LITERARY TREND AND AUTHOR CANON
- Introduced the drama techniques of realism into U.S. theatre;
- Poetically titled plays;
- Psychological realism;
- Social realism;
- Uses vernacular in his characters’ speech;
- Focuses on characters marginalised by society;
- Drama becomes an aesthetic and intellectual form in his plays;
- General theme: human suffering;
- Psychological and moral pain lead to spiritual and social dilemmas;
- Experiments with the tragic form: attempts to find a modern analogue to an ancient mode of experience;
- Inspired by Ibsen, Chekhov, Sophocles, and Euripides.
MOURNING BECOMES ELECTRA (published 1931)
The play is a revision of Aeschylus’s play, “Orestia”. O’Neill aims to provide a “modern psychological approximation of the Greek sense of fate”, a modern analogue to an ancient experience. Through the American Civil War setting, O’Neill provides a meeting point of the ancient and the modern.
- A seaport town in New England, 1865-1866;
- During the Civil War.
Main theme: Family
The Mannon family is subject to repeating the same destructive and compulsive patterns. The members repeat the relationship that started the cycle of misfortunes, deception, and revenge. Certain character traits run in the family and the patterns of behaviour are inescapable. For the Mannon family, these patterns include murder, suicide, and incest. The war mirrors the events in the family on a larger scale.
- Sex and lust;
- The supernatural.
The play consists of three parts, “The Homecoming”, “The Hunted”, and “The Haunted”.
In “The Homecoming”, Christine Mannon has a lover, Adam Brant, while her husband, Ezra, fights in the war. Daughter Lavinia is jealously aware of the affair and threatens her mother with exposure. The mother and the daughter are rivals for the love of Ezra and Adam.
Ezra returns and Lavinia desperately tries to win his love and attention from her mother, as Ezra makes an effort to communicate with Christine, begging her to love him. She rejects him, and when he has a heart attack, she administers poison rather than medicine. Right before his death, he reveals Christine’s crime to Lavinia.
“The Hunted” includes Lavinia, Christine, and the newly returned battle-scarred Orin (Christinne’s son and Lavinia’s brother). Each woman is seductive and persuasive with him, but Lavinia is victorious in convincing him that Christine killed Ezra and that he should avenge their father’s murder by killing Adam Brant. He accomplishes the act, which drives Christine to commit suicide and leads to Orin’s mental deterioration due to guilt.
In “The Haunted”, both Lavinia and Orin struggle to transcend their past crimes through relationships outside the family. When this is impossible, Orin commits suicide, and Lavinia secludes herself in the Mannon mansion.
Characters presented in the analysis of the literary fragment should be adapted to the fragment itself.
- Lavinia Mannon – theMannon’s daughter. She is stiff-shouldered, flat-chested, thin, angular, and dressed in simple black. She shares her mother Christine’s copper hair and mask-like face. Lavinia considers herself robbed of love because of her mother. She tries to take Christine’s place and become the wife of her father and mother of her brother. After her mother’s death, she accomplishes her purpose of replacing her, but at the end of the play, she chooses to live in seclusion in her family home.
- Christine Mannon – A beautiful woman in her forties. She has a voluptuous figure and wonderful copper hair. She wears green, which symbolises her envy. Her face has the look of a mask, which represents her duplicity and her enormous efforts at repression. She resents her husband, Ezra, and plots his murder with her lover Brant when he returns from the Civil War.
- Orin Mannon – The Mannon’s son, returned from war. He resembles his father and Captain Brant. His is a weakened version of the two, but more refined and oversensitive. His boyish charm determines the maternal behaviour of women. His love of his mother is incestuous, and he is tormented by jealousy when he finds out about her affair. Tormented by guilt, he commits suicide.
POINT OF VIEW
The point of view in drama is usually objective and omniscient;
It is defined by
- Stage directions;
- The characters’ speech;
- The characters’ gestures and pantomimic movements.
**DO NOT CONFUSE: dramatic point of view is a feature of prose, in which a narrator reports the events of a scene without revealing a character’s thoughts and feelings.
- In drama, the tone can belong to:
- The author – present in stage directions;
- The characters – present in the characters’ lines.
- Detached in the descriptions of character and place;
- Character’s tone: melodramatic, filled with emotions (horrors of war, incestuous undertones).
- Straightforward style – it captures a specific historical time and also class differences;
- Very long, specific stage directions;
- Use of dense and evocative play titles;
- The play is structured like a Greek tragedy (source of inspiration and use of themes);
- Surreal and bizarre style when the characters are mentally deranged (Orin);
- Chorus from Greek tragedies is replaced by local people conversing at the beginning of the acts;
- The expressionist pairing of characters (Lavinia – Christine, Orin – Ezra);
- Expressionist symbolism: The Mannon house resembles a Greek temple;
- Expressionist descriptions for the mask-like features of characters;
- Expressionist character “asides”, in which the characters address the audience without the others on the stage hearing.