Mourning Becomes Electra Characters | O’Neill’s Art of Characterization

Mourning Becomes Electra Characters | O'Neill's Art of Characterization

Art of characterization is what makes a playwright unique and different from other writers. One of the main reasons due of which Eugine O’Neill got fame was his art of characterization as indicated by the list of major as well as minor characters in “Mourning Becomes Electra”. O’Neil wrote many wonderful plays but his art of characterization varies from play to play. He won the title of best modern playwrights because he conceptualized many modern characters. Somewhere he portrayed them romantically, somewhere realistically, somewhere naturally whereas in some plays he sketched psychological characters as in “Mourning Becomes Electra”. Most of the plays Eugene O’Neill wrote depicted psychological problems, hence, every character behaved differently in diverse situations as we see in Ezra Mannon, Orin Mannon and Christine Mannon in “Mourning Becomes Electra”.

Following is the character list of “Mourning Becomes Electra”:

  1. Ezra Mannon
  2. Christine Mannon
  3. Orin Mannon
  4. Ezra Mannon
  5. Adam Brant
  6. Hazel Niles
  7. Peter Niles
  8. Seth Beckwith
  9. Amos Ames
  10. Louisa Ames
  11. Minnie
  12. Josiah Borden
  13. Emma Borden
  14. Everett Hills, D.D.
  15. Mrs. Hill
  16. Dr. Joseph Blakes
  17. The Chantyman
  18. Abner Small
  19. Ira Mackel
  20. Joe Silva

It is necessary to have an eye on Manon’s family tree before discussing major as well as minor characters of “Mourning Becomes Electra”.

Mannons Family Tree Mourning Becomes Electra
Mannons Family Tree Mourning Becomes Electra

Brigadier General Ezra Mannon among Major Characters of Mourning Becomes Electra:

He is head of the family, right after the death of his father Abe Mannon. He knows that his wife is in an illicit relationship with Captain Adam Brant, who his nephew. Azra has no reason to allow her wife to go to a person, whom he and his father used to call a bastard. Ezra Mannon loves his wife Christian, however, in the first part of the play “Homecoming” when he returns home he could not find affection in return from his wife.

Initially, he joins the army but after the death of his father, Abe Mannon, he has to return home. Home feels secure to everyone but not for Ezra Mannon. He thinks that he feels himself more protected in the army but not at home because he considers himself alone even in the company of his wife. He is a dead person inside even before his actual death.

Ezra Mannon loves his wife more than any other characters in “Mourning Becomes Electra”. He has a deep affection for her but in return he gets distrust. In the first part of the play, he reveals his love for his wife when he says to her that he was waiting for coming home and to love her. In short, he does everything to please his wife but in vain. She does not like him anyways.

Puritan by Birth:

Ezra Mannon is a pure puritan by birth just like his father. He himself says that he has qualities which he has inherited from his forefathers. He thinks about life and sometimes about death just the same way typical puritans think about. At the time of war, he sees dead people and thinks about them. He knows how much emotional communication is important especially in a relationship between a husband and wife. However, as a professional person, he is a strong man and a war hero. He has an authoritative tone when he speaks.

Inner Problems of Ezra Mannon:

Apart from all the qualities, he has problems of his own. He does not only fight in the war but also fights battles with his innersole. Sleep can’t overpower him when he thinks about the dull relationship between him and his wife due to a wall in the shape of Adam Brant. He has no sex energy not because of age but because of his disturbed marital life. Once he says to his wife that he does not need his body. He is a symbol that if he needed only the flesh, he might have spent a night with a whore rather than spending with his wife Christine Mannon. He is at the top of the characters list of Mourning Becomes Electra.

