Desire Under the Elms


Eugene O’Neill

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

It’s just before dawn, and Abbie bends over the baby’s cradle in the dim light, with a look of terror and triumph on her face. Suddenly, she backs away from the cradle with horror, and runs to the kitchen, passionately kissing Eben, who ignores her. Hysterically, Abbie says she’s proved her love for him. Noticing Abbie’s hysterical state, Eben asks what she’s done. Abbie says she killed him. Eben’s astonished, but he recovers quickly, saying they have to make it look like Cabot killed himself. Abbie laughs wildly, saying that she didn’t kill Cabot—though perhaps that would have been a better idea. Suddenly, it dawns on Eben that Abbie killed their baby.
Abbie—who’s blinded by her desire for Eben—decides to suffocate their baby. Her expression of horror shows that she immediately regrets her actions, underscoring that she was acting impulsively. As Eben notes, it would have been much smarter to kill Cabot (whom they both despise and stands in the way of their relationship) and keep her bourgeoning family unit intact to inherit the farm.
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Eben falls to his knees, trembling, as Abbie explains that she suffocated the baby with a pillow. She did it to prove that she loves Eben, because he wished the baby was dead. With horror, Eben says he’d have killed himself before harming so much as the baby’s finger. Abbie sinks pitifully to her knees, begging Eben not to hate her. Furiously, Eben says that Abbie is poison. Eben even suspects that Abbie wants to blame him for the murder, so that she can take the farm. Shaking and sobbing incoherently, Eben rushes for the door tell the Sheriff. Abbie runs after him, begging Eben to love her, before swaying and fainting in the doorway.
The tragic weight of Abbie’s actions starts to dawn on both characters—it’s clear that their lives are forever altered by Eben’s rash threats and Abbie’s impulsive murder of their child. Despite this, Eben continues to act impulsively—he’s characteristically overwhelmed with a desire to seek revenge on Abbie—and he runs to tell the Sheriff about her crime without thinking about the consequences of his actions. Eben and Abbie’s consistently impulsive behavior (when they’re blinded by desire or want to seek vengeance) is the tragic flaw in their characters that derails their lives.
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