Desire Under the Elms

by

Eugene O’Neill

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Ephraim Cabot Character Analysis

The antagonist of the play, Ephraim Cabot (who goes by “Cabot”) is a 78-year-old man who owns a farm in New England in the 1850s and works there with his three sons, Simeon, Peter, and Eben. Cabot bought the farm when he was young, despite how unforgiving the land is: because it’s so rocky, it requires constant labor to make the land farmable. Though this backbreaking work initially made Cabot “despairful,” he’s a religious man who believes that God doesn’t like easy work, so he tenaciously continued to farm. Cabot’s ability to survive years of difficult labor on the farm has made him tough, hard, egotistical, and cruel. All three of his sons resent Cabot for how hard he makes them work on the farm, and how much he berates them by calling them weak, dumb, unmanly, and sinful for craving easier lives. Eben, in particular, despises Cabot for working Maw (Eben’s mother and Cabot’s second wife) to death on the farm some years ago. Cabot constantly threatens not to let his sons inherit the farm, because he thinks so little of them. At the start of the play, Cabot marries a much younger woman—his third wife, Abbie Putnam—but he’s blind to the fact that she finds him repulsive and is only interested in inheriting the farm. Cabot’s pride prevents him from seeing Abbie’s true intentions, and she manipulates him easily throughout the play and even has a relationship with Eben behind Cabot’s back. Despite his marriages and children, Cabot has been lonely for his whole life, as his belief that God only rewards people who suffer hard lives drives everybody away from him. Even the townsfolk despise him for his mean-spirited attitude. At the end of the play, Cabot convinces himself that it’s God’s will that he should stay on the farm, remain lonely, and work himself to death.

Ephraim Cabot Quotes in Desire Under the Elms

The Desire Under the Elms quotes below are all either spoken by Ephraim Cabot or refer to Ephraim Cabot. 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

Two enormous elms are on each side of the house. They bend their trailing branches down over the roof. They appear to protect and at the same time subdue. There is a sinister maternity in their aspect, a crushing, jealous absorption. […] They brood oppressively over the house. They are like exhausted women resting their sagging breasts and hands and hair on its roof, and when it rains their tears trickle down monotonously and rot on the shingles.

Related Characters: Maw , Eben, Ephraim Cabot
Related Symbols: Elm Trees
Page Number: 3
Explanation and Analysis:

Here—it’s stones atop o’ the ground—stones atop o’ stones—makin’ stone walls—year atop o’ year—him ’n’ yew ’n’ me ’n’ then Eben—makin’ stone walls fur him to fence us in!

Related Characters: Peter (speaker), Simeon, Eben, Ephraim Cabot
Related Symbols: Stones
Page Number: 4
Explanation and Analysis:

‘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:

Livin’ free! Whoop!

Related Characters: Simeon (speaker), Peter, Ephraim Cabot
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

Ye're all hoofs! Git out o’ my road! Give me room! I’ll show ye dancin’. Ye’re all too soft!

Related Characters: Ephraim Cabot (speaker), Fiddler
Page Number: 47
Explanation and Analysis:

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:
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:
Get the entire Desire Under the Elms LitChart as a printable PDF.
Desire Under the Elms PDF

