In this article we are going to cover three main topics related to Eugene O’ Neill’s play “Mourning Becomes Electra” and those are: “Mourning Becomes Electra” as a modern tragedy, “Mourning Becomes Electra” as a Greek Tragedy” and finally “Mourning Becomes Electra” as a psychological play. In addition, we will see the difference between modern and Greek tragedy and psychological play. Finally, discussion and elucidation of “Mourning Becomes Electra” characters, which create a drama of revenge and passion and Electra Complex.
Please first read the summary or play to understand this topic. If you have already done then:
Table of contents
- Modern Vs. Greek Tragedy in “Mourning Becomes Electra”:
- Requirements of Greek Tragedy:
- Requirements of Modern Tragedy and “Mourning Becomes Electra”:
- “Mourning Becomes Electra” as a Modern Psychological Play:
- “Mourning Becomes Electra” a Drama of Revenge and Passion:
- Electra Complex as Modern Theme in “Mourning Becomes Electra”.
- Related Question(s):
Modern Vs. Greek Tragedy in “Mourning Becomes Electra”:
We must compare two types of tragedies if we want to discuss or finalize the American psychological play “Mourning Becomes Electra” as Greek or Modern Tragedy. Firstly, there exists a typical form of tragedy i.e. Aristotalean Tragedy or Tragedy of Aristotle also held the title of classical tragedy. Secondly, there are a lot of modern definitions of modern tragedies, however, the main elements among them remain the same.
Critics and students of literature have defined tragedy many times but still when a writer writes tragedy its form remains different from the previous ones. For instance, Greek tragedy is entirely different from Shakespearean tragedy, however, with minor changes but when it comes to “Waiting for Godot”, we find a tragedy without a plot. Hence, it is not too much to say that there are lots of definitions of tragedies available in the literature. Nevertheless, we are going to discuss two types of tragedies, “Greek Tragedy and Modern Tragedy” exclusively concerning “Mourning Becomes Electra”.
Requirements of Greek Tragedy:
Aristotle initially described Greek tragedy in his own words. “The Poetics” contains the definition of a classic tragedy in which main components, which he defines are:
- The protagonist must belong to a wealthy or noble class
- He should not be too good nor too bad
- He should suffer because of “err” or “hamartia”
- Have only one plot
- The tragedy of a single character
Mourning Becomes Electra may be regarded as a modern tragedy and Eugene O’Neill as master of psychological plays yet critics discuss that story of the drama is based on “Revenge and Passion” as of Greek play Oresteia by Aeschylus.
Is Modern Play Mourning Becomes Electra a Greek Tragedy?
Yes, the way we see this play, it is definitely identified as the tragedy of Greeks. The reason behind it is that Eugene O’Neill has recreated this play. Greek writer Aeschylus wrote the original drama with the name of “The Oresteia Trilogy” that was based on a complex theme of “Revenge and Passion” and “Mourning Becomes Electra” is a copy of that tragedy. If that was a successful tragedy of Greeks then definitely this play should also be added in the list of Greek tragedies as there is no difference in plots of both these plays. Action is also the same in this tragedy and Greek tragedy with a blend of Freudianism theory of “Electra Complex” in Orestia and “Mourning Becomes Electra”.
O’Neill has just differentiated American culture from the Greeks. Greeks have a conventional style of structuring tragedies and this play has nothing new in this regard. Drama “Mourning Becomes Electra” also describes the same events and structure along with the themes of “revenge and passion” which were once defined in a Greek tragedy, however, this play contains an additional theme of “psychological behaviour”.
Fate and gods Dominated in Greeks:
In Greeks, fate used to dominate the whole situation. Greek writers, in the conventional style of writing tragedy, used to assign many important roles to gods but that is not the case with “Mourning Becomes Electra” because the situation, in this play, is entirely psychological. Psychological problems instead of gods have dominated the Manon family due to which every male and female member suffers yet we cannot deny the role of hamartia in “Mourning Becomes Electra” as everyone is responsible for his downfall in this play.
Even otherwise, Eugene O’Neill portrays the tragedy of a noble person through this play. Agamemnon was a noble king and “Mourning Becomes Electra” was also the story of a general’s family. In Greek’s, Clytemnestra faced death not only because of her own actions but because the family of Agamemnon was cursed by gods as Agamemnon’s father attacked his brother because of the lust of wealth. Due to that curse, Agamemnon was murdered, otherwise, he had no fault of his own.
No Responsibility of Fate in “Mourning Becomes Electra”:
“Mourning Becomes Electra” is also a drama of “Revenge and Passion” like Greek play Oresteia yet gods replace psychological dilemmas in this modern tragedy. It is the hamartia of characters that leads them to their destruction. Ezra Mannon’s father punishes his brother because of true love. He sent his brother away and reconstruct his house but that is not enough. He is yet to be punished and his family would suffer because of his fault including Lavinia.
We cannot directly say that “Mourning Becomes Electra” is a Greek tragedy because minds of all the characters are filled with passion and revenge due to which their psychological behaviour controls them, hence, the play can also be referred as a modern psychological play.
