Desire Under The Elms: Play - Summary & Analysis

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      The play opens in 1850, on the farm of Ephraim Cabot - a hard-working, god-fearing patriarch. His two wives have died, and in the first act he has just left to bring home a third wife. His three sons late hate him and plot against him and Eben, the only son of the second wife, steals the father’s money to buy the inheritance of his older brothers, who then run away to join the California gold rush Just as Ephraim and his bride, Abbie, return. The second act describes the increasing hatred of Abbie for her old husband, and her gradual seduction of the young Eben. The act ends with ‘incest’ of ‘mother’ and son. The third act begins a year later with a raucous party celebrating the birth of a new son. But young Eben learns that Abbie has seduced him to father a new heir who will ensure her own inheritance of the farm. He denounces fire, and she smothers their infant to prove that her love for Eben was not false but real, fn her belief he informs the sheriff But in the final scene, he is convinced of her love, and he accepts his share of blame for the crime. The young lovers are led to their punishment, and old Ephraim is left alone on his farm. In the end, the two lovers stand united - even exalted by the recognition of true love.

Critical Analysis

      The hero real of the play is not young Eben but old Ephraim. It is he who dominates the action of the play and is one of the greatest of O’Neill’s dramatic creations. He is an instrument of evil, and of the destruction of others. He is the highest embodiment of the heroism of modem man. There is no remnant of religious principles or classical ideals to withstand the drive toward power, status, and wealth.

      Written during the Depression, O’Neill describes the American people cringing in the face of insecurity.

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