Eumenides vs. The Haunted
Length: 1389 words (4 double-spaced pages)
Throughout time there has been a universal question that does not yet yield a universal answer: whether or not it is right to avenge the murder of another by killing the killers. In both “The Haunted,” the third play from Eugene O’ Neill’s trilogy
“Morning Becomes Electra,” and “Eumenides,” the third play from Aeschylus’ trilogy “The Oresteia,” the respective sons are directly or indirectly responsible for the deaths of their mothers after their mothers intentionally murder their fathers. In “Eumenides,” the third play of The Oresteia Trilogy,” Orestes kills his mother Clytemnestra in cold blood and feels no remorse for his action. In “The Haunted,” the third play in “Morning Becomes Electra,” Orin expresses incredible guilt for the death of his mother, Christine even though he does not physically kill her himself. It is clear that Orestes believes that it is right to avenge the killing of another through the death of the killer and that Orin regrets his actions and does not believe vigilance is justified.
In Aeschylus’ “Eumenides,” Orestes believes that his murdering of his mother is well justified by the fact that she murdered his father. Orestes is completely guilt-free after the murder and feels like he did the right thing. Orestes did not have a close relationship with his mother, and resented her for sending him away. Orestes feels that it is his responsibility to avenge his father’s death. Though Orestes is put on trial for the murder of his mother, he continues to proclaim that the murder of his mother was justified, claiming he was encouraged by the god Apollo to murder his father. Cassandra, who had been cursed by Apollo to be a seer who would never be believed, envisions the death of Agamemnon and herself. It is in this vision that she sees an avenger who will come about and bring justice to the murdered victims: “ We will die, but not without some honor from the gods. There will come another to avenge us, born to kill his mother, born his father’s champion. The gods have sworn a monumental oath: as his father lies upon the ground he draws him home with power like a prayer.” This vision proves to be very important when speaking about the innocence of Orestes and his heroism as well. Before the incident even takes place, we know that the gods have destined Orestes to avenge his father’s death.
Apollo actually commanded Orestes to avenge the death of his father. This can be seen when Apollo bluntly admits, “ I commanded him to take vengeance for his father”. Orestes’ case was also helped when Apollo came forward and became his witness, and took part of the blame as well. “I come as a witness. This man, according to custom, this suppliant sought out my house and hearth. I am the one who purged his bloody hands. His champion too, I share responsibility for his mother’s execution. Bring on the trial. You know the rules, now turn them into justice.”. When testifying at his trial, Orestes maintains that his actions were justified. When asked by the chorus if he killed his mother, he retorts, “I killed her. That is true, and not denied….Yes, with a drawn sword leveled at the throat”. Orestes admits to the actual act of killing his mother, but does not think that it was wrong because he feels he was simply avenging his father. As he tells the chorus, “I have not repented to this day….My father shall defend me from the grave”. Orestes even suggests that his mother actually murdered two different people, both her husband and his father: “She was polluted by a double crime. She killed her husband and she killed my father”. Convinced, the chorus acquits Orestes of the murder of his mother. In O’Neill’s “The Haunted,” Orin feels tremendous guilt and responsibility for the death of his mother. He does not believe that his mother’s death was justified because she murdered his father. Orin was extremely close to his mother, and she meant everything to him. After he came back from the war, he declared, “I love you better than anything in the world.” However, once Orin discovered that Christine was, in fact, having an affair with Captain Brant and became suspicious that his mother was guilty of killing his father, he was overcome with jealousy and goes on a mission with his sister to murder Brant. After Orin boasts of his murderous action to his mother, she is so crushed that she shoots herself. At the same time Orin realizes that by killing Brant, Christine’s true love, he is in fact killing Christine, and the belief that he is responsible for his mother’s suicide haunts him for the rest of his life. Though Lavinia takes Orin on a trip to the islands in an effort to force him to forget what happened, the guilt is too overpowering for Orin to forget. After returning home to a house without his mother, Orin explains, “I’ve just been in the study. I was sure she’d be waiting for me in there, where- But she wasn’t! She isn’t anywhere. It’s only they- They’re everywhere! But she’s gone forever. She’ll never forgive me now”. The only way that Orin feels he can repent is by confessing to the murder, but Lavinia is selfish and won't hear of it. Orin begs, “Were you hoping you could escape retribution? You can’t! Confess and atone to the full extent of the law! That’s the only way to wash our guilt of our mother’s blood from our souls!” . Orin doesn’t understand why Lavinia too is not overcome by the guilt of what they have driven their mother to. After a while Orin determines that his only connection to his sister is the guilt that they share. He declares, “You don’t seem to feel all you mean to me now-all you have made yourself to mean-since we murdered Mother! I love you with all the guilt in me-the guilt we share! Perhaps I love you too much, Vinnie!…For the love of God, let’s go now and confess and pay the penalty for Mother’s murder and find peace together! Orin determines that he cannot love Hazel because his guilt will taint her innocence and purity. Orin believes that he is not worthy of love and is only deserving of spending the rest of his life suffering with his own guilt. He tells Hazel, “You mustn’t love me anymore. The only love I can know now is the love of guilt for guilt which breeds more guilt until you get so deep at the bottom of hell there is no lower you can sink and you rest there in peace”.
Orin’s guilt haunts him and controls his life. He finally concludes that the only way he can avenge his mother’s death is by committing suicide. He is encouraged by the prospect of seeing his mother again and being able to apologize personally to her and wish her happiness. After Lavinia loses her control and tells Orin he’d kill himself if he wasn’t such a coward, Orin retorts “Another act of justice, eh? An eye for an eye, is that is? Yes! That would be justice- now you are Mother! She is speaking now through you! Yes! It’s the way to peace- to find her again- my lost island- Death is an island of peace, too-Mother will be waiting for me there…I’ll get down on my knees and ask for forgiveness- and say- I’m glad you found love, Mother! I wish you happiness- you and Adam!”. It is clear that Orin feels responsible for his mother’s death and does not feel it is justified by the fact that she murdered his father.
It is clear that Orin and Orestes had extremely different views on whether it was acceptable to avenge the death of their murdered father by “killing” their mother. Orin’s incredible guilt and Orestes lack of any remorse show how very different their reactions to their involvement in the deaths of their mothers are. It is evident that death can easily be avenged by the death of the killers, yet once the initial anger subsides, it can occasionally be replaced by regret and guilt which sow their seeds and slowly take over the life of the murderer.