Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Symbolic Lighting in Mourning Becomes Electra

Psychological Significance of Lighting
O’Neill employs lid not merely to evoke a mood but, to suggest an inner state of mind as well as a relationship between man and some external fate. Thus, in Thirst the author makes it clear that thee sun that scorches the three human wrecks on the life raft represents a punishing divinity to lighting in the first act of Gold beasts an obvious resemblance to the one in Thirst.
Again we are introduced to the thirst-maddened survivors of a shipwreck in the tropic seas. In The wiry Ape lighting pays a part in underlining the contrast between the modes of life of two classes in modern society, the superrace and the subrace. In Fog the gradual dissolving of the fog is obviously O’Neill’s device to bring the play to a conclusion––the rescue ship discovers the lifeboat when the fog has lifted––but the playwright has treated the weather condition as something more than a plot device.
Exterior and Interior Lighting
Both the exterior and the interior lighting receive great attention in Mourning Becomes Electra. The exterior sequence is carefully patterned. Part I opens shortly before sunset, progresses towards sunset and twilight to moonlit night and dawn. Part II is set on consecutive moonlit nights. Part III opens shortly after sunset, progresses towards black night to sunlit late afternoon. It will appear this flint no act is set in broad daylight, and that the Mansions move from initial sunlight through a nocturnal period back to sunlight. The two glimpses of light in the middle acts––the dawn of Part I.IV and the sunset glow of Part III.I––provide no light for the Mannons ; in the former act the closed shutters only permit a little to enter Ezra’s bedroom in, the latter Lavinia and Orin do not appear until it has grown dark.
Orin and the Light Sequence
The meaning of this light sequence is found in Orin’s clairvoyant words : “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.” If the middle acts may be said to represent the life-denying puritan mind and the deeds of darkness it gives rise to, the framing sunlight acts may be taken to visualize the sinless, pagan love of nature embraced by the Islanders. On the Islands, Brant recalls, the sun is “drowsing in your blood”, that is, man experiences God inside him in a kind of Dionysian rapture. A similar drunken, “drowsing” effect seems conveyed in the opening and closing acts by the soft, luminous sunlight “mist”, which is rejected by the Mannon windows but embraced by Christine in the first and by Lavinia in the last act.
Symbolism of Sunlight
“A house drunk with sun is precisely what we see at the beginning of Part 1.11, where the glow of the setting sun fills Ezra’s, study. Christine’s spirit still rules the house ; the, light is warm ; God still seems, benevolent. But the light changes : “As the action progresses this (the glow) becomes brighter, then turns to crimson, which darkens to sombreness at the end.” Although O’Neill does not indicate exactly when the light changes occur, the subject matter of the act provided relatively safe indications. Thus the tight become painfully bright, we may assume, as Lavinia plays the judge to her mother, virtually reducing Christine to a prisoner. It turns crimson as Christine, in revolt against this “imprisonment”, makes up her mind to kill Ezra and plots the murder with Brant. And it “darkens to sombreness” as she is left alone, an ageing woman with a deed of darkness on her mind. Thus ironically, we witness how Christine’s struggle for light only brings on the darkness.
Symbolism of Darkness
Beginning to fall_ as Christine unwittingly succumbs to the evil Mannon spirit, the darkness grows into night, the “fitting habitat” of the Mannons, as Ezra returns home. Yet Ezra’s life of “perpetual night” is soon to be replaced d by the light beyond, death ; he dies at daybreak.
Symbolic Meaning of Moonlight
In Part II, opening two days after Ezra’s death, the moonlight, which earlier seemed romantic and ‘‘beautiful” to Christie, so like the warm moonlight over the Islands, she now, finds chilly and haunting. These remarks prepare for the sharp light division in Part II. V:
The moon has just risen. The right half of the house is in the black shadow cast by the pine trees but the moonlight falls full on the part to the left of the doorway……
CHRISTINE is discovered walking back and forth on the drive before the portico, passing from moonlight into the shadow of the pines and back again. She is in frightful state of tension, unable to keep still.