Christine Mannon among Major Characters of Mourning Becomes Electra::

She is Ezra’s wife and the most beautiful lady ever portrayed by Eugene O’Neil in any of his plays. She is almost 40 years old but from no angle, anyone can notice her growing age. The playwright has completely symbolized her dressing as against puritanism. This is how Louisa describes her:

LOUISA–Which is more’n you kin say fur his wife. Folks all hates her! She ain’t the Mannon kind. French and Dutch descended, she is. Furrin lookin’ and queer. Her father’s a doctor in New York, but he can’t be much of a one ’cause she didn’t bring no money when Ezra married her.

Louisa about Christine Mannon in Mourning Becomes Electra

Ames also has the same types of views about her yet in different manner. She says:

Secret lookin’–‘s if it was a mask she’d put on. That’s the Mannon look. They all has it. They grow it on their wives. Seth’s growed it on too, didn’t you notice–from bein’ with ’em all his life. They don’t want folks to guess their secrets.

Ames about Christine Mannon in Mourning Becomes Electra

Hence, we are obvious that she is a sharp kind of lady, who is not beautiful like typical ladies of her time but handsom like men of her era. No one can discover her nor does Brigadier General Ezra Mannon until he meets with his death. She is one of the most complex characters of “Mourning Becomes Electra”

Anti Puritanism:

Mannon family is presented as so-called puritan but Christine is openly against double standards of Mannon family. She once said:

Each time I come back after being away it appears more like a sepulchre! The “whited” one of the Bible.

Christin in Mourning Becomes Electra.

She considered puritans as the most double-minded people living in society. Somehow, she was right about them but ironically, she was also doing the same.

She was among those who missed everything in their lives. Even after many years of relationship with Ezra Mannon, she ultimately kills him. Perhaps, she is cursed to live with a person whom she does not love at all. She is of the view that she has wasted twenty years of her life. In fact, she calls her life miserable because of the dull attitude of her husband. With the passage of time, she repents on her decision that she took many years ago. Ezra Mannon at his young age seems very much pleasant and attractive to her but after marriage, her love turns into hate and eventually into poison. She could not control her anger and poisoned her husband with the help of Adam Brant. She is the second most important person in the characters list of “Mourning Becomes Electra”

Her Affair with Adam Brant:

Adam Brant wants revenge for his father from Mannon family and in order to succeed, he needs assistance from Mannon family. Christine is the best available option for him, therefore, he tries to implead her in his plan. He seduces Christian and she starts a love affair with Adam Brant. Apart from her dull and boring life, there is also another purpose that she starts an illicit relationship with Adam Brant. Oedipus complex forces her to do so. Orin is his son. She spends time with him happily but when Orin joins army she has no one to spend time with. Oedipus complex works on both sides. A son’s affection for her mother is equal to the mother’s affection for her son. Similarly, the Electra Complex is equally responsible for it. She hated her husband because of Lavinia as she was closer to Ezra Mannon than her mother.

Thus, in “Mourning Becomes Electra”, playwright justifies that aggrieved from all these complex relations between characters, she starts her affair with Adam Brant but her decision leads her to death.

She has no moral values. She is not among those ladies who fear sandals. Christine does not care what people think about her. She openly challenges her daughter that she will go with Adam Brant in case Lavinia discloses her affair with Adam Brant. She herself tells Ezra Mannon that she loves Adam Brant. Even killing her husband is no big deal for her. If fate is not responsible for the destruction of Mannon family then she is the one who is the root cause of ruination of puritan family.

Her Death:

Orin kills Adam Brant and she realizes that accepting death is better choice than to live in disgust. She thinks about it. Adam Brant’s love was true for her whereas Azra’s love was fake. Instead of living with her husband a life of dignity she chooses death with Adam Brant and commits suicide.

Orin Mannon:

Third important member of Mannon family and among the characters list in “Mourning becomes Electra” is Orin. He is the son of Ezra Mannon. He is the symbol of the Oedipus Complex. Orin always sees dreams of his mother. Even in war, he cannot stop himself thinking about her. He feels protection in her arms. He wants her, therefore, he kills Adam Brant but not her mother even when he knows that her mother poisoned his father. Orin can’t punish his mother because he loves her more than his father. Her mother’s order is a priority for her. He said:

(touched, coming back to her) Of course, Mother! You come before everything!

