Desire Under the Elms

by

Eugene O’Neill

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

Summary
Analysis
That night, Eben 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 the wall, as if she’s meeting Eben’s gaze through it. Eben instinctively raises his arms, as if to embrace Abbie, before cursing and pacing around the room. Cabot reminisces about his hard youth digging stones out of the ground. The work was so punishing that he grew despondent, knowing that he could have farmed on more fertile land elsewhere, but he decided that God doesn’t like easy success. He’s disappointed that his sons don’t see that.
Cabot’s memories of his early life reveal that he’s been slaving away on the farm for years. As before, the stones represent the exhausting, unfruitful nature of life on a farm—and particularly this farm. Cabot reveals that although he could have picked easier land to farm on, his faith pushed him to keep struggling on the unforgiving land: he believes that God values people who endure hard lives. This shows that Cabot’s faith has the power to push him into situations that make him suffer.
Themes
Farming, Labor, and Poverty Theme Icon
Religion, Faith, and Suffering Theme Icon
Related Quotes
Cabot explains that he’s always been lonely. 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 Eben thinks it belongs to Maw. Cabot thinks he’s worked 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 eyes away from the wall, Abbie distractedly foretells that Cabot will get his son.
Cabot reveals that the farm is actually his—despite Eben’s stubborn conviction that it originally belonged to Maw’s family. Cabot’s hard life on the farm has cost him two wives, which speaks to how the exhausting nature of farm life can take a toll on people’s relationships. Cabot’s faith—specifically his belief that people need to suffer hard lives to be Godly—also pushes him to reject his sons as “soft” for craving easier lives than the one he’s chosen. Cabot’s beliefs make him push people away from him, leaving him perpetually lonely, while his ongoing misery suggests that his faith is not leading him towards a life that makes him happy.
Themes
Farming, Labor, and Poverty Theme Icon
Religion, Faith, and Suffering Theme Icon
Related Quotes
Suddenly, Cabot feels uncomfortable. Abbie’s intuition gives him the chills. He heads out to sleep in the barn, where he feels warm, safe, and comfortable—it doesn’t have the ominous cold feeling that permeates the house. After Cabot leaves, Abbie and Eben sigh simultaneously from their respective bedrooms. Suddenly, Abbie gets up and goes into Eben’s room. Their eyes burn with desire, and Abbie runs over and kisses Eben. Eben’s dumbfounded, but he reciprocates before coming to his senses and throwing her off of him. Abbie leans in saying she that knows Eben wants her.
The ominous feeling in the house is a suffocating maternal energy that has permeated the house since Maw died. Both this oppressive feeling and Abbie’s cunning intuition make Cabot feel unsettled—driving him to sleep out in the barn rather than inside the house. This shows that the female characters (Abbie and Maw) are indeed powerful: they control Cabot’s behavior, even though he severely underestimates their hold over his life. Despite being so powerful and cunning, Abbie finds herself unable to resist her desire for Eben. But Eben is clearly overwhelmed by Abbie’s advances, showing that she has power over him, too.
Themes
Desire, Revenge, and Tragedy Theme Icon
Gender Theme Icon
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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 taunts Eben, 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 her. Eben is confused, commanding Abbie not to go in there, but he withers under her gaze. Abbie coos at Eben to come find her in the parlor and heads downstairs. Bewildered, Eben mechanically puts on his white shirt, tie, and coat. He heads downstairs barefoot, with a confused expression on his face, calling for his Maw.
Abbie impulsively insults Eben (even though she wants to seduce him) when he brings up Minnie. As before, she feels momentarily vengeful and this clouds her judgement, causing her to act rashly. Once she steps back into her power and cunning, though, she continues controlling the situation and exerting her influence over Eben. Eben’s mechanical, confused demeanor shows that he’s unable to resist her hold over him. He’s also bewildered because his desire for Abbie is intermingled with his deep love and grief for Maw, and so both women are directing his behavior.
Themes
Desire, Revenge, and Tragedy Theme Icon
Gender Theme Icon
Related Quotes
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