Eugene O’Neill’s “Duel Becomes Electra” was inspired by Aeschylus’s The Orestes. In O’Neill’s version, Agamemnon is American General Ezra Mannon, Clytemnestra is his second wife Christine, Orestes is his son Orin, and Electra is his daughter Lavinia. The play featured murder, adultery, incestuous love, and revenge. Although fate only guides the actions of the characters in Greek tragedies, O’Neill’s characters also have motivations based on the psychological theory of the 1930s. Although the work can be read from a Freudian perspective, paying attention to the Oedipus and Electra complexes of various characters, the characters can also be evaluated according to Aristotle’s concept of a tragic character.
Aristotle’s ideas about tragedy were recorded in his book of literary theory entitled Poetics. In it, he has a lot to say about the structure, purpose, and intended effect of the tragedy. His ideas have been adopted, disputed, expanded and discussed for several centuries.
The following is a summary of his basic ideas regarding the tragic hero:
1. The tragic hero is a character of noble stature and greatness. This should be readily apparent from the work. The character must occupy a position of “high” status, but must also embody nobility and virtue as part of their innate character.
2. Although the tragic hero is eminently great, he is not perfect for the audience to easily relate to that character. Although perhaps elevated to a higher position in society, the character should be seen as someone essential like that of a normal person.
3. The hero’s downfall is partly his fault, the result of his free choice, not an accident or villainy or a prevailing evil fate. In fact, tragedy is often triggered by some error in judgment or some character flaw that contributes to the hero’s lack of perfection. This error in judgment or character flaw is known as hamartia and is generally translated as a tragic flaw.
4. The hero’s misfortune is not entirely deserved. The punishment exceeds the crime.
5. The fall is not pure loss. It could lead to increased awareness, a gain in self-knowledge, and a discovery on the part of the tragic hero.
Eugene O’Neill’s Mourning Turns Into Electra: A Summary
Ezra Mannon is among the leading figures in the city. He had served as a judge, mayor, and most recently as one of Grant’s generals in the Civil War. He has a bad heart and it is difficult for him to express his love. His wife, Christine Mannon, was an adulterous woman who stopped loving him from the beginning of their married life.
Lavinia Mannon is the loving daughter who hated her mother and adored her father. While Orin Mannon, Lavinia’s weak-willed brother, hated his father and adored his mother.
The other characters in the play include Adam Brant, the illegitimate son of Ezra’s uncle by a servant. He is the captain of a merchant marine ship and had an illicit affair with Christine. Peter is Orin’s childhood friend and Lavinia’s fiancé. Helen, Peter’s sister, is Lavinia’s childhood friend and Orin’s fiancee.
The curse on the home of Mannon, a prominent New England family, dates back to a generation from Ezra Mannon’s father, Abe, and Uncle Ben. Ben was kicked out of the family when he got a French Canadian maid named Marie Brantône pregnant. Gamer and drunk, he finally committed suicide. Marie asked Ezra, now the head of the family, to help her; but he ignored her and she died. Therefore, his son, Adam Brant, had an understandable grudge against Ezra. While Ezra and his son Orin are fighting in the Civil War, Adam Brant introduced himself to the family as a suitor for Lavinia. The handsome captain ended up seducing Christine.
The war is over and Ezra Mannon was heading home. His wife Christine and daughter Lavinia were waiting for him. Although Lavinia was excited to see him, Christine was not. She never loved Ezra, and having finally experienced love with Adam, she thought she could no longer bear Ezra’s touch. On the night of Ezra’s return, Christine gave him poison instead of his heart medicine; But before he died, Ezra was able to tell Lavinia what Christine and Adam had done.
A few days later, Orin returned home from the war. Still in shock over his father’s death, Orin has become the battlefield between Lavinia and Christine. Finally, Lavinia had convinced Orin to accompany her and follow Christine, who went to Adam’s ship. The two spied on Christine and Adam. Orin was overcome with jealousy when he saw his mother, whom he loved so passionately, frolicking with Adam. Christine and Adam had planned to run away, but right after Christine left to get her things, Orin killed Adam. When Orin told Christine what he did to Adam, she shot herself.
