How does O Neill treat the theme of sin and retribution

How does O Neill treat the theme of sin and retribution

Question: How does O’Neill treat the theme of sin and retribution in “Desire Under the Elms”?


“Desire Under the Elms” (1924) is a modern tragedy written by Eugene O’Neill (1888 – 1953).. The writer shows the sin and punishment of the major characters in the play. He uses these sins from Greek myth with slight differences. These are the disease of modern society.

Sin and retribution

The term “sin and retribution” is one of the best-known terms in the works of different types of literary figures. Retribution is the result of something. In the play, retribution is used for the sins of the characters. The term “sin and retribution” develops a play through a journey. We can compare sins and retributions with inputs and outputs. Let us discuss the themes of sin and retribution in the play.

Cabot’s sin and retribution

Cabot is the father of Simeon, Peter, Eben. He is 75 years old and the husband of Abbie, 35 years old. After scanning the play, we get his sin. First of all, his sin is he is the person of very orthodox. For that reason, he has no good relationship with his family members. His second notable sin, according to Eben, he takes forcibly the ownership of the farm from his mother and kills his mother by hard work tendency. Eben says to Simeon and Peter in Part 1 Scene 2:

“You have no right to the farm at all. My mother was not your mother. This farm belonged to her. Our father took it from her without having any right to it. Now that my mother is dead, the farm belongs to me.”

Then we come to know that he had illegal relations with Minnie, the local prostitute.

He takes his retribution by staying lonesome forever. He also losses his money. He gets insulted by the neighbors.

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Abbie’s sin and retribution

Abbie is the heroine of the play. She is the step-mom of Eben, the hero of the play. After scanning the play, we get her sin. First of all, she sins by possessive tendency. She gets married to Cabot, the old man just for home and financial security. Her second sin is making illegal and nasty relations with Eben. Her third sin is killing her son for proving her true love for Eben.

For these sins, she cannot gain the farm-house. Besides, she takes her punishment by going to prison.

Eben’s sin and retribution

Eben is the third son of Cabot and the only son of Maw, Cabot’s second kind-hearted wife. We get his sins after scanning the play. First of all, he always thinks that Cabot is the killer of his mom and the owner of the farm is Eben. His father takes it from her mother forcibly. For this reason, he wants to take revenge upon his father. That means his first sin is a revengeful tendency. His second sin is making illegal and nasty relations with Abbie. At last, he takes his punishment by going to prison.

The message of the themes

O’Neill takes the idea of these themes from the Greek myth of Phaedra, Hippolytus, and Theseus. Here, Phaedra is Abbie, Hippolytus is Eben and Theseus is Cabot. Actually, the writer tries to show the result of these prime sins of human beings. If one does this type of sin, he or she has to suffer a lot. All sin is created around the farm in the play. In the last dialogue of the play, Sheriff says that:

“It is a most beautiful farm. One cannot deny that. I wish I owned this farm.”

This quotation proves that nobody can possess the farm happily. So, we should avoid these sins.


To conclude, there is no doubt that O’Neill is very much successful to use the term “sin and retribution” in the play. His style of description this term is also fantastic.

Click here: for all notes of Desire Under the Elms

Ruhul Huda
Ruhul Huda

You can call me Mr. Huda. I am a researcher and doing this work for years. I like to learn everywhere. So, feel free to share your experience with me.

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