Desire Under the Elms

by

Eugene O’Neill

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Abbie Putnam Character Analysis

A beautiful, sensual, and shrewd woman in her mid-30s, Abbie Putnam is Ephraim Cabot’s third wife and Eben’s love interest. Abbie was orphaned at a young age and had a hard life, so she wants to inherit Cabot’s farmhouse to secure her future. Despite the fact that the play’s male characters don’t think much of women, Abbie easily outwits them all for her own purposes. She convinces Cabot to leave the farm to her if she has a son, and then sets about having a child with Cabot’s son Eben (who’s much younger, more handsome, and more likely to bear children). Abbie successfully seduces Eben one night by promising to be like a mother and like a partner to him, two things that Eben has craved since losing his own mother, Maw, as a teenager. Despite her scheming, Abbie genuinely falls in love with Eben, and she’s desperate to keep him in her life. Like Even, Abbie is also very impulsive, and her emotionally charged decisions often work against her. Early in the play, for instance, she’s overcome by rage when Eben rebuffs her initial advances, and she tells Cabot that Eben tried to seduce her. This later prompts Eben to doubt her loyalties. Abbie also impulsively kills her own newborn baby after convincing herself that if her son is dead, she will be ineligible to inherit the farm, and Eben will know that she really loves him. The baby’s death leads both Eben and Abbie to spiral into impulsiveness, guilt, and rage, underscoring the play’s key idea that unchecked desire can lead to impulsive—and ultimately tragic—behaviors. At the end of the play, the pair affirms their love for each other as leave the farm in handcuffs, presumably to be hanged

Abbie Putnam Quotes in Desire Under the Elms

The Desire Under the Elms quotes below are all either spoken by Abbie Putnam or refer to Abbie Putnam. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Desire, Revenge, and Tragedy Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Vintage edition of Desire Under the Elms published in 1995.
Part 1: Scene 1 Quotes

‘T would be hard fur me, too, to give up what we’ve ‘arned here by our sweat.

Related Characters: Peter (speaker), Simeon, Eben, Ephraim Cabot, Maw , Abbie Putnam
Page Number: 4
Explanation and Analysis:
Part 1: Scene 3 Quotes

Waal—when I seen her, I didn’t hit her—nor I didn’t kiss her nuther—I begun t’ beller like a calf an’ cuss at the same time, I was so durn mad—an’ she got scared—an’ I jest grabbed holt an’ tuk her! (Proudly) Yes, siree! I tuk her. She may’ve been his ’n—an’ your ’n, too—but she’s mine now! […] What do I care fur her—‘ceptin she’s round an’ wa’m?

Related Characters: Eben (speaker), Minnie, Peter, Simeon, Ephraim Cabot, Abbie Putnam
Page Number: 13
Explanation and Analysis:

Mebbe it’s all a lie ‘bout Paw marryin’. We’d best wait an’ see the bride.

Related Characters: Simeon (speaker), Peter, Ephraim Cabot, Abbie Putnam, Eben
Page Number: 14
Explanation and Analysis:
Part 1: Scene 4 Quotes

Lust fur gold—fur the sinful, easy gold o’ California! It’s made ye mad!

Related Characters: Ephraim Cabot (speaker), Simeon, Peter, Abbie Putnam
Page Number: 21
Explanation and Analysis:

She cannot control a grimace of aversion and pulls back her head slowly and shuts the window.

Related Characters: Abbie Putnam, Ephraim Cabot
Page Number: 22
Explanation and Analysis:
Part 2: Scene 1 Quotes

(enraged beyond endurance—wildly vindictive) An’ his lust fur me! Kin ye find excuses fur that?

Related Characters: Abbie Putnam (speaker), Eben, Ephraim Cabot, Minnie
Page Number: 30
Explanation and Analysis:

(frightened now for Eben) No! Don’t ye!

Related Characters: Abbie Putnam (speaker), Eben, Ephraim Cabot
Page Number: 31
Explanation and Analysis:

He bows his head, mumbling. She pretends to do likewise but gives him a side glance of scorn and triumph.

