Desire Under the Elms

by

Eugene O’Neill

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Desire Under the Elms: Part 3: Scene 4 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
An hour later, Cabot wakes up and heads to the kitchen. Abbie sits there, looking blank. She blurts out that the baby’s dead—she smothered him with a pillow. Trembling, Cabot asks why. Abbie furiously bursts out that the baby wasn’t even his, it was Eben’s. Dully, Cabot wipes a tear from his eye and Abbie starts sobbing. Cabot’s expression hardens, and he decides that if the baby was Eben’s, he’s glad it’s dead. Cruelly, Cabot jeers that he wasn’t fooled, and he’ll live to see Abbie hung. Abbie blankly responds that Eben’s already gone to tell the Sheriff. Cabot murmurs that he would have never turned Abbie in. Despairingly, Cabot realizes that he’s going to be lonely again.
The tragic repercussions of Abbie’s actions continue to unfold in Scene Four. Even the mean-spirited Cabot is momentarily moved by the baby’s death when he cries for it. Cabot also realizes that he’s going to be lonely yet again—though he believed he was doing God’s will when he sought out Abbie as a wife, his choices, as before, only bring him more loneliness. The play suggests here that Cabot’s faith has led him astray, as it causes him to make decisions that consistently make him unhappy.
Themes
Desire, Revenge, and Tragedy Theme Icon
Religion, Faith, and Suffering Theme Icon
Eben runs in, crazed with guilt, begging Abbie to forgive him for telling the Sheriff. Abbie clings to Eben, joyfully saying that she forgives Eben, as long as he loves her again. Eben admits that as soon as he told the Sheriff, his heart burst with grief and he realized he truly loves Abbie. Abbie strokes Eben’s hair, tenderly calling Eben her boy. Eben wants to share in Abbie’s punishment because he feels so guilty. Abbie sobs, saying she doesn’t want Eben to suffer. Eben says it’s no use—he’s turning himself in.
As before, Eben regrets his rash, emotionally charged behavior. Eben immediately regrets his decision to turn Abbie in because he’s now likely condemned Abbie—whom he truly loves—to be hanged. Eben’s guilt at betraying Abbie makes him want to turn himself in too. In the end, both characters meet their demise because they act impulsively in the heat of the moment.
Themes
Desire, Revenge, and Tragedy Theme Icon
Cabot stares at the pair, deciding they both ought to be hung for their sinful lust. With a crazed look on his face, he rants about burning the farm to the ground and dancing all the way to California. He eagerly runs to a floorboard to dig out his life savings, before realizing they’re not there. Blankly, Eben admits that he gave the money to Peter and Simeon in exchange for their share of the farm. Cabot looks nauseous, but then a strange expression comes over him. Cabot decides that God doesn’t want him to earn easy gold in California: God wants him to struggle and be lonely on the farm, so that’s what he’ll do, until the day he dies.
Cabot’s fate is also tragic. He’s spent his whole life enduring hard labor and loneliness, and he concludes that he must live out his remaining days in the same way. Cabot believes it’s godly to suffer such hardships and sinful to enjoy an easy life, despite how unhappy this makes him. Cabot’s faith, thus, is his tragic character flaw: it consistently drives him to act in ways that are not good for him, and he ends up miserable and alone as a consequence.
Themes
Religion, Faith, and Suffering Theme Icon
The Sheriff bursts in to arrest Abbie. Eben turns himself in as well, as Abbie brokenly screams that it was her doing alone. Cabot tells the Sheriff to take them both. Eben and Abbie turn to each other and say they love each other as they’re being led away. The Sheriff looks around the farm, saying that it really is a beautiful place, and he wishes he owned it.
Abbie and Eben’s fates present a stark contrast to Simeon and Peter’s fates. Simeon and Peter were able to think about their options and carefully plan an exit to a happier life, which also freed them from getting roped into the rest of the events of the play. Abbie and Eben, meanwhile, let their desires control them, and they acted hastily in the heat of the moment, causing their lives to implode.
Themes
Desire, Revenge, and Tragedy Theme Icon
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