for the death of his father.
In Mourning Becomes Electra, O'Neill presents love and lust as powerful forces that, once unleashed, can devastate people's lives.
The play's protagonist, Lavinia Mannon, has what's called an Electra complex, a subconscious desire to take the place of her mother. This means that as well as hating her mother Caroline, she also lusts after her father Ezra.
Inevitably, this leads to considerable tensions within the Mannon household, none of which are ever truly resolved. What in most women with the Electra complex is a subconscious drive, one that becomes fully conscious in the case of Lavinia. When she finds out from her dying father that he's been poisoned by Caroline, Lavinia sets out for revenge. Her deep, crazy love for Ezra leads her to plot the demise of her mother and her lover.
How she does this shows once more the power of lustful love. As well as harboring unnatural desires for her father, Lavinia feels much the same way for her brother Orin, who is only too happy to reciprocate her feelings. Motivated by his passionate love for his sister, as well as hatred for his mother, Orin kills Caroline's lover, Adam. When she finds out about this, Caroline is distraught and commits suicide. She, too, becomes a victim of lust.
But there's to be no happy ending here. For the incestuous love and lust between brother and sister cannot be sustained. Overwhelmed by guilt, Orin follows the example of his mother and kills himself. All that love and all that lust has destroyed so many people's lives; they are dangerous, elemental forces that must never be played around with.
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