Orin to Christin in Mourning Becomes Electra

He forgets that her mother has killed his father but he is unable to forget his mother’s affair with Adam Brant. He tries to convince himself but in vain. Lavinia also convinces him but she remains failed to do so. He thinks about his mother and Adam Brant every single second which makes him mentally sick and it is the reason he shots himself.

His Love with Lavinia and Hazel:

Firstly, Lavinia takes him to his favourite island so that he may forget his past. Secondly, Hazel also tries to divert his attention but Orin is struck by his mother’s dreams. After the death of his mother, he lives his life with disgust. He does not find peace on the lovely island though he loves Lavinia. Nonetheless, he fears that she will also leave him one day. He does not want to spend time with Hazel as he is not interested in her. From every aspect, he seems a mentally retarded character even before the death of her mother.

Symbol of Darkness for Orin:

(harshly) I hate the daylight. It’s like an accusing eye! No, we’ve renounced the day, in which normal people live–or rather it has renounced us. Perpetual night–darkness of death in life–that’s the fitting habitat for guilt! You believe you can escape that, but I’m not so foolish!

Orin in Mourning Becomes Electra

Most of the characters in Mourning Becomes Electra symbolize something. Similarly, darkness is a symbol of Orin’s ending life. He finds peace nowhere but in darkness, however, he is afraid of his ghosts. He is a victim and his psychological problems, which have made him a victim. Survival in this situation is not possible for him. He does not have any special problem instead he is a victim just like other American people of his era. We may feel disgusting relationships between Orin and his mother yet this is how Freudianism theory works. It is common for everyone and even acceptable by most of the persons living such kind of lives.

Lavinia Mannon among Major Characters of Mourning Becomes Electra:

Lavinia is the daughter of Ezra Mannon. In physical appearance, she is somewhat similar to Christine but she does not look young like her. She is not so much attractive. It is not wrong to say that apart from her face and height she is entirely different from her mother.

She is a victim of Electra Complex. Perhaps, this is the only reason due to which Eugene O’Neill got fame, otherwise, the complete story is of Greeks. The playwright has copied the Greek story but practised the doctrine of Electra and Oedipus Complex through major characters Livinia and Orin in Mourning Becomes Electra. Lavinia thinks that her mother has stolen love from her since her childhood.

Rival to Her Mother:

Lavinia is entirely against her mother in characteristics. She is a puritan by birth. She is not interested in Peter. What she wants is her father’s love. She competes with her mother in this regard. She is the one who tells Orin that her mother has murdered Ezra Mannon. Lavinia also discloses her mother’s affair with Adam Brant. She convinces Orin to kill Adam Brant. She is satisfied with the death of her mother. Lavinia tells Orin that Christine got what she deserved and she herself was responsible for her death.

She hates Christian from her childhood. She believes that her father needs her more than the remaining characters of Mourning Becomes Electra. Lavinia refuses that she knows anything about love but when it comes to her father, she blames her mother for snatching her father from her. It strengthens our beliefs that Eugene O’Neil has practised Electra Complex in this play as every ingredient of Freudianism Theory is obvious through every single dialogue of Lavinia Mannon.

Relationship with other Characters of Mourning Becomes Electra:

She is the last surviving character in the play. Until death, she maintains her relationship with every person. She sees Mannons dying one after another. She once was in love with Adam Brant. Afterwards, when her father dies, she spends good days with her brother Orin and goes to the South Island. She falls in love with a person on that island, however, she comes back when her brother insists. She then turns towards Peter and proposes to her. Peter realizes that she has become a victim of psychological problems due to which he refuses to marry her.

As far as her relationship with her mother is concerned, it has already been discussed that due to Freudianism Theory, she has been shown as Christian’s rival due to common man namely Azra Mannon between both of them.

