Mourning Becomes Electra Questions and Answers
by Eugene O’Neill

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In Mourning Becomes Electra, would the nature of the tragedy be considered to be political, familial, or human?

In Mourning Becomes Electra, one could argue that the nature of the tragedy is familial in that the ultimate cause of everyone's downfall is related to tensions within the family unit. Lavinia lusts for her father while hating her mother. Her mother takes a lover and poisons her husband. And the incestuous desires that Orin has for Lavinia, combined with his guilt, ultimately lead him to commit suicide.

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There's a lot of tragedy in Mourning Becomes Electra, and all of it ultimately derives from unresolved tensions within the Mannon family. Appropriately enough, Lavinia has an Electra complex, which means that she desires her father while hating her mother. Lavinia's subconscious desire to kill her mother and take her place generates considerable tensions between herself and Christine, her mother, with whom she is at constant war.

When Christine takes a lover, the hatred between mother and daughter only grows. Lavinia is determined that her mother will pay a very heavy price for this betrayal of her father, Ezra. And when Ezra, in his death throes, tells Lavinia that Christine has poisoned him, Christine's fate is sealed. But instead of doing the job herself, Lavinia enlists the help of her brother, Orin. She gets him to murder Christine's lover, Adam. On hearing the news of her lover's demise, Christine is overcome with grief and commits suicide.

But the Mannon family's tragedies don't stop there, for Orin is overcome with guilt at his actions. To make matters worse, there are incestuous desires between brother and sister that complicate matters even further, placing a huge psychological burden on the young man. Inevitably, Orin cannot live with that burden and so takes his own life. Though Lavinia is now left all alone in the world, she still has to live with the ghosts of her family.

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