Mourning Becomes Electra Questions and Answers
by Eugene O’Neill

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Examine the conflict between personal will vs. Puritan society in Mourning Becomes Electra.

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For O'Neill, the Puritan atmosphere that encourages a lack of individual openness about one's own condition as well as a desire to be perceived as socially acceptable and socially sanctioned represent the root of some of the challenges of the Mannon family.  The desire for revenge is motivated, in part, to the Puritan ideas of hierarchy.  This hierarchic condition is one in which people are rejected and denied assistance, such as in Adam Brant's own background.  This desire for revenge, perceived to be a result of the Puritan social context, is what drives him, removing almost any conception of free will and thoughtful reflection.  O'Neill develops this within his characters.  The conformity to an external standard has removed any notion of internal reflection before it is too late.  There is no dialogue, and little discourse.  People with the spirit of independence and freedom within them do not act with this in mind, being driven by other forces.  For O'Neill, this is part of the challenging psychological condition of his characters, making their own use of personal will and freedom nearly impossible.  The idea of "sin" becomes something of intense importance to Orin.  It overwhelms him.  The "sin" of wanting his mother, his sister, and the sin of  seeking revenge are all motivating factors in his development.  Puritanical notions of absorbing "sin" without any question or reflection dominate his own free will.  This is the same in Lavinia, who seeks only to conform her own being to an external standard of judgment.  In these situations, personal will is used.  Freedom is evident.  Yet, it is controlled by an external reality, of which Puritanically strict standards of transgression is a part.  Individuals are thus left to use their freedom in accordance to an external standard that actually demeans it.

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