After that incident, Lavinia and Orin traveled to the South Seas for a year. When they returned home, their friends Peter and Helen found them transformed. Lavinia had become a spitting image of her mother, and Orin, on the other hand, had become a disintegrated person. Orin wrote a letter describing the sad history of his family and threatened Lavinia with giving it to Peter if she tried to marry him. Lavinia protested and for that, Orin tried to abuse her. Lavinia was able to free herself. At first, Orin committed suicide.
With what had happened, Peter came to Lavinia to comfort her only to be told that she had, in fact, loved Adam Brant. In the end, Lavinia ignored Peter and instead embraced a lonely destiny by locking herself in the Mannon home.
The tragic nature of O’Neill’s work has become the basis for this article by establishing the basis that Lavinia, who is the key character in the story, is an exemplification of Aristotle’s concept of a tragic character.
1. Lavinia is a character of noble stature and greatness.
Although the concept of nobility has been widely observed in the early years, Lavinia’s stature of being a member of a prominent family in the community is sufficient for Aristotle’s notion of nobility. Apart from that, Lavinia’s greatness as a character has been manifested by the fact that she had adhered to what is moral and just. Upon learning that her mother had an illicit affair with Adam, she decided to break up the affair. Also, although she has also been attracted to Adam herself, she tried to suppress her feelings for him. She hasn’t succumbed to his compliments and temptations which, in turn, caused Adam to turn his attention to Cynthia, starved for love.
2. Although Lavinia may be eminently cool, she was not perfect for readers to easily relate to.
Although perhaps elevated to a higher position in society, Lavinia can also be seen as someone who is essentially the same as a normal person. His attachment to Peter as a suitor and lover, his manifestation of grief over the death of his father, his expression of hatred towards his mother due to his infidelity, and his act of seeking revenge on his father are the natural reaction of a person when confronted . with the same situation that she had. Such manifestations of behavior go against the concept of a perfect character seen from a Christian perspective.
3. Lavinia’s downfall is partly her fault, the result of her free choice, not an accident or villainy or prevailing evil fate.
Lavinia may not have died in the story, but her decision to seclude herself can be viewed as her undoing. Such a fall has been caused by some error of judgment on your part. After Orin’s death, she could have had a new and redeemed life at the hands of Peter; however, she had wasted the opportunity when she admitted that she had, in fact, loved Adam, a revelation that had hurt Peter. Lavinia could have kept those feelings to herself because she has nothing to do with it anymore, since Adam is already dead. It was, then, her poor judgment that led her to express such a painful revelation that it ultimately led to her downfall.
4. Lavinia’s misfortune is not entirely deserved. The punishment exceeds the mistake made.
Lavinia, the loving and respectful daughter, can be seen as a victim of circumstance. He could have obtained redemption through Peter, but other factors had gotten in the way and caused him to give up his personal happiness. Her resolve to seclude herself by locking herself inside the Mannon household to atone for her family’s sins may be considered too harsh for her.
5. Lavinia’s atonement is not pure loss: there is an increase in awareness, a gain in self-knowledge, and a discovery on your part.
Lavinia could have decided to just leave and run away to start a new life, but she chose to stay. In his decision, he has shown a sense of epiphany and renewal. Running away will not necessarily allow you to escape the guilt and heartache of your past. His act of self-sacrifice has allowed him to put an end to the curse on the family, thus ending the series of misfortunes that the family has suffered. This act has elevated her to the role of a sacrificial lamb, making her the spiritual savior of the family from moral decay and degradation.
Although various emotions were aroused, Lavinia’s character does not leave her readers, or her audience, in a state of depression. Aristotle (Leitch 2001) argues that one function of tragedy is to arouse “unhealthy” emotions of pity and fear and through catharsis. Basically, through Lavinia and her destiny, everyone cleanses themselves of those emotions.