Desire Under the Elms

by

Eugene O’Neill

Teachers and parents! Struggling with distance learning? Our Teacher Edition on Desire Under the Elms can help.
Maw was Ephraim Cabot’s second wife and Eben’s mother. She died some years before the play begins, though her presence is still felt on the farm, as an oppressive, almost suffocating maternal energy, symbolized by the Elm trees that keep the farmhouse in constant shadow. When she was alive, Maw’s parents tried to steal the farm from Cabot, which makes Eben falsely believe that the farm was originally Maw’s. Maw died before her time, after a hard life of grueling farm labor, and Eben blames Cabot for her death. Eben’s consumed with the idea of avenging Maw for the wrongs that he believes Cabot forced her to endure in her lifetime, which underscores the deep and enduring power that Maw has over her son.

Maw Quotes in Desire Under the Elms

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

‘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 2 Quotes

They was chores t’ do, wa’n’t they?

Related Characters: Eben (speaker), Maw , Peter, Simeon
Page Number: 8
Explanation and Analysis:
Part 2: Scene 2 Quotes

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

Maw Character Timeline in Desire Under the Elms

The timeline below shows where the character Maw appears in Desire Under the Elms. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Part 1: Scene 2
Desire, Revenge, and Tragedy Theme Icon
Farming, Labor, and Poverty Theme Icon
Gender Theme Icon
...for wishing that Cabot was dead. Eben angrily retorts that Cabot isn’t his father—he’s his Maw’s (mother’s) child through and through. Peter thinks that Maw was a good stepmother. Eben’s bitter... (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, weeding, and milking—and... (full context)
Part 1: Scene 3
Desire, Revenge, and Tragedy Theme Icon
...so that they can afford a boat to California, instead of walking across the country. Maw hid the money for Eben before she died. Peter and Simeon aren’t sure if they... (full context)
Desire, Revenge, and Tragedy Theme Icon
Gender Theme Icon
...storms out, angrily saying he’d rather kiss a snake than bring Minnie to take over Maw’s farm. Wondering if Eben is lying and scheming to take over the farm, Peter and... (full context)
Part 2: Scene 1
Desire, Revenge, and Tragedy Theme Icon
Gender Theme Icon
...is momentarily mesmerized, but then he defiantly says he’s going to do right by his Maw and get her farm back. Abbie murmurs Eben’s name seductively, as Eben grows agitated. Vengefully,... (full context)
Part 2: Scene 2
Farming, Labor, and Poverty Theme Icon
Religion, Faith, and Suffering Theme Icon
...He married his first wife and had Simeon and Peter. After she died, he married Maw, and they had Eben. Maw’s parents contested Cabot’s ownership of the farm, which is why... (full context)
Desire, Revenge, and Tragedy Theme Icon
Gender Theme Icon
...saying she can sense his lust for her. She tells Eben she’s going down to Maw’s fancy parlor (where nobody has been since Maw died) to wait for him to court... (full context)
Part 2: Scene 3
Gender Theme Icon
...ominous feeling subsides into a softer, warmer energy. Eben’s convinced that the strange atmosphere is Maw’s spirit. To Abbie, it seems like Maw’s spirit has calmed because Maw realizes that Abbie... (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 do. Abbie thinks that their romance can be the vengeance that Maw... (full context)
Part 2: Scene 4
Gender Theme Icon
...Eben heads to the barn and greets Cabot warmly, saying their disagreement is over because Maw’s finally gone to rest in her grave. Cabot is confused and suspicious. Eben looks around... (full context)
Part 3: Scene 2
Desire, Revenge, and Tragedy Theme Icon
...he’s not marrying anyone. Cabot makes fun of Eben for thinking that the farm was Maw’s when it’s actually Cabot’s. He cruelly jokes that Eben will never get the farm from... (full context)