Desire Under the Elms key facts and Summary


Written by Eugene O’Neill (October 16, 1888 – November 27, 1953). He is famous for expressionism. 

Key information: 

Date premiered: November 11, 1924 

Genre: Tragedy 

Place setting: A farmhouse of New England. 

Time setting: 1850s 

Number of acts: Four. 



Family is an incredibly important component of drama, but family here is not uplifting, supportive, loving or healthy. The family is corrupt, malformed, dark and complicated. 


Revenge is a complex idea in this play. This is an obsession here in this play. 

Sex and desire 

Sex and desire fuel the characters in this play. 


The theme of religion is symbolic in this play because most of the characters’ religion is passion, sex, money, or revenge; these things lead them to obsession and despair. 


It is a well-known aspect of almost all of the plays of Eugene O’ Neill that his characters suffer from intense loneliness, and the characters this play are no exception. 


Eben: He is the hero of the tragedy and twenty-five-year-old. He is the son of Cabot from the second marriage. 

Abbie Putnam: She is the heroine of the tragedy and thirty-five years old. 

Ephraim Cabot: He is the father of Eben and husband of Abbie. He is seventy-five-year-old. 

Simeon: He is the elder son of Cabot from the first marriage. He is 39-year-old. 

Peter: He is the second son of Cabot from the first marriage. He is 37 years old. 

Minnie: She is the local prostitute. She sleeps with Cabot, Eben, Simeon and Peter. 


The play starts in 1850 in a farmhouse of New England. Two huge elm trees are located in both sides of the house. When the play starts, the older Ephraim’s two sons, Simeon and Peter, are very excited and determined to go into gold mining in California. They want to be free from farm work. One day, his father goes to city for two months and keeps his sons Simeon, Peter and Eben on the farm. 

They all hate Ephraim for various reasons. The first wife’s two sons hate her for being greedy and working so hard on the farm, and Eben hates him for snatching her mother’s land and not being a good husband to his mother. 

The brothers hear that their father Cabot is coming home with a new wife, and it is believed that the land will go to their new mother. So, Siemeon and Peter decide to go to California to find their fortune in the gold sector. In his father’s absence, Eben plans to get rid of his two brothers once and for all. He knows they want to go to California, but they come back due to lack of money. He proposes to them to sign a paper renouncing all claims in the farm and promises them a hundred dollars each. The two brothers gladly accept his offer and leave for California. 

Cabot arrives at home with his new Abbie Putnam. The new wife of Cabot, Abbie Putnama, is full of fun and she is thirty-five-year-old. She has just married Cabot for his land property. Abbie Putnam tries to flirt with Eben but Eben refuses her because he thinks that she will snatch away his lands. 

Here is the problem because Cabot is seventy-five years old and his new wife is just thirty-five. Abbie has married the old man just for the sake of home and security. 

However, as time passes, Eben has trouble controlling her desire and hatred for Abbie. She gets frustrated with him and tells Cabot that Eben molests her. He becomes irritable and threatens to kill Eben, but she manages to convince him. Abbie convinces Cabot in this way that if she gets a son, all property will be for the new baby and Eben will be finished. Hearing this, Cabot becomes very happy. 

Abbie continues to try and seduce Eben. One night, Cabot goes to sleep out in the barn. Abbie thinks of seducing Eben for the sake of having a son. She lures Eben in his mother’s parlor, which remained closed after his mother’s death. She convinces him to have sex with her and to take revenge with Cabot for the ill behavior with his mother. He agrees and enjoys the copulation. 

Abbie gives birth to a son and Cabot invites his neighbors and friends to celebrate the birth of his new son. They dance and sing in the kitchen of the farmhouse. Many of his guests suspect that Cabot at the age seventy-five cannot be able to produce a son. Cabot can clearly hear such discussion but pretends that he listens nothing and goes on dancing. 

Later Cabot jokingly suggests Eben to get married soon. Cabot also says Eben to leave the farmhouse and to get a new piece of farm. Eben says it is his farm already. Cabot tells him that it belongs to Abbie and her new son, and he feels that Eben should stay away from Abbie. Eben is stunned by this and believes that Abbie has cheated him just to possess the farmhouse. 

Eben proclaims that he will go to California and will earn a lot and buy a farmhouse to take revenge on Abbie and Cabot. Abbie tries to convince Eben that she loves him and can do anything for her love. Eben does not believe her and urges to kill the baby. 

Next morning, Abbie kills the baby and Eben goes to the Sherrif or police officer to arrest Abbie. Abbie truly tells Cabot about the birth and death of the baby. Cabot decides to go to police. Abbie informs Cabot that Eben has already gone to police. 

On the time of coming back from the police station, Eben realizes that he loves Abbie very much and confesses that he is also guilty because he has incited Abbie to kill the baby. Hearing this, Abbie becomes very happy and they embrace. Now Cabot is embarrassed and Eben and Abbie are arrested. 

Cabot decides to go to California and give up the farm, but he cannot leave the farm because of lack of money. After arresting Eben and Abbie, the police officer remarks on how beautiful the farmhouse is! Finally, Cabot is led to permanent loneliness. 


Morality: Revenge leads human beings to destruction. 

Rashedul Islam
Rashedul Islam

Hi, This is Rashedul. Researcher and lecturer of English literature and Linguistics.

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