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Editor: Harley Hammerman
St. Louis, Missouri

Volume 10


“They’s gold in the fields o’ California…. Dog’ll eat dog”
Insatiable Desire for Possession in
Eugene O’Neill’s Desire Under the Elms

Olfa Gandouz
University of Sousse, Tunisia

The present paper brings attention to the notion of desire in O’Neill’s Desire Under the Elms (1924). A special focus will be laid on the Cabot family and their different desires. To start with, the desire of acquiring material prosperity is exemplified through the characterization of Simeon and Peter. This desire has negative effects on the older Cabots as it removes them from reality and makes them stuck in the illusion of achieving wealth without making any efforts. The glint of gold alludes to the magnetic attraction of the new California dream. O’Neill’s parody of the American dream aims at showing its chimerical nature. Apart from the desire of amassing money without making any effort, the younger son is obsessed with another type of desire. Eben is preoccupied with the mission of preserving the land. His desire for the possession of the farm reflects his desire to recapture the maternal love. In fact, the land is a fetish that reminds him of the lost mother. What is specific about the youngest Cabot is his failure to possess the land and his success at grasping the essence of emotional richness. Despite the fact that the three brothers have different types of desires, they share the same experience of transformation. Like the older Cabots whose desire of becoming “people of plenty” is aborted, the desire of Eben or the wish of possessing the land is not achieved. The three brothers go through the experience of destruction because their desires for possession are not achieved and their dreams are shattered. This destruction is constructive as it leads to the rebirth of a new realistic vision. At the final scenes of the play, the older Cabots develop a pragmatic vision about the American dream. On the other hand, the youngest Eben is emancipated as he transcends the oedipal desire of possessing the mother. He leaves the stage after being redeemed by the sparkle of pure love.

Comparing the Oedipal wishes of Eben to the desire of his brothers is meant to reach the conclusion that in the O’Neillian cannon, desire is perceived as “a process of transformation” because it leads to a fluid movement from being immersed in delusion to having a better understanding of reality. To reach this conclusion, the paper will be divided into three parts. In the first part, the text will be put in its historical context by focusing on California “Gold Rush.” The second part will tackle the notion of desire in the play; I will start with the older brothers’ desire for achieving material abundance and their disillusionment with the mythical nature of the American dream. Then, focus will be on the role of desire in the transformation of Eben and his emancipation. Parody, the different stylistic, dramatic and thematic elements will be used to map out O’Neill’s dramatization of excessive desire.

According to the Oxford Dictionary of English the verb desire stems from the “Latin desiderate: strongly wish for or want something” (“Desire”). The Cabot family has a specific type of desire and longs for a certain fulfilling experience. The different types of desire are introduced through the title of the play. “[It] symbolizes that the persons who seek shelter under the elms, have several desires within” (Gupta 64). The old Cabot delineates the inner irresistible impulse or desire of possession in the following terms: “Even the music can’t drive it out-somethin’. Ye kin feel it droppin’off the elmus, climbin’up the roof, sneakin’down the chimney, pokin’ in the corners! They’s no peace in the houses, they’s no rest livin’ with folks. Somethin’ s always livin’ with ye” (Part 3, 45). According to the old Cabot, the moments of unrest are incurred by the constant search for satisfying desire. Desire plays a fundamental role in shaping the inner dilemma of the Cabots. O’Neill believes in the existence of internal forces ruling the psychic human life. In one of his interviews, the playwright elucidates the dramatic conflict of modern man by stating: “the struggle used to be with the gods but is now with himself, his attempt to belong” (qtd. in Sheaffer 74). The O’Neillian modern drama differs from classical tragedies in the sense that it replaces metaphysical forces with the implacable power of desire. In the play, desire takes different shapes because each member of the Cabot family has his own desire. Simeon and Peter who share the fervent wish of acquiring material prosperity and getting out of the quagmire of poverty represent the first type of desire. Both of them are allured by the new magnetic California dream of collecting gold. The desire for material possessions is made conspicuous through the décor of the Cabot’s kitchen: “in the middle of the rear wall is fastened a big advertising poster with a ship in full sail and the word California in big letters” (part 1, 5). The poster shows the effects of advertising on the elder Cabots and the role of propaganda in ensnaring citizens by making them dream of a better tomorrow (that never comes).

California Gold Rush

Before analyzing the Cabot bothers’ desire of amassing money and the phony nature of their dreams, it is pertinent to start with a historical account of the new California dream. California “Gold rush” stated when the American frontiersman, Samuel Brennan discovered the California gold mines and screamed, “Gold, gold, from the American river” (qtd. in Fradin 14). The glint of gold suggests the fascination by the new American dream. This new dream made nineteenth century American citizens and immigrants think fancifully about instant wealth. The optimism that reigned in the second half of the nineteenth century lifted high the spirit of the American middle class citizens and triggered in them the