Desire Under the Elms


Eugene O’Neill

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Themes and Colors
Desire, Revenge, and Tragedy Theme Icon
Farming, Labor, and Poverty Theme Icon
Gender Theme Icon
Religion, Faith, and Suffering Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in Desire Under the Elms, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.

Desire, Revenge, and Tragedy

As its title suggests, Desire Under the Elms centers on characters who are consumed by their personal desires. Domineering patriarch Ephraim Cabot (who goes by Cabot); his hardworking sons Simeon, Peter, and Eben; and his manipulative new wife, Abbie, all live on a farm in New England in the 1850s. Peter and Simeon take their time to think carefully about their desires, ultimately prompting them to let go of their longstanding…

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Farming, Labor, and Poverty

Desire Under the Elms, set in 1850 on a farm in New England, captures the profound hardships that 19th-century farm laborers often endured. The farm is built on land comprised mostly of stones, and the whole family—including patriarch Ephraim Cabot; his late second wife, Maw; and his three sons Simeon, Peter, and Eben—spend years relentlessly digging up stones to plough the unforgiving land. Maw dies from the physical…

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Desire Under the Elms takes place in the 19th-century United States, when women were commonly seen as inferior to men and consequently had fewer rights and opportunities. The play’s male characters—Cabot and his sons Simeon, Peter, and Eben—hold sexist attitudes, and they continuously mistreat and objectify the women in their lives. Cabot, for instance, works his second wife, Maw, literally to death on the family farm, treating her more as…

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Religion, Faith, and Suffering

Desire Under the Elms shows how faith in God can bring about suffering. Aging patriarch Ephraim Cabot (who goes by Cabot) is a devout Christian man who often calls on God to guide his choices. Yet Cabot routinely makes choices that end up making him unhappy. He believes that he needs to live a grueling and laborious life as a 19th-century farmer in order to please God, and he rejects his sons Peter and Simeon

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