Symbolism of Light and Darkness
On the left are the innocent life values : the flower garden, the lilac shrubbery. On the right are the guilty death values : thee Mannon portraits, the pine grove. The lighting underlies this stage symbolism. In the opening of: the trilogy we found Christine an ally of the light. Once her crime was conceived, she became associated with the darkness. Now, when the crime: has been executed, we find her torn between the two, no longer belonging in the innocent life realm on the left and fighting desperately against the guilty death, realm on the right. Haunted by the island moonlight and the avenging Mannon furies, she can find no peace––until she faces her guilt and thereby frees herself from it. She does it by killing herself before the portrait of her husband-victim, now her judge, in the moonlit study. Death being her atonement she is brought away from the avenging furies ; at least she belongs wholly to they light.
Death in Light
Adam, too, finds a death in light. Falling down by the Mannon pine table in the cabin of the “Flying Trades”, he dies directly below, the skylight letting in the moonlight.
Impenetrable Darkness
More deeply plunged in guilt than their parents, Lavinia and Orin are victims off a more impenetrable darkness. Lavinia says, “It’s black as pitch tonight. There isn’t a star.” And Orin says sombrely, “Darkness without a star to guide us! Where are we going, Vinnie ?” Ezra and Christine still had the moonlight; Orin’s_ and Lavinia’s night is a night without hope.
The Redemptive’ Light
Like is mother, Orin can see no way out of darkness but death. O’Neill was here faced with an intricate problem. How could he show that Orin’s death, which takes place at night, is as much a journey into light as are those of the other Mannons ? To change the lighting in, the, act was impossible. Thus, since it could not be suggested visually, it had to be done verbally. Awaiting Orin’s death Lavinia cries out ; “I love everything that grows simply––up toward the sun––everything that is straight and strong ! I hate what’s warped and twists and eats into itself and dies for a lifetime in shadow.... I can’t bear waiting––waiting and waiting and waiting––!” What Lavinia here expresses “hysterically” in words, Orin performs offstage in action. Her anguish is his ; he, even more than she, cannot “bear waiting” for the sun. Facing his victim––his mother––in death, his suicide is a, recognition of his guilt the Furies are appeased, and as his life ceases, the darkness, we may assume, gives way to the redemptive light.
The Final Sunlight
The final sunlight act parallels and contrasts with the initial one. Christine’s struggle for light and air was precarious but not hopeless––until she decided to get what she wanted through murder. After three ‘murders’ Lavinia’s parallel struggle in the final act is doomed from the outset. We see it in her costume, pitch-black like the Mannon night, and in her eyes which like the windows of the house, reject the sunlight, then close it altogether, leaving her soul in the same darkness which she shortly proclaims on the interior of the house by ordering the shutters closed “so no sunlight can ever get in”. Since it is late afternoon we know that the interior darkness will soon be matched by an exterior one. Lavinia; as Orin had ‘predicted, cannot escape the “fitting habitat for guilt ; the rest of her life will be a “perpetual night”.
Islands of Eight and Love
Yet it is significant that while the coming darkness is implied, it is not visibly suggested. For on the metaphysical level the trilogy ends in light as it began in light, visualizing man’s journey from birth to life and to rebirth, from belonging to isolation and then to renewed belonging. Beyond the strange dark interlude of life, separating us from the eternal, benevolent, divine light, Lavinia too will find, in recompense for her earthly suffering, her Islands of light and love. As Hazel tells her : “I know your conscience will make you do what’s right––and God will forgive you.”
The Interior Light
Orin not only explains the significance of the exterior darkness : he also makes the meaning of the interior light––he is sitting close to a table lamp in his father’s old study––emphatically clear : “I find artificial light more appropriate for my work ––man’s light not God’s––man’s feeble striving to understand himself, to exist for himself in the darkness l It’s a symbol, of his life––a lamp burning, out in a room, of waiting shadows I” A lamp––or a candle. Before’ Ezra is murdered he performs a significant illustrative act
           Mannon   :  We’d better light the light and talk a­while.
          Christine   :  (With dread) I don’t want ; to talk ! I prefer the dark.
           Mannon   :  I want to see you. (He takes matches, from the stand by the bed and lights the candle on it……His face, with the flickering candlelight on its side, has a grim, bitter expression). You like the dark where you can’t see your old man of a husband, is that it, ?