Page Number: 32
Explanation and Analysis:
Part 2: Scene 2 Quotes

I got weak—despairful—they was so many stones. They was a party leavin’, givin’ up, goin’ West. I jined ‘em. We tracked on ‘n’ on. We come t’ broad medders, plains, whar the soil was black an’ rich as gold. Nary a stone. Easy. Ye’d on’y to plow an’ sow an’ then set an’ smoke yer pipe an’ watch thin’s grow. I could o’ been a rich man—but somethin’ in me fit me an’ fit me—the voice o’ God sayin’: “This hain’t wuth nothin’ t’ Me. Git ye back t’ hum!” I got afeerd o’ that voice an’ I lit out back t’ hum here, leavin’ my claim an’ crops t’ whoever’d a mind t’ take ‘em. Ay-eh. I actooly give up what was rightful mine! God’s hard, not easy!

Related Characters: Ephraim Cabot (speaker), Abbie Putnam
Related Symbols: Stones
Page Number: 30
Explanation and Analysis:

I lived with the boys. They hated me ‘cause I was hard. I hated them ‘cause they was soft. They coveted the farm without knowin’ what it meant. It made me bitter ‘n wormwood. It aged me—them coveting what I’d made fur mine. Then this spring the call come—the voice o’ God cryin’ in my wilderness, in my lonesomeness—t’ go out an’ seek an’ find! […] I sought ye an’ I found ye! Yew air my Rose o’ Sharon!

Related Characters: Ephraim Cabot (speaker), Abbie Putnam, Simeon, Peter, Eben
Page Number: 35
Explanation and Analysis:

It’s cold in this house. It’s uneasy. They’s thin’s pokin’ about in the dark—in the corners.

Related Characters: Ephraim Cabot (speaker), Abbie Putnam, Maw
Page Number: 35
Explanation and Analysis:

But her eyes are fixed on his so burningly that his will seems to wither before hers. He stands swaying toward her helplessly.

Related Characters: Abbie Putnam, Eben, Ephraim Cabot, Minnie
Page Number: 37
Explanation and Analysis:
Part 2: Scene 3 Quotes

(In spite of her overwhelming desire for him, there is a sincere maternal love in her manner and voice—a horribly frank mix of lust and mother love). Don’t cry Eben! I'll take yer Maw’s place! I'll be everythin’ she was t’ ye! Let me kiss ye, Eben! […] Can’t ye see it hain’t enuf—lovin’ ye like a Maw—can’t ye see it’s got t’ be that an’ more—much more—a hundred times more—fur me t’ be happy—fur yew t’ be happy?

Related Characters: Abbie Putnam (speaker), Eben, Maw , Ephraim Cabot
Page Number: 39
Explanation and Analysis:
Part 3: Scene 1 Quotes

Let's celebrate the old skunk gittin’ fooled! We kin have some fun now he’s went.

Page Number: 49
Explanation and Analysis:
Part 3: Scene 2 Quotes

They grapple in what becomes immediately a murderous struggle. The old man's concentrated strength is too much for Eben. Cabot gets one hand on his throat and presses him back across the stone wall. At the same moment, Abby comes out on the porch. With a stifled cry she runs toward them.

Page Number: 51
Explanation and Analysis:

I wish he never was born! I wish he’d die this minit! I wish I’d never set eyes on him! It’s him—yew havin’ him-a-purpose t’ steal—that’s changed everythin’!

Related Characters: Eben (speaker), Abbie Putnam, The Baby (Abbie and Eben’s Son)
Page Number: 53
Explanation and Analysis:

If I could make it—‘s if he’d never come up between us—if I could prove t’ ye I wa’n’t schemin’ t’ steal from ye—so’s everythin’ could be jest the same with us, lovin’ each other jest the same, kissin’ an’ happy the same’s we’ve been happy afore he come—if I could do it—ye’d love me agen, wouldn’t ye? Ye’d kiss me agen? Ye wouldn’t never leave me, would ye?

