Desire Under the Elms


Eugene O’Neill

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Desire Under the Elms: Part 3: Scene 1 Summary & Analysis

It’s a year later, on a warm spring night. Eben is in his bedroom, wrestling with his conflicting emotion. There’s a baby 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 where Eben is, as the crowd watches with knowing looks. Cabot asks people to dance, and they reply that they’re waiting for Eben, before bursting into howls of laughter. Someone jokes about being surprised that Cabot had it in him to produce a son at his old age. The crowd laughs again.
Abbie and Eben’s illicit affair causes Abbie to get pregnant and give birth to Eben’s son (simply known as the baby). Eben’s conflicted emotions imply that the baby is indeed his, and he’s wrestling with his feelings about this. Abbie’s desire for Eben has begun to cloud her judgement, and she is growing more obsessive about him. The whole town (except for Cabot) appears to know what has really happened—and they think it’s hilarious, which suggests that they are happy to see Cabot being manipulated.
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Cabot scolds the fiddler to start playing, and a group starts square dancing. Suddenly, Cabot interrupts the dance, saying they’re all too soft and he’s going to show them how to really dance. He starts dancing grotesquely while boasting about how strong and tough he is. Upstairs, Eben walks to the cradle and looks at the baby. At the same time, Abbie gets up to check on the baby. Cabot affectionately pats Abbie on the back and she shrinks away. Feeling drunk and dizzy, Cabot steps out for some fresh air. Somebody loudly declares that it’s obvious what’s happened in this house, and the crowd mockingly asks where Eben is, as more laughing ensues. 
Cabot belittles the townsfolk for being too soft, just as he does with his sons, disgusted by their desire to pursue a life other than hard farm labor. Cabot sees himself as the only hardworking person in town, and this makes him feel superior. Throughout the play, Cabot is often boastful about how tough and hardened he is because he thinks God doesn’t like easy success and favors people who can endure laborious, difficult lives (like Cabot’s taxing life on the unforgiving farm). Given all the laughter and jeering in the crowd, it seems that Cabot’s beliefs have caused the whole to town to dislike him.
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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 to be patient. Meanwhile, outside, a grumbling Cabot heads to the barn to sleep off his drunken state. The fiddler gears up to start playing again, so that the crowd can celebrate Cabot getting fooled. The music starts up, and the crowd dances with glee.   
The crowd’s cheerful glee shows that the townsfolk are delighted that Cabot’s been fooled, underscoring how much they hate Cabot for being such a mean-spirited man. Although Cabot acts tough and strong, he’s driven out of the house and into the barn, yet again. It’s clear that the women—first Maw’s lingering spiritual presence, and now Abbie—are the ones who really control what’s going on in the farmhouse.
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