I want to read more about Electra Complex.

As a result of her crimes, committed by her knowingly or unknowingly, she locks herself in a room. She waits for her death in that haunted Mannon house. She does not want to escape like her mother nor like Orin. Death is not a punishment for the sins that she commits. She proves herself a pure puritan and wants a penalty for her sins. Further, she does not seek forgiveness and locks herself in the room where she waits for her death.

Minor Characters in Mourning Becomes Electra:

Besides, there are some minor characters in “Mourning Becomes Electra”, who have much importance. Let’s talk about them:

Adam Brant:

Although he appears very less on stage yet he has the importance of his own. He is the one who turns the fate of Mannon family. He is also called a bastard due to her mother’s love for a Mannon’s family member. Ezra Mannon’s brother loved a maid and Adam Brant is her son. He seduces Christine and starts an affair with her. Brant seeks revenge from Mannons because they exiled his mother and due to starvation, she died. He helps his mother but does not want to meet her.

Revenge from Mannons:

Physically he is fit and captain in the army. Adam Brant is a romantic kind of person and creates love in the heart of Christine Mannon. He does not just want to kill Ezra Mannon but wants revenge from him. After knowing that Christine has poisoned her husband, he laments and says:

(overcome by gloomy dejection, sinks down on his chair again) I knew it! I’ve had a feeling in my bones! It serves me right, what has happened and is to happen! It wasn’t that kind of revenge I had sworn on my mother’s body! I should have done as I wanted–fought with Ezra Mannon as two men fight for love of a woman! (with bitter self-contempt) I have my father’s rotten coward blood in me, I think! Aye!

Adam Brant in Mourning Becomes Electra

He wants to win Christin but it is much easier for him. He wants to see Ezra Mannon trembling in front of him because of Christine. Brant wants to create a scandal to devastate the respect of Mannon family. He wants their collapse. He somehow succeeds in terminating Mannon family but not the way he wants. Adam indirectly kills Ezra Mannon and from his death, Mannon family starts collapsing. Orin Mannon kills him when he knows that he is the one behind the murder of his father. Some critics assert that Adam Brant should be added to the list of the major characters of Mourning Becomes Electra.

Hazel Niles:

She has been presented as Orin’s lover in this play. However, Orin is not interested in her. She is a symbol that a pretty and beautiful woman is present but still Orin wants the love of his mother. She is the one who stops Peter from marrying Lavinia though her intentions were not wrong. Hazel just supports her brother and does not want him to devote an unhappy life to Lavinia. She also discloses that Lavinia lusted with Avahanni.

Peter Niles:

Peter Niles is also Captain in the army, in fact, an artillery captain. He loves Lavinia and wants to take her away from Mannon house. He feels something wrong with Mannon house. At the end of the play, he refuses to marry Lavinia because of the suspicion that at sudden Lavinia wants to marry him. Lavinia wants Captain Brant’s love but when she is rejected, she chooses Peter Niles, hence, he is the second choice of her.

Additional Minor Characters in Mourning Becomes Electra:

Seth Beckwith

He knows every secrete of Mannon family. We know about Mannon’s previous sins of exiling a maid and a family member through him. Often, he sings son in the background. He serves as a gardner in Mannon house.

Amos Ames

A 50 years old chubby carpenter. He talks with other through which audience is introduced with Mannon family and their affairs.

Louisa Ames

She familiarizes the audience with Mannon’s affairs just like her husband Amos.


She plays a minor role. She listens gossips of Mannon family.

Josiah Borden

Ezra started his business. Since then, he serves them as manager in their shipping company.

Emma Borden

She belongs to England. She is wife of Josiah.

Everett Hills, D.D.

Minister of a small town.

Mrs. Hills

Minister’s wife.

Dr. Joseph Blake

Serve’s the Mannon family as a physician.

