Desire Under the Elms

Desire Under the Elms Literary Elements





Setting and Context

An 1850 New England farm

Narrator and Point of View

This is a third-person limited point-of-view, as is typical of plays.

Tone and Mood

Passionate; bitter; lonely; tense; taut.

Protagonist and Antagonist

These labels are not easily assigned; Eben may be the protagonist and Cabot the antagonist, but their identities are more complicated than that.

Major Conflict

The two main conflicts are who will get the farm, and whether or not Abbie and Eben's love will come to fruition and be sustained.


Eben and Abbie consummate their love after the spirit of Maw leaves the house on account of having been avenged.


-Simeon suggests Eben will try to make Paw's new wife his own (19).
-Abbie claims several times that she will have a son.


-Abbie says, "I tuk his Maw's place" (57).


-Simeon compares the gold fields of California to the riches of Solomon's mines (6).
-Peter teases Eben that he is like Samson, the strong biblical character (13)
-Simeon says he and his brother will be like lilies of the field in that they don't care about material things, which comes from Matthew 6:28 (21).


See Imagery entry.


Critic Henry H. Schvey writes, "The paradox in Ephraim Cabot is that in developing the farm ('makin' thin's grow') he has cut himself off from all human affection, ironically finding solace not with human beings, but with the cows in the barn."




John Patrick Diggins describes the elms as follows: "There is a sinister maternity in their aspect, a crushing, jealous absorption. They have developed from their intimate contact with the life of man in the house an appalling humanness. They brood oppressively over the house. They are like exhausted women resting their sagging breasts and hands and hair on its roof, and when it rains their tears trickle down monotonously and rot on the shingles."

Use of Dramatic Devices

-There are various stage and setting directions/directives throughout the play.
-Cabot indulges in a long monologue in Scene 2 of Part II.