Ephraim Cabot Character Timeline in Desire Under the Elms

The timeline below shows where the character Ephraim Cabot appears in Desire Under the Elms. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Part 1: Scene 1
Desire, Revenge, and Tragedy Theme Icon
Farming, Labor, and Poverty Theme Icon
Gender Theme Icon
...years and work they’ve put into the farm. They think bitterly about their father, Ephraim Cabot, (known to all as “Cabot”) who owns the farm. He left for California two months... (full context)
Part 1: Scene 2
Desire, Revenge, and Tragedy Theme Icon
Farming, Labor, and Poverty Theme Icon
Gender Theme Icon
...and the word “California.” As Eben serves boiled potatoes, Simeon scolds him for wishing that Cabot was dead. Eben angrily retorts that Cabot isn’t his father—he’s his Maw’s (mother’s) child through... (full context)
Farming, Labor, and Poverty Theme Icon
Gender Theme Icon
Religion, Faith, and Suffering Theme Icon
Eben thinks that Simeon and Peter should have stopped Cabot from working Maw to death. Simeon and Peter think about Maw’s chores—like plowing, building walls,... (full context)
Desire, Revenge, and Tragedy Theme Icon
Gender Theme Icon
Eben angrily scolds Simeon and Peter for being scared of Cabot, and he gets up to visit a woman named Minnie. Peter and Simeon joke that... (full context)
Part 1: Scene 3
Desire, Revenge, and Tragedy Theme Icon
Just before dawn, Eben returns, cursing loudly that Cabot’s the devil. He just found out that Cabot got married to a woman (Abbie) who’s... (full context)
Desire, Revenge, and Tragedy Theme Icon
Gender Theme Icon
Eben heard the news about Cabot’s marriage as soon as he got to the village, and we was so riled up... (full context)
Part 1: Scene 4
Desire, Revenge, and Tragedy Theme Icon
Farming, Labor, and Poverty Theme Icon
...the kitchen at dawn. Eben hasn’t touched his food—he feels it in his gut that Cabot is getting close. When Eben shares this, Simeon and Peter automatically get up to start... (full context)
Desire, Revenge, and Tragedy Theme Icon
Farming, Labor, and Poverty Theme Icon
...used to Eben tending 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... (full context)
Farming, Labor, and Poverty Theme Icon
Gender Theme Icon
...Christmas. Awkwardly, they all say goodbye. Peter and Simeon decide to wait and see what Cabot’s new wife looks like. They grin, feeling free. They gleefully imagine the farm’s stone walls... (full context)
Desire, Revenge, and Tragedy Theme Icon
Farming, Labor, and Poverty Theme Icon
Gender Theme Icon
Religion, Faith, and Suffering Theme Icon
Cabot wonders why Simeon and Peter are just standing there instead of working, and he introduces... (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 their bedroom. She grimaces involuntarily. Abbie enters the kitchen and sees Eben. Noticing... (full context)
Part 2: Scene 1
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... (full context)
Desire, Revenge, and Tragedy Theme Icon
Gender Theme Icon
...moment of vengeful bitterness, Abbie says that Eben tried to seduce her. With sudden rage, Cabot vows to shoot Eben. Frightened, Abbie says that she was just angry about not inheriting... (full context)
Part 2: Scene 2
Farming, Labor, and Poverty Theme Icon
Religion, Faith, and Suffering Theme Icon
...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 the wall,... (full context)
Farming, Labor, and Poverty Theme Icon
Religion, Faith, and Suffering Theme Icon
Cabot explains that he’s always been lonely. He married his first wife and had Simeon and... (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... (full context)
Part 2: Scene 3
Gender Theme Icon
...not sure about this, considering Abbie wants the farm for herself. Lamenting about how poorly Cabot treated Maw, Eben starts sobbing. Abbie wraps her arms around him, saying she’ll be everything... (full context)
Desire, Revenge, and Tragedy Theme Icon
Gender Theme Icon
...to do. Abbie thinks that their romance can be the vengeance that Maw wanted against Cabot. Eben’s face lights up at the thought of Maw finally resting in her grave. The... (full context)
Part 2: Scene 4
Gender Theme Icon
...her. Eben confesses that he does, though he’d better get to the barn so that Cabot doesn’t get suspicious. Abbie laughs dismissively, knowing she can easily fool Cabot. Abbie’s excited to... (full context)
Part 3: Scene 1
Desire, Revenge, and Tragedy Theme Icon
Farming, Labor, and Poverty Theme Icon
...in a cradle in the other 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... (full context)
Religion, Faith, and Suffering Theme Icon
Cabot scolds the fiddler to start playing, and a group starts square dancing. Suddenly, Cabot interrupts... (full context)
Gender Theme Icon
Upstairs, Abbie and Eben kiss, before looking lovingly at the baby. It bothers Eben that Cabot’s taking the baby away from him, like everything that’s Eben’s. Abbie soothes Eben, telling him... (full context)
Part 3: Scene 2
Desire, Revenge, and Tragedy Theme Icon
...an hour later, Eben is outside, staring up into the sky with a pained expression. Cabot walks up, looking sleepy. With a mocking expression, Cabot asks Eben why he isn’t inside... (full context)
Desire, Revenge, and Tragedy Theme Icon
Cabot angrily jumps in Eben’s way and an ugly fight ensues, until Cabot pins Eben to... (full context)
Part 3: Scene 3
Desire, Revenge, and Tragedy Theme Icon
...him. Eben’s astonished, but he recovers quickly, saying they have to make it look like Cabot killed himself. Abbie laughs wildly, saying that she didn’t kill Cabot—though perhaps that would have... (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... (full context)
Religion, Faith, and Suffering Theme Icon
Cabot stares at the pair, deciding they both ought to be hung for their sinful lust.... (full context)
Desire, Revenge, and Tragedy Theme Icon
...turns himself in as well, as Abbie brokenly screams that it was her doing alone. Cabot tells the Sheriff to take them both. Eben and Abbie turn to each other and... (full context)