The Chantyman

Remained Heroes in former plays of Eugene O’Neil. No specific role for her in “Mourning Becomes Electra”.

In start of the play we see:

A group of five men is standing on the drive by the bench at left, front. Seth Beckwith is there and Amos Ames, who appeared in the first Act of “Homecoming.” The others are Abner Small, Joe Silva and Ira Mackel. No specific role has been attributed to them.

Eugene O’Neill’s Art of Characterization Besides Characters of Mourning Becomes Electra:

Expressionism in his Characters:

Expressionism was a modern movement started in literature in 19th and early 20th centuries and almost every playwright including Eugene O’Neill adopted it. In “Mourning Becomes Electra” too, O’Neill experimented with expressionism that is the reason he remained successful in portraying psychological problems at the individual level of American people through his characters. Expressionism, if you don’t know, is the method through which a writer portrays subjective reality. He forms his own opinion and brings them to reality through his characters. Expressionism, if further elaborated, is a technique in which the writer portrays Character’s state of mind and his personal opinions about life. If we talk about “Mourning Becomes Electra”, the playwright presents thinking of every character whether he/she is “Ezra Mannon”, “Orin Mannon”, “Lavinia Mannon” or “Christine Mannon”.

Characters Analysis through Behavior in “Mourning Becomes Electra”:

O’Neil knew modern science. he knows that psychology is the branch of science and has experience as well as knowledge in different psychological terms. It is the reason that the behaviour of his characters is more important than their actions especially in “Mourning becomes Electra”. His characters struggle to live in a society that is against them. In fact, it is not an exaggeration if we say that they struggle with their minds to exist in a world which is no more theirs. We can find many examples from his modern plays. Orin Mannon from “Mourning Becomes Electra” is the best example because he is the one who dominates other characters in the presentation of psychological problems. His dreams, his thinking, his behaviour, his struggle to exist in disgusting relationships, love for his mother and after her death his love for his sister all that reveal the playwright did psychoanalysis through this particular character.

Psychoanalysis of Characters in “Mourning Becomes Electra”:

Maximum characters of “Mourning Becomes Electra” though positive yet remain in dreams. For instance, if we talk about Orin Mannon, he always sees a dream in which he spends time with his mother on a dreamy island. Lavinia seems the most practical character in the paly yet she also remains in a world which is far away from physical reality. Christian Mannon thinks dreams of living a life with Adam Brant and wants to go away from her husband Ezra Mannon.

Every character of Eugene O’Neill wants more from life. He wants to go beyond limits. A world in which he exists is very limited for him. His life may have given him very narrow space to live yet he has the courage to go ahead and cross boundaries, however, there is something that does not allow him to do so and that is “tragic flaw”. Living in two worlds (one is imagination and second is reality) is an impossible task for them, hence, they meet with a tragic incident which ends their passion of gaining further from life. It is evident that psychoanalysis of characters is available in “Mourning Becomes Electra”.

Three-Dimensional Characters in “Mourning Becomes Electra”:

Those characters which seem real in every sense are regarded as three-dimensional characters. If we do an analysis of “Mourning Becomes Electra”, its characters are also three-dimensional as there is no exaggeration in them. They seem real from every angle. Their actions are also close to reality. We must say that audience cares only for those characters who seem real. In the case of “Mourning Becomes Electra”, its character does not only seem real but are actually sensible and more practical.

Hugo Von Hofmannsthal’s View about Characters of Mourning Becomes Electra:

At last but not least, Hugo Von Hofmannsthal, an Australian Novelist remarked on Eugene’s Characterization that:

Measured by this high ideal, the characters in O’Neill’s plays seem to be a little too direct; they utter the precise words demanded of them by the logic of the situation; they seem to stand rooted in the situation where for the time being they happen to be placed and they are not sufficiently drenched in the atmosphere to their own individual past. Paradoxically, O’Neill’s characters are not sufficiently fixed in the past.

Hugo Von Hofmannsthal