Wow. House of Names is my favorite rendition of Oresteia out of all the ones we have read. Colm Tóibín does a beautiful job humanizing Clytemnestra, Orestes, and Electra. Tóibín does something interesting with each character’s point of view: both Clytemnestra and Electra’s chapters are written in first person, whereas Orestes chapters are written in third person limited POV. I felt more connected to Clytemnestra and Electra. In the original myth, we knew little about them. I believed Tóibín chose to write the Orestes chapters in third person POV because we already know a lot about his thoughts because he was the focus of the Oresteia. Yes, we are given information about his whereabouts during the Trojan War, but that is the story Tóibín has chosen to tell. How Tóibín wrote this novel was compelling. But the most compelling part was towards the end.
After Orestes kills Clytemnestra (235), her ghost haunts the corridors of the house. It almost felt like déjà vu when I read this. A few years ago, I read Beloved by Toni Morrison, a story set in the middle 1800s about a slave woman who set herself free and running away to Ohio but she cannot rid of the memories of the plantation. WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD. Sethe had killed her baby Beloved in hopes to stop the cycle of oppression and slavery. Just as Orestes killed Clytemnestra, he did it end put an end of injustice. Sethe commits infanticide to protect future generations, until her baby haunts her 18 years later; Orestes commits matricide to end the murder cycle, until Clytemnestra is manifested in Electra. In the end of House of Names, Electra was more in control of herself and of her land. “She had become brisk, almost sharp. Since she spent her day issuing instructions, consulting Leander and the elders, exercising control, her movements were now decisive and direct and her voice deeper, her tone more exact and precise” (256).
Does the cycle ever end? In Beloved, slavery becomes Jim Crow, red-lining, suppression of voting rights, the school to prison pipeline, the modern-day incarceration system, and so much more. Orestes and Sethe both had their own ways to stop problems from reoccurring. Looking at our present-day problems, how can we stop systemic oppression, or slow down the spread of Covid-19. How can we put an end to modern injustices?