Related Characters: Abbie Putnam (speaker), Eben, The Baby (Abbie and Eben’s Son)
Page Number: 54
Explanation and Analysis:
Part 3: Scene 3 Quotes

But I’ll take vengeance now! I’ll git the Sheriff! I’ll tell him everythin’!

Page Number: 57
Explanation and Analysis:

I kin hear His voice warnin’ me agen t’ be hard an’ stay on my farm. […] It’s agoin’ t’ be lonesomer now than ever it war afore-an’ I’m gittin’ old […] Waal—what d’ ye want? God’s lonesome, hain’t He? God’s hard an’ lonesome!

Page Number: 63
Explanation and Analysis:

It’s a jim-dandy farm, no denyin’. Wished I owned it!

Related Characters: Sheriff (speaker), Eben, Abbie Putnam, The Baby (Abbie and Eben’s Son)
Page Number: 64
Explanation and Analysis:
Get the entire Desire Under the Elms LitChart as a printable PDF.
Desire Under the Elms PDF

Abbie Putnam Character Timeline in Desire Under the Elms

The timeline below shows where the character Abbie Putnam appears in Desire Under the Elms. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Part 1: Scene 3
Desire, Revenge, and Tragedy Theme Icon
...that Cabot’s the devil. He just found out that Cabot got married to a woman (Abbie) who’s younger than they are. Simeon and Peter can’t believe it. Dejected, Peter realizes that... (full context)
Desire, Revenge, and Tragedy Theme Icon
Gender Theme Icon
...Peter and Simeon decide to wait and see if Cabot shows up with some woman (Abbie) who’ll be their new mother. They decide that they’re not going to work until then—they’ll... (full context)
Part 1: Scene 4
Desire, Revenge, and Tragedy Theme Icon
Farming, Labor, and Poverty Theme Icon
...to them. As the brothers turn to the barn, they see Cabot and his bride, Abbie Putnam, in the distance, riding towards them. Eben runs towards Simeon and Peter, breathlessly asking... (full context)
Farming, Labor, and Poverty Theme Icon
Gender Theme Icon
...a hard face. He’s extremely short sighted and his eyes always look like they’re straining. Abbie is a vivacious, curvy, 35-year-old sensual beauty. She looks strong, yet untamed, much like Eben.... (full context)
Desire, Revenge, and Tragedy Theme Icon
Farming, Labor, and Poverty Theme Icon
Gender Theme Icon
Religion, Faith, and Suffering Theme Icon
...wonders why Simeon and Peter are just standing there instead of working, and he introduces Abbie to them as their new mother. Abbie goes inside, cooing about her house. Simeon and... (full context)
Gender Theme Icon
Religion, Faith, and Suffering Theme Icon
Abbie leans out of a window, gushing about how pretty her bedroom is. Cabot says it’s... (full context)
Part 2: Scene 1
Desire, Revenge, and Tragedy Theme Icon
Gender Theme Icon
Two months later, Abbie sits on the porch. Eben furtively leans out of a window. Eagerly, Abbie waits for... (full context)
Desire, Revenge, and Tragedy Theme Icon
Gender Theme Icon
Cabot emerges from the barn, wondering what all the fuss is about. Abbie dismissively snaps at Cabot. Cabot looks up at the sky and talks wistfully about getting... (full context)
Desire, Revenge, and Tragedy Theme Icon
Gender Theme Icon
In a moment of vengeful bitterness, Abbie says that Eben tried to seduce her. With sudden rage, Cabot vows to shoot Eben.... (full context)
Part 2: Scene 2
Farming, Labor, and Poverty Theme Icon
Religion, Faith, and Suffering Theme Icon
...is in his bedroom, looking at the wall. On the other side of the wall, Abbie and Cabot are sitting in bed. Cabot clutches Abbie’s knee, but she just looks at... (full context)
Farming, Labor, and Poverty Theme Icon
Religion, Faith, and Suffering Theme Icon
