Desire Under the Elms


Eugene O’Neill

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Desire Under the Elms: Part 2: Scene 3 Summary & Analysis

Eben walks into the parlor a 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 atmosphere is Maw’s spirit. To Abbie, it seems like Maw’s spirit has calmed because Maw realizes that Abbie loves Eben. Eben’s 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 that Maw was to him, and he can be like her own son. They kiss passionately.
As before, both Eben’s desire for Abbie and his grief for Maw control his behavior—he’s overpowered by both, emphasizing their hold over him. Abbie’s and Eben’s desire for each other takes on an incestuous tone in this scene, as she promises to be like a mother and a lover to him. Here, the play draws inspiration from Ancient Greek tragedies such as Euripides’s Hippolytus, in which a stepmother falls in love with her stepson, triggering tragic results. Abbie is technically Eben’s stepmother, and Eben’s feelings for Abbie blend sexual desire with his craving for maternal attention in the wake of his grief over Maw’s death.
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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 wanted against Cabot. Eben’s face lights up at the thought of Maw finally resting in her grave. The pair declare their love to each other and kiss, in a fierce embrace that releases months of pent-up passion.
Eben is clearly morally conflicted by his illicit attraction to Abbie. However, when Abbie suggests that their lovemaking will give Eben the revenge he craves over Cabot and avenge Maw, Eben is eager to pursue the relationship. Like Abbie, when Eben’s consumed by a desire for revenge, he acts impulsively without weighing up the potential consequences. Eben continues to be driven by a desire to avenge Maw’s suffering, showing that she has a powerful hold over him, even in death. Similarly, Abbie is easily able to guide Eben into complying with her desires, emphasizing her power over him, too.
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