Desire Under the Elms

by

Eugene O’Neill

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

Summary
Analysis
Half an hour later, Eben is outside, staring up into the sky with a pained expression. Cabot walks up, looking sleepy. With a mocking expression, Cabot asks Eben why he isn’t inside dancing with the girls and picking out a wife. Angrily, Eben bursts out that 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 Abbie’s clutches. Cabot explains that Abbie had a plan to have a son so that she could cut Eben off and take the farm for herself. With a dumbfounded expression of grief and anger, Eben says he’ll murder Abbie.
Although Eben loves Abbie, his desire for the farm clouds his judgment in his encounter with Cabot. Eben immediately takes Cabot’s bait and is overwhelmed with an impulsive urge for revenge against Abbie. Instead of trusting her, or thinking through the information that Cabot taunts him with, Eben’s mind goes straight to the idea of killing her, without giving any thought to how the repercussions of such actions.
Themes
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Cabot angrily jumps in Eben’s way and an ugly fight ensues, until Cabot pins Eben to the wall by his throat. Abbie emerges and runs towards them in a panic, begging Cabot to let go of Eben’s throat. Triumphantly, Cabot releases Eben and dances off, saying he’ll raise his new son to be stronger than Eben is. Abbie runs to Eben, but Eben pushes her off with rage, saying that Abbie’s made a fool of him and their lovemaking was just part of her devious plan to seize the farm. Frantically, Abbie denies it, begging Eben to believe she loves him. She’s terrified that Eben will leave her.
Cabot and Eben’s rivalry over Abbie echoes another Ancient Greek tragedy. This time, O’Neill draws on Sophocles’ Oedipus Rex, in which Oedipus fights with an older male rival (who turns out to be his father) over a woman (who turns out to be his mother). Like Oedipus’s story, Eben’s story begins to take a tragic turn after a quasi-incestuous love triangle triggers a conflict between rivals who are father and son. Eben’s blind rage and desire for revenge causes him to say vicious things to Abbie, and he sets off a chain of events with his rage-filled threats that will end up causing his own demise.
Themes
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Eben isn’t listening. He’s angrily planning to leave for California in the morning, as he curses Abbie and the baby. He wishes that the baby—who’s now to inherit the farm—would die this minute. Dumbfounded, Abbie desperately says she’d kill the baby before letting Eben leave, just to prove that her loyalties lie with Eben, not the baby and the farm. Eben coldly says it’s no use lying. Abbie flings herself at Eben in anguish, begging him to believe that she can fix this. Suddenly moved, Eben admits that he would love Abbie again if she could really fix it, before pushing her off him. Abbie looks on as he walks away, vowing to prove her love for Eben.
Despite Abbie’s pleading, Eben is convinced that Abbie had the baby so that she (and her son) could inherit the farm and cut Eben out. Eben feels wronged, and this fuels him to rashly say things that he will later regret—a pattern he repeats throughout the play. Here, for instance, he blurts out that he wishes the baby were dead, without really meaning it. This somehow convinces Abbie that if she kills the baby, she’ll prove to Eben that she’s ineligible to inherit the farm, and that her loyalty lies with Eben. Abbie is also thinking impulsively because her desire for Eben is clouding her judgement. Neither character is thinking about the consequences of the things they are threatening to do.
Themes
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Related Quotes