...harder than all his sons combined, and he believes his children are “soft.” Noticing that Abbie isn’t really listening to him, Cabot angrily tells her to pay attention. Resentfully drawing her... (full context)
Desire, Revenge, and Tragedy Theme Icon
Gender Theme Icon
Suddenly, Cabot feels uncomfortable. Abbie’s intuition gives him the chills. He heads out to sleep in the barn, where he... (full context)
Desire, Revenge, and Tragedy Theme Icon
Gender Theme Icon
Eben says he was thinking about Minnie. With a tortured expression, Abbie calls Eben a dog. Eben is adamant he won’t be fooled by Abbie’s manipulation. Abbie... (full context)
Part 2: Scene 3
Gender Theme Icon
...few minutes later, looking obsessive but confused. The parlor is a tomblike space that frightens Abbie, though the ominous feeling subsides into a softer, warmer energy. Eben’s convinced that the strange... (full context)
Desire, Revenge, and Tragedy Theme Icon
Gender Theme Icon
Suddenly, Eben pushes Abbie away in a sudden fit of terror. He doesn’t know what Maw wants him to... (full context)
Part 2: Scene 4
Gender Theme Icon
Eben wakes at dawn with a broad grin on his face. Abbie kisses him passionately, and she anxiously wonders if Eben really loves her. Eben confesses that... (full context)
Part 3: Scene 1
Desire, Revenge, and Tragedy Theme Icon
Farming, Labor, and Poverty Theme Icon
...bedroom. Downstairs, there is a festive party going on. Cabot is drunk and boisterous, but Abbie sits in a chair, looking strained. She keeps asking where Eben is, as the crowd... (full context)
Religion, Faith, and Suffering Theme Icon
...Upstairs, Eben walks to the cradle and looks at the baby. At the same time, Abbie gets up to check on the baby. Cabot affectionately pats Abbie on the back and... (full context)
Gender Theme Icon
Upstairs, Abbie and Eben kiss, before looking lovingly at the baby. It bothers Eben that Cabot’s taking... (full context)
Part 3: Scene 2
Desire, Revenge, and Tragedy Theme Icon
...when it’s actually Cabot’s. He cruelly jokes that Eben will never get the farm from Abbie’s clutches. Cabot explains that Abbie had a plan to have a son so that she... (full context)
Desire, Revenge, and Tragedy Theme Icon
...and an ugly fight ensues, until Cabot pins Eben to the wall by his throat. Abbie emerges and runs towards them in a panic, begging Cabot to let go of Eben’s... (full context)
Desire, Revenge, and Tragedy Theme Icon
...isn’t listening. He’s angrily planning to leave for California in the morning, as he curses Abbie and the baby. He wishes that the baby—who’s now to inherit the farm—would die this... (full context)
Part 3: Scene 3
Desire, Revenge, and Tragedy Theme Icon
It’s just before dawn, and Abbie bends over the baby’s cradle in the dim light, with a look of terror and... (full context)
Desire, Revenge, and Tragedy Theme Icon
Eben falls to his knees, trembling, as Abbie explains that she suffocated the baby with a pillow. She did it to prove that... (full context)
Part 3: Scene 4
Desire, Revenge, and Tragedy Theme Icon
Religion, Faith, and Suffering Theme Icon
An hour later, Cabot wakes up and heads to the kitchen. Abbie sits there, looking blank. She blurts out that the baby’s dead—she smothered him with a... (full context)
Desire, Revenge, and Tragedy Theme Icon
Eben runs in, crazed with guilt, begging Abbie to forgive him for telling the Sheriff. Abbie clings to Eben, joyfully saying that she... (full context)
Desire, Revenge, and Tragedy Theme Icon
The Sheriff bursts in to arrest Abbie. Eben turns himself in as well, as Abbie brokenly screams that it was her doing... (full context)