Mourning Becomes Electra by Eugene O’Neill

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Places Discussed

(Critical Guide to Settings and Places in Literature)

Mannon mansion

Mannon mansion. Home of the Mannon family, on the outskirts of a small, unnamed New England village near the sea, that is the setting for twelve of the thirteen acts of the trilogy. As each of the three plays progresses from act to act, the settings move from the mansion’s exterior to its interior. Gradually, the house’s study, Ezra’s bedroom, and the sitting room are revealed. O’Neill’s description of the surrounding area, with its woods, orchard, garden, lawn, and greenhouse, are carefully detailed. The position of the mansion on a hill above the town suggests the assumed power and assumed superiority of the Mannon family. O’Neill describes the house in such detail that it is clear he considers it integral to the action of his plot.

Clipper ship

Clipper ship. The only setting other than the exterior and interior of the Mannon mansion is the stern of a ship and the wharf to which it is moored. This is used only in the fourth act of The Hunter, the second play in O’Neill’s trilogy, when General Mannon’s son, Orin, kills the ship’s captain.

Historical Context

(Drama for Students)

Born in 1888, Eugene O'Neill's life spanned some of the most important events of contemporary history. While he played no actual role in the events themselves, the issues involved—particularly those related to democracy and materialism—figure prominently in his plays.

O'Neill came of age during America's Progressive Era. Interested in politics and political philosophy, the young playwright associated with the radicals and reformers who comprised his Greenwich Village and Provincetown circle of Bohemian friends.

A close friend of John Reed, the journalist known for his book about the Russian Revolution, Ten Days That Shook the World, O'Neill had a longtime affair with Reed's wife, the journalist Louise Bryant. Many critics believe that O'Neill based Strange Interlude's love triangle on this experience. O'Neill's writings explore the problems confronting American society, particularly rampant materialism, loss of individuality, and lack of spiritual values.

During the first twenty years of the twentieth century, more than ten million European immigrants arrived in America. O'Neill's father and his family had come to America during an earlier wave of immigration, arriving from Ireland in 1850. Factory jobs and mass transit drew millions of people to the cities, and America became an increasingly urban nation. Many immigrants brought with them a tradition of union activity and joined the American labor movement.

During his presidency, Theodore Roosevelt attempted to regulate large corporate interests and enforce anti-trust statutes. In 1902, he forced an arbitrated settlement during a major coal strike. President William Howard Taft, though less aggressive than Roosevelt, generally continued his predecessor's progressive policies, breaking up the Standard Oil Company's monopoly, and establishing a Children's Bureau and Department of Labor.

President Woodrow Wilson urged banking reform and anti-trust actions, supported farm loans and a ban on labor by children under fourteen— though the Supreme Court deemed this later action unconstitutional. In 1920 the 19th Amendment to the constitution gave women the right to vote.

Domestically, politicians did little to end segregation, halt the rising influence of the Klu Klux Klan, or curb the practices that prevented many African Americans from voting. In two plays, O'Neill created a leading role for a black man: The Emperor Jones (1920) and All God's Chillun Got Wings (1924). Both plays appeared as productions of the Provincetown Theatre.

This was also an era of American imperialism. Overseas, the United States fought a war with Spain in 1898 and gained colonial influence in places like Cuba and the Philippines. In 1903, American gained dominance over Panama and began the construction of the Panama Canal.

In Europe, industrialization, colonialism, and militarism resulted in World War I. Wilson tried to maintain American neutrality,...

(The entire section is 1,808 words.)