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Themes, Motifs, and Symbols---- Eugene ONeill: Mourning Becomes Electra Themes Oedipus Although O'Neill supposedly derived

Mourning Becomes Electra from the Oresteia, the myth that actually structures the play's action is overwhelming that of Oedipus. Oedipus was the The an !ing who unwittingly !illed his father and murdered his mother, ringing ruin to the land. "amously "reud ela orated this myth into his Oedipus comple#, the structure through which children are conventionally introduced into the social order and normative se#ual relations. At the center of this comple# in what "reud defined as its positive form is the child's incestuous desire for the parent of the opposite se#, a desire possi ly surmounted in the course of the child's development or else su $ect to repression. %ts development is star!ly differentiated for oys and girls. Both egin with a primary love o $ect, the mother. The oy child only moves from the mother upon the threat of castration posed y his rival, the father. %n other words, the oy fears that the father would cut his penis off if he continues to cling to the mother who rightfully elongs to her hus and. By prohi iting incest and instituting the proper relations of desire within the household, the "ather ecomes a figure of the law. %n surmounting his Oedipal desires, the oy would then a andon his mother as a love o $ect and identify himself with his father. %n contrast, the girl a andons the mother upon reali&ing oth the mother's castration and her own. To her dismay, neither she nor her mother have a penis. 'he then turns to the father in hopes of earing a child y him that would su stitute for her missing penis( the girl would ecome a mother in her mother's place. Thus, whereas castration ends the Oedipus comple# for the oy, it egins it for the girl. The Oedipal drama in its many permutations determines the course of the trilogy. )avinia, for e#ample, yearns to replace *hristine as wife to her father and mother to her rother. *hristine clings to Orin as that the +flesh and lood,+ entirely her own, that would ma!e good on her castration. Brant, in turn, is ut a su stitute for her precious son. Orin yearns to re, esta lish his incestuous ond with his mother. But the war, where he would finally assume the Mannon name, forces him from their pre,Oedipal em race in the first place. Though titled after Electra, the predominant pair of lovers in Mourning is the Mother,'on. -ut luntly, the male Mannons in some way or another ta!e their female love o $ects as Mother su stitutes, and the women pose them as their sons. The "athers of the play, E&ra and otherwise, figure as the rival who would rea! this ond of love. As we will see, what is primarily eing mourned here is the loss of this love relation, this +lost island+ where Mother and 'on can e together. Fate, Repetition, and Substitution As Travis Bogard notes, O'Neill wrote Mourning to convince modern audiences of the persistence of "ate. Accordingly, throughout the trilogy, the players will remar! upon a strange agency driving them into their illicit love affairs, murders, and etrayals. .hat O'Neill terms fate is the repetition of a mythic structure of desire across the generations, the Oedipal drama.

As Orin will remar! to )avinia in +The /aunted,+ the Mannons have no choice ut to assume the roles of Mother,'on that organi&e their family history. The players continually ecome su stitutes for these two figures, a su stitution made most e#plicit in )avinia and Orin's reincarnation as *hristine and E&ra. %n this particular case, )avinia traces the classical Oedipal tra$ectory, in which the daughter, horrified y her castration, yearns to ecome the mother and ear a child y her father that would redeem her lac!. Orin at once figures as this child as well as the hus and she would leave to e with her son. The Double the Ri!al The various su stitutions among the players as structured y the Oedipal drama ma!e the players each other's dou les. The dou le is also the rival, the player who elieves himself dispossessed convinced that his dou le stands in his proper place. Thus, for e#ample, )avinia considers *hristine the wife and mother she should e. To ta!e another e#ample, Mourning's male players universally vie for the desire of Mother. The *ivil .ar, generally remem ered as a war etween rothers, comes to sym oli&e this struggle. The men's rivalries are murderously infantile, operating according to a $ealous logic of +either you go or % go.+ Because in these rivalries the other appears as that which stands in the self's rightful place within the Oedipal triangle, the rivals appear as dou les of each other as well. Orin's nightmare of his murders in the fog allegori&es this struggle, Orin repeatedly !illing the same man, himself, and his father. This compulsive series of murders demonstrates the impossi ility of the lover ever acceding to his +rightful place+ within the Oedipal triangle0Mother will always want another, producing yet another rival. The "a# of the Fathe$ %n the Oedipal myth, what tears the son away from his incestuous em race with the mother is the imposition of the father's law. Mourning's principal father, E&ra, serves as figure for this paternal law, though more in his sym olic form than in his own person. E&ra's sym olic form includes his name, the portrait in which he wears his $udge's ro es, and his ventrilo1uist voice. %ndeed, his sym olic form almost usurps his person. Note how E&ra, in fearing that he has ecome num to himself, muses that he has ecome the statue of a great man, a monument in the town s1uare. E&ra's death ma!es the importance of his sym olic function even more apparent. .ith the death of his person, he e#ercises the law with all the more force, haunting the living in his various sym olic forms. Thus, for e#ample, *hristine will cringe efore his portrait, )avinia will invo!e his voice and name to command Orin to attention. Motifs The Blessed %slands The fantasy of the Blessed %sland recurs among the ma$or players as the lost Mother,'on dyad disrupted y the Oedipal drama. %t, rather than any of their deaths, is the trilogy's principal o $ect of mourning. Orin offers the most e#tensive vision of the Blessed %sland to *hristine in Act %% of +The /unted.+ A sanctuary from the war, the %sland is a warm, peaceful, and secure paradise composed of the mother's ody. Thus Orin can imagine himself with *hristine

without her eing there. %n terms of the trilogy's se#ual drama, the Blessed %sland is the realm of the pre,Oedipal, the time of plentitude and wholeness shared y mother and child. /owever, Orin goes to war to do his duty as a Mannon. The Nati!es The Blessed %slands are also populated, in the players' imaginations, y natives, which entwine their fantasies of se# with those of race. 2enerally the native appears through two divergent images3 the se#ual innocent and the se#ually depraved. Thus, for e#ample, )avinia will recall the islands as the home of timeless children, dancing na!ed on the each and loving without sin. This island is the perfect home for a prelapsarian love affair. "or Orin, however, the natives display an almost estial se#ual prowess, stripping his sister with their lascivious ga&es. The native assumes these proportions when imagined as rivals, the prowess and pleasure they would ostensi ly provide the lover ecoming o $ects of envy. Symbols Though Mourning is rife with sym olism, the sym ol that dominates the playing space is certainly the Mannon house. The house is uilt in the style of a 2ree! temple, with white columned portico covering its gray walls. As *hristine complaints in Act % of +/omecoming,+ the house is the Mannons' +whited sepulcher.+ %t functions not only as crypt to the family's dead ut also to its secrets. %ts founder, A e Mannon, designs it as a monument of repression, uilding it to cover over the disgrace that sets this revenge cycle in motion. .hat sym oli&es this repression in turn is the house's distinguishing feature, the +incongruous white mas!+ of a portico hiding its ugliness. This mas! dou les those of its residents, evo!ing the +life,li!e mas!s+ the Mannons wear as their faces.