At the outset of the play, Christine was linked with the light ; while Ezra, when he first appeared, advertised his belonging to the darkness by stopping in the shade. New we find their traditional alliances reversed. Christine began to move towards the Mannon darkness of hatred and guilt the moment she decided to trap her lover by making him an accomplice in her murder. Ezra, on the other hand, sickened by his professional ‘murdering’ in the war, has moved from his ancestral death worship towards the light of love and life. There is a stark irony in this reversal of roles, in the fact that Christine, the amateur murderer, kills Ezra; the professional one, precisely when he reveals himself willing to surrender to her original life affirmation.
Blowing Out the Life Flame
Ezra has thus come home determined to understand and low Christine. But he needs her help to kindle the ashes of their love ; together they must “light the light” and make life liveable. Yet it is Ezra alone who lights the candle. The table lamp next to Christine remains unlit. Christine, as Ezra rightly assumes, does not want to understand him ; shortly––as the flickering candlelight: indicates––she is to blow out his life flame.
Symbolism of Lamp and Candles
Lamp and candles return in the third scene of Part II. Behind Ezra’s corpse, laid out in his study, there are two stands of three, lighted candles at each end of the black marble chimneypiece throwing their light above on the portrait and below on the dead man. The six white candles on the black marble chimneypiece, clearly correspond to the six white columns, of the portico in front of the stone-gray house proper and thus again fatefully remind us of the six human lives to be extinguished by the evil Mannon spirit. Properly, it may seem, there should be three unlit and three lit candles on the mantel, corresponding to the Mannons dead and those still alive. But such an arrangement would obviously have looked both obtrusive and strange. Moreover, it would have obscured the parallel to the outdoor columns. O’Neill was therefore satisfied to suggest the two kinds––the living and the dead––by grouping the candles in two trinities, an arrangement which, of course, also carries Christine connotations.
Another example of O’Neill’s meticulous arrangement and numbering his light sources is seen in the fourth act of Part II. In the ship’s cabin there is a lighted lamp on the sideboard and a ship’s lantern, also lighted, at the right end of the table. The position of the characters in the cabin makes it easy to link the lamp with Christine and the lantern with Brant, the ship’s captain.
Interior Lighting Versus The Manned Darkness
In Part III the interior lighting, like the exterior one, fights an unsuccessful battle with the Mannon darkness. In the sitting-room scene Peter has lighted two candles on the mantel and put the lantern on the table at front. In this dim, spotty light the room is full of shadows. In the flickering candlelight the eyes of the Mannon portraits stare with a grim forbiddingness.
Visual Symbolism
The visual symbolism here strongly anticipates Orin’s Maeterlinckian words about man’s life being “a lamp burning out in a room of waiting shadows”. The lantern, although it belongs to the barn, we connect with Brant, and if we take the. two candles to represent the other two victims of the family fate, whose deaths ; we have witnessed–Ezra and Christine––we have in these three light sources an addition, as it were, to the Mannon portrait gallery, a visual indication of how these recently dead ones nourish and give life to avenging family force.
Lavinia’s Quest For Enlightenment
If Orin is linked with the lamp in the study, Lavinia is connected with the one in the sitting-room. At curtain rise this lamp is lighted but turns low. Seth has informed us that ever since the house was first built; in hate, its evil spirit has kept growing. Now, in the final interior act we can see how the fateful Mannon darkness predominates. Orin has just made his incestuous proposal, but Lavinia wants to escape him and the Mannons and marry Peter. He is now Ezra, she is Christine and Peter recalls Brant. Entering the room in a terrific state of tension, Lavinia comes to the table and turns up the lamp. She wants enlightenment. “Show me the way to save him (Orin)”, she entreats the portraits. But her act is also ail echo of Christine’s desperate struggle for life and love, a struggle that ironically is to bring Lavinia, as it did’ her mother, only closer to the Mannon darkness; in the end we see her entering the darkened house.
Links With Light Source
All the Mannons, we have found, are at one point or another linked With a light source, symbolizing their struggle for love and belonging in the darkness of life ; all the lamps––in the bedroom, study, sitting-room and cabin––are significantly placed on the left side, which we have identified as the ‘pagan’ or life area. But just as the blessed island can be found only in death, so the true light­––God’s, not man’s––can be found only beyond life. Thus we witness how, with all the Mannons, the “artificial” earthly light gives way to the eternal heavenly one.

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