Friday 17 January 2020

Desire under the elms Novel Theme, Significance ,technique of Characterisation Notes

Title of the play, Desire under the elms, its aptness? desire as the theme of the play?


The title of a play should be apt and suggestive, like the signboard of a shop. It should indicate the substance of the play. It should give an idea of its theme from
the title itself one should be able to guess what the play is about. The title of the present play is apt and appropriate for it suggests its theme.

Desire under the elms notes ,significance ,characters



The theme of the play is a variation of the first word of the title 'Desire' every character in the play desires something on the other. As the play opens we are introduced to the three Sons of Ephraim Cabot and Peter, are fed up with their life on the stony farm their father has made them over-work and now they desire freedom from drudgery on their father's farm. They year for the west, for California, where they would have freedom from work, and where they would be able to earn enough gold quite easily. Their 'Desire' is for gold and freedom and they leave the farm and go off to the west as soon as their father returns home with his third wife, Abbie Putnam.

Eben, the youngest son of Ephraim, passionately 'Desire' to possess the farm, for he believes that the farm belongs to his dead mother, and his father had unlawfully stolen it from her. Therefore, he desires the farm more than anything else in the world. It is to get the farm that he steals the concealed money of his father, and purchases with it the shares of his two brothers as they go off to California. Besides the farm, he desires to have revenge on his father for the wrongs, he has done to his dead 'Mother'. He overworked her, stole the farm which rightfully belonged to her, and killed her, stole the farm which rightfully belonged to her, and killed her by his callous unsympathetic Behaviour. Eben, therefore yearns for revenge and feels that his mother's spirit would get no peace till her wrongs are avenged. He, therefore, seduces and makes Love to Abbie Putnam.

Abbie Putnam, the young wife of Ephraim Cabot desires a home and security. She has led a hard life and has always worked in the homes of others. Her one yearning in life has been to have a home of her own, and to work on her own but because she desired the home and the security which the marriage would enable her to enjoy. She covets the farm and desire, that it should be her farm. She 'desires that old Cabot should leave it to her. She also 'desires'Eben from the very beginning and casts lustful glances on him even what they meet for the first time. As old Cabot would leave the farm not to her, but to one of his own blood, she proceeds cold-bloodily to seduce Eben. She would have a son by him and thus kill two birds with one stone. She 'Desire' him passionately, intensely and her 'desires' for him outweigh her 'Desire' for the farm.

He 'Desires' the farm so much that, he would take it with himself to the other world if he could since he cannot do so, he desires to leave it to one of his own blood and not Abbie, who is his wife but not of his blood. Therefore, he 'Desires' a son who may inherit the farm and then the farm would really belong to him after his death. Besides the farm, old Cabot desires the warmth of human company. He feels lonesome and seeks company. He cannot get this companionship with his sons whom he hates because they are soft and who hate him because he has overworked them. It is his 'Desire' for a company that takes him to the village prostitute and then to seek and marry Abbie Putnam. But still, he feels lonely and chilly. He 'Desires' warmth but feels chilly and intuitively known that something is wrong with the house.

Therefore, he leaves his bedroom and goes to the barn where he finds warmth and companionship in the company of the cows. Thus the first word of the title 'Desire' is suggestive of the theme of the play.


The other word 'Elms' in the title is equally apt and suggestive, this drama of action and interaction of passionate desires takes place in a house over which grow, two elms. But it is not merely nature and particular stony farmland, that is this symbolized. The maternal trees represent also the secret dominance of the female in the action: the dead second wife of Ephraim Cabot, worked to exhaustion by her husband, is yet powerful in the life of her son Eben; Ephraim's third wife.
Abbie is strong enough to destroy Ephraim and Eben and the child that is born to Eben and herself. In the end, the elms still stop in their maternal Embrene of the farm but there are no women there to give them a human and tolerable significance. Old Cabot had desired warmth and company, but now it is going to be more 'lonesome' still' for him on the farm, without his sons, and without his woman.


The successful characterization is the measure of dramatist greatness and O'NEIL is eminently successful in this respect. In Desire Under the Elms, he has used conventional realistic techniques of characterization.
First, the external personality of the different characters has been vividly sketched so that the various personage acquire a clear-cut firm outline. The dramatist himself tells us a lot about their respective characters. Thus, as the action proceeds, the personage reveals different facets of their personalities through interaction with other characters through their own words, asides and soliloquies, and through their action. They are full-bodied, three-dimensional figures. The numbers of characters are strictly limited and thus there is great pain in concentration and effectiveness, there are only five characters of which two, Simon and peter appear only in the first introductory past. They are a typical country that departs for California, teasing and insulting old Cabot their father as soon as he returns home with his third wife. The stage is thus left free for concentration on the three principal characters, Ephraim Cabot, Abbie Putnam, and Eben.
A brief consideration of their character would throw into sharp relief the salient features of Neil's art of Characterisation.



