Desire Under the Elms

by

Eugene O’Neill

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Desire Under the Elms: Part 2: Scene 1 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Two months later, Abbie sits on the porch. Eben furtively leans out of a window. Eagerly, Abbie waits for him to come downstairs. Their eyes meet, and the desire between them is palpable. Abbie seductively teases Eben for being attracted to her. Eben 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, he says he’s going to see Minnie. When Abbie calls Minnie ugly, Eben retorts that at least Minnie doesn’t whore herself out to steal other people’s farms. Visibly stung, Abbie screams at Eben to get off her porch. Eben strides off.
Abbie continues exposing herself as a powerful force on the farm. Despite how dismissively the male characters treat women, it’s clear that women are strong figures in the play. Abbie, for instance, is easily able to manipulate Eben, while Maw inspires feelings of vengefulness in Eben that dictate his behavior and choices. The hostility between Abbie and Eben escalates rapidly despite—or perhaps because of—their obvious desire for each other. Both characters get easily riled up and act impulsively throughout the play, especially when they feel wronged. 
Themes
Desire, Revenge, and Tragedy Theme Icon
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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 old. He thinks he’s perhaps been too hard on Eben, who’s the only one left on the farm now. This angers Abbie, who reminds Cabot that she’s lawful wife. Cabot looks at Abbie with lustful eyes and greedily kisses her hand. Jerking her hand away, Abbie asks if Cabot plans to leave the farm to Eben. Cabot suddenly feels irate at the thought of giving up the farm. He’d rather burn it to the ground. Abbie grows agitated, and she screams that Eben will turn her out if he takes over the farm.
Abbie’s dismissive behavior towards Cabot underscores how little she cares for him. It’s clear that she’s only invested in the relationship to seize the farm, showing that she’s much shrewder than the male characters think. Despite her intelligence, though, Abbie is unable to think clearly when she’s feeling wronged and wants revenge—much like Eben. As soon as she realizes that she might not inherit the farm, she gets agitated and starts attacking Eben’s character without thinking.
Themes
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. Frightened, Abbie says that she was just angry about not inheriting the farm and that she was joking. Then she reasons that Cabot needs Eben’s labor on the farm. Calming down, Cabot agrees. Cabot decides that he’d rather leave the farm to someone who’s his own blood, unlike Abbie. Abbie looks hateful, then shrewdly thoughtful. She tells Cabot she’s praying for her own son. Joyfully, Cabot looks misty eyed, and he says he’ll gladly leave her the farm if they have a son. He just wants to make her happy. Abbie looks triumphant.
In this passage, Abbie is momentarily taken over with a powerful desire for revenge. Like Eben, she speaks rashly, without thinking about the consequences of her actions. Abbie’s immediate regret at threatening Eben’s safety shows that she acts against her best interests in the heat of the moment, as she clearly desires Eben and wants him around. Despite her impulsive outburst, Abbie nonetheless continues demonstrating her intelligence. Once she’s able to collect herself, Abbie cleverly manipulates Cabot into promising the farm to her. Cabot is easily swayed by everything Abbie says, showing that he’s under her control.
Themes
Desire, Revenge, and Tragedy Theme Icon
Gender Theme Icon
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