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The Libation Bearers

  • Study Guide
Characters

Electra

Characters Electra

Electra seems to act more as a foil for Clytamnestra than as an independent character. As with Clytamnestra, how we analyze her role in the play is dependent upon our point of view. From the chorus's standpoint, Electra is a commendable girl who knows her place in society and who supports rather than threatens the proper male order. In doing so, she highlights her mother's socially dangerous tendencies, and shows us how far Clytamnestra has strayed from her proper position in society. Electra also differs from her mother in her emotional attachment to her brother, whom she cared for tenderly as a child and to whom she now confers all of her love. Clytamnestra is too fierce to be able to display such tenderness.

From a modern reader's standpoint, however, Electra is a weak character, one who is all talk and no action. She is unable to independently construct a prayer to her father's tomb and to the gods, and must as the chorus for assistance. She is slow to recognize the signs that so obviously indicate that Orestes has returned. While she wholeheartedly joins Orestes in praying to Agamemnon's spirit to help them punish his murderers, her only contribution towards this goal is her silence. The lesson we learn from her is that a good woman is a silent woman who stays out of sight whenever possible.

Electra is also weak in that she is so quick to unleash passionate hatred upon her own mother. While Orestes sees the necessity for punishing Clytamnestra for her crimes, he does not viscerally hate her in the same way that Electra does. At one point in the kommos, Electra becomes furiously out of control, calling on Zeus to "crush their skulls! Kill! kill!" Orestes never loses control in this manner, nor does Clytamnestra for that matter. Electra is the ideal Greek woman, and also a person to whom we would never entrust the power of judging someone else's fate. She is far too weak, ruled as she is by her emotions rather than her logic. Perhaps her anger ultimately stems from her realization that she will never achieve the same kind of bond with Orestes that her mother has, for she is not their equal. Perhaps this is also the reason behind her fierce defense of Agamemnon against her mother's crimes: she feels an affinity towards her dead father, who also could not match up to Clytamnestra.