The personality of old Cabot has been graphically sketched by the dramatist.

CABOT” is seventy-five tall and giant with great concentrated power. His face is as hard as if it were Hewn out of a boulder, yet there is a weakness in it, a pretty pride in its own narrow strength. His eyes are small, close together, blinking continually in the effort to focus on objects.

“Ephraim is a monster of Egoism of possessiveness”. He is a cheap-jack version of the God of the Old Testament whom he quotes so often.

The play is his tragedy as much as it is the “Lovers”. In the end he is quite alone on the farm. He has built his farm, stone by stone, and he has wanted to keep its personal possession through leaving it to an heir of his body. But Simeon and Peter have already gone to California. Ephraim is indeed contrasted favorably with the sniggering neighbor who came to celebrate the birth of Abbie’s child and O’Neil makes us respect the strength of the body and the personality which Ephraim keeps into his 76 years. Only Abbie could master him,Eben may be rebellious but he is burry by his father’s side and Abbie finally loses her power through her deeper involvement with Eben. In the end, the Elms still stoop in their maternal embrace of the farm. But there is no woman there to give them a human and tolerable significance. Deeply religious, Ephraim is fond of quoting in Bible, relishing it along with his drink and with his woman and his farm, finding in it a sanction for his high handed domination. Finally, he reconciles himself to loneliness by equating himself with God.


He is an eccentric an almost endearing old miser, who has an apt biblical quotation for every misdeed he performs, Historically, He is based on the small New England Farmer of almost absolute individualism and many eccentricities Cabot is heightened and dramatical embodiment. The essence of his character is not dryness and narrowness. On the contrary, he is complex and expensive. 

A note of pathos is introduced into his character by his love of cows. Cabot is a deeply religious man, hard relentless and unforgiving as the old testament prophets. He is one of O’NEIL’S major creation and his character illustrates the life-denying sterility of the puritan ideal.


Abbie Putnam, the third wife of Ephraim Cabot is 35, full of vitality. Her round face is pretty but marred by its rather gross sensuality. There are strength and obstinacy in her jaw, a hard destination in her eyes and about her whole personality the same unsettled, untamed, desperate quality which is so apparent in Eben.

The most striking quality in the character of Abbie lies in the complexity of her inner life in the three standard webs of desire that seizes her. She wishes to establish good relations with Eben, for she wants to dominate the household and not to risk losing the farm when Euphraim dies but she has a further motive for attempting to case Eben of his resentment that she has taken his mother’s place.

For the sake of her love for Eben, Abbie is prepared to sacrifice her child and this action of her shocks our susceptibilities but in the play, it has its own importance. In this way the knot is untied, all secrecy is banished and all comfort goes, Abbie’s complex character is suddenly resolved into that of a woman who loves Eben.

In her love, Abbie forgets to be a mother, forgets her wish for a secure mistress-ship of the farmhouse and sacrifices everything she possesses for her love, such sacrifice exalts her love, which would otherwise have been mere lust. Abbie is one of those rounded figures who grow under the stress of circumstances. As the auction proceeds, her character undergoes a profound change, she began with lust, greed, and intrigue. Even though we know that she has suffered a lot in life and that the desire for a home and securities natural for her, we are inclined to condemn her as lustful, greedy and intriguing.

By the end of the play, the grosser elements have been purged away and she emerges as a woman in love who would sacrifice anything to gain her love. The grandeur and intensity of her passion exact and uplifts her, even though she is guilty of the crime of child murder.


Eben Cabot is a youngmen of 25, tall and sinewy “His face is well-formed”, good looking, but its expression is resentful and defensive. His defiant dark eye reminds one of a wild animal in captivity. Each day is a cage in which he finds himself trapped, but inwardly unsubdued, There is a fierce repressed vitality about him.

The desire for the farm which he thinks lawfully belonged to his mother and now becomes to him as her heir, and desire for revenge are the two factors that determine his character. He has a grudge against his father because he knows that he overworked his mother like a slave and this sent her to death.

He, therefore, would like to avenge her wrongs, he would very much like to possess the farms which he thinks lawfully as his own. In order to possess the farm, he steals the money hidden by his father and purchases the shares of his two brothers as they go off to California. This he feels is a step towards his revenge and towards the possession of the farm. He constantly feels her spirit hovering restlessly over the house and watching over him.

This mother fixation or mother's love determines his reaction to the advances of Abbie Putnam, his stepmother, he is sexually attracted to her from the very beginning, but repulse her advances and regards her with hostility, for she has come between him and the farm. Ultimately he yields to her seductions only because he realizes that would be suitable revenge for the wrongs done to her mother. Eben feels that his acceptance of the love of Abbie has pleased his mother and her soul would henceforth rest in peace in her grave.

He is also a rounded figure, one who changes and grows under the stress of circumstances. His sacrifice uplifts and dignified him. It brings out the inherent nobility of his soul. 


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