Requirements of Modern Tragedy and “Mourning Becomes Electra”:
Modern Tragedy, on the opposite, is completely different from classic tragedies. Raymond Williams is the most famous critic who has totally denied the definition of tragedy provided by Aristotle. He rejected it while saying that the real purpose of tragedy should not be the catharsis of pity and fear rather tragedy should teach the audience. The audience should not see only good acts so that they can adopt them; worst acts can also be shown on stage. He has also moulded the classic form of tragedy and recreated a new definition of tragedy.
In addition to Raymond Williams, there are some other critics and writers who have redefined tragedy, however, most of the critics are of the opinion that the purpose of tragedy is the purgation of feelings of pity and fear. Nonetheless, let’s discuss the most significant elements of modern tragedy so as of “Mourning Becomes Electra”, which are entirely opposite to Greek tragedy. Those elements are:
- The protagonist can be a common man even he can be a slave
- Sufferings are not necessary, however, some critics feel it a necessary requirement of tragedy.
- Modern tragedy can have more than one plot
- There can be a tragedy of more than one character
There are some other elements of tragedy but the above said components are necessary to create a complete tragedy. Besides, there is still another important ingredient of tragedy i.e. catharsis of emotions and many dramatists have kept in mind this necessary component while writing tragedies.
Is Psychological Play “Mourning Becomes Electra” a Modern or Greek Tragedy?
Firstly, we should consider that about whom we are talking about. Are we talking about Lavinia? or Ezra Manon, Christien or Orin or Adam Brant. Because there are more than one tragedies in this play. It does not depict a single story but the process of more than one. It is the tragedy of more than one character. Thus, from very start we are obvious that “Mourning Becomes Electra” unlike Greek tragedy Oresteia fulfils at least the very first requirement of modern tragedy.
Besides, modern tragedy focuses on the lives and psychological conflicts of common people of society as mentioned above and in the same way, the play “Mourning Becomes Electra” focuses on the behaviour of common people. It is apparent when the leader of the Mannon family exiles his brother from the house just because he loves his maid, who was a poor common woman. Mannon family is supposed very respectable, however, their leader commits sin due to which the whole family suffers. He denies pure love and resultantly happiness and enjoyment become mourning for her family and they develop disgusting relationships like Electra and Oedipus complex”.
Hence, the story recreated by the writer forces us to think that the sufferings of common people are also painful. In other words, there is no difference in the murder of a poor person and the death of a king. Tragedy and impact are the same for both of them. In this way, admittedly the writer of the play copied “Mourning Becomes Electra” and its theme of revenge and passion from Greek Tragedy but his illustration techniques in this drama though complex yet are modern and based on psychological response. Due to above-said reasons, “Mourning Becomes Electra” is regarded as the most prominent American psychological play and modern tragedy.
“Mourning Becomes Electra” as a Modern Psychological Play:
Every modern artist, whether he is dramatist, novel writer, poet or painter tries his best to elucidate modern harmful situations of society. There was a time when writers used to portray the relationship between gods and men and people were happy with just only this single theme. Of course, I am referring indirectly to the Greeks people. Now, time has changed. People are no more interested in sacred and religious matters. Nowadays, problems belong to minds. People are not interested in maintaining a relationship with gods nor do they care what society wants. They are just interested in solving their own problems. Eugene O’Neill predicted these things many years ago. It is, therefore, he portrayed a complex psychological theme of revenge and passion in his play “Mourning Becomes Electra” through duplication of a Greek Tragedy.
What is a Psychological Play?
In simple and easy words, every play, novel and poem that deals with spiritual, emotional, and mental lives of characters fall in the category of psychological fiction just like “Mourning Becomes Electra”. This kind of literature deals with inner dilemmas instead of external obstacles of people. It is more about the behaviour of the characters. How they behave and how they react in a condition is not important. What they think is more important than every other thing.
Dilemma of Ezra Mannon:
“Mourning Becomes Electra” deals with the psychological function of every individual character. Ezra Mannon seems a successful person but he has his inner conflicts. He is not happy with his married life. When he returns home, he does not expect that type of cold welcome from her wife that she gives him. Psychological problems are different from individual to individual. It is the case with Ezra Mannon. His dilemma is that his wife does not love him anymore. In “Homecoming”, he says:
This house is not my house. This is not my room nor my bed. They are empty–waiting for someone to move in! And you are not my wife! You are waiting for something!Ezra Mannon in “Mourning Becomes Electra”
He may be happy with his professional life. He may have societal influence. Society may love him yet his own wife builds mental issues for him. He is of the view that he is not able to find peace at home and that is his psychological problem which O’Neill in his play “Mourning Becomes Electra” wants to say that is now a days common in everyone.
Emotional Behaviour of Christien:
Similarly, Christien is not satisfied with his married life. She knows that she is the mother of two children yet she kills her husband and wants an affair with her lover Adam Brant. If it is not a psychological problem, what is it then? Most of the people in this society are not happy with their lives and instead of solving their problems or sharing them they do nothing and those problems made them mental patients.
Psychological Problems of Orin and Lavinia:
If it is not enough, the remaining two major characters of the play “Mourning Becomes Electra” also face psychological problems. Orin loves his mother more than his father and when he comes to know that Adam Brant along with her mother is responsible for the death of Ezra Mannon, he kills Adam Brant and leaves his mother alive. When she commits suicide he blames himself and considers himself responsible for his mother’s death. Further, his memories with his mother at island haunt him. In war, whenever he kills a person, his face resembles his father and him. All these psychological problems force him to shoot himself and prove that play of O’Neill “Mourning Becomes Electra” a modern psychological tragedy.
Lavinia is not different from others. She and Orina play a dominant role and Livinia is the last surviving character of “Mourning Becomes Electra” but her problems are also psychological. She also thinks that she is responsible for the death of her family members. Even the punishment she gives to herself at the end of the play is the most horrified and is a result of her inner conflicts.
“Mourning Becomes Electra” a Drama of Revenge and Passion:
“Revenge and Passion” is the dominant theme of drama “Mourning Becomes Electra” and so as of “Oresteia”. Every major character of the play wants vengeance from others and if no one survives gods want revenge. “Mourning Becomes Electra” is also the drama of revenge and passion. First of all, circumstances take revenge from Mannon family. Every character knowingly or unknowingly comes in a situation which becomes difficult for him to survive and he finds no chance of escape from that condition. Ultimately, every character of this family faces destruction.
Greek writer Aeschylus wrote tragedy and named it “Oresteia” thousand years ago with the dominant theme of revenge and passion and modern drama “Mourning Becomes Electra” as already mentioned is its copy. Adam Brant seeks revenge from Ezra Mannon and with the connivance of his beloved Christien, he remains successful in killing him. However, the story of revenge does not end here. Afterwards, Orin, when acknowledges that Adam Brant is responsible for the death of his father, wants revenge from him and quenches his thrust of revenge after killing him. Then comes the overburden passion of Christien. She cannot live a miserable life and shots herself. Story repeats and Orin does the same. The passion of both these characters takes revenge from them in the drama “Mourning becomes Electra”. Eventually, the passion of Lavinia punishes her in order to take revenge from her and thus Lavinia isolates herself.
It is true that “Mourning Becomes Electra” shares a complex theme of “Passion and Revenge” of Greek drama “Oresteia”, which is the reason tragedy under discussion is regarded as a modern psychological play of “Passion and Revenge”.
Electra Complex as Modern Theme in “Mourning Becomes Electra”.
Neo-Freudianism theory termed “Electra Complex” is the development of the psychosexual conflict between mother and daughter that is obviously present in “Mourning Becomes Electra”. In fact, it is one of the famous themes of this play. In other words, if we define this term, growth of sexual relationship in the mind of a daughter with her father is called “Electra Complex”. According to this theory, a daughter competes her mother and involves the psychological aspects of sexual impulses. Besides “Electra Complex”, Oedipus complex is also accessible in “Mourning Becomes Electra” in the shape of the relationship between Christien and her son Orin.
Lavinia’s Love for her Father and Hate for her Mother:
Lavinia from the start of play cannot bear that her mother is cheating her father. She often warns her mother not do so but Christien can’t listen Lavinia. After the death of Ezra Mannon, Lavinia tells everything to her brother and awares him the fact that she is Christien who murdered Azra Mannon. It is also a component of Electra Complex that a daughter starts hating her mother as she finds her mother her competitor, hence, nowhere in “Mourning Becomes Electra” we find that Lavinia laments on the death of her mother. In fact, she is happy that her father’s death is avenged. She addresses to her mother and says:
You know you deserve the worst punishment you could get. And Father would disown you publicly, no matter how much the scandal cost him!Lavinia to Christien in “Mourning Becomes Electra”
It is also evident when she consoles Orin while saying that Christien was a disgusting lady and she got what she deserved.
She could have lived, couldn’t she? But she chose to kill herself as a punishment for her crime–of her own free will! It was an act of justice! You had nothing to do with it! You see that now, don’t you?Lavinia to Orin in “Mourning Becomes Electra”
It seems that her attitude towards her mother is full of bitterness due to penis envy as provided in the theory of “Electra Complex” and it is skillfully explained in “Mourning Becomes Electra”. Livinia “in Mourning Becomes Electra” is in possession of an unknowingly desires to Christien’s position as Ezra Mannon’s sexual partner and as a result rivalry between the two starts which we call “Electra Complex”.
Conclusion of the whole article is that unlike Greek drama Oresteia, Mourning Becomes Electra is a modern tragedy and play that explores complex psychological problems of revenge and passion.
- Is “Mourning Becomes Electra” a Greek Tragedy or Modern Drama or it is a play that deals with psychological problems of revenge, passion and Electra as well as Oedipus complex? Elucidate.