Desire Under the Elms

Desire Under the Elms: The Desire for a Birthright

Eugene O’Neill’s classic American tragedy Desire Under the Elms tells the story of characters that are driven by a number of common, and therefore competing, desires. Many believe that O’Neill intended the Desire Under the Elms to refer to the desire between Eben and Abbie, and therefore place strong emphasis on the Oedipal themes that are visible as a result. While this incestuous desire is important, the desire for the farmland that is shared by all the characters is another significant dimension of the play’s titular desire that needs to be examined. The struggle for the family inheritance depicted in the Cabot family is an age-old story that dates back thousands of years, and is even evident in the Bible. Much like the Biblical character Jacob, Desire’s Eben is competing for what he believes to be his birthright—the Cabot farm.

In Desire Under the Elms, much attention is paid to the land that this family is struggling over, from the very first words of the play until the very last. The play opens with a scene that establishes this central conflict over the land, as the three brothers rant about who deserves to inherit the farm. In a revealing exchange during the second scene of the play, Eben, Simeon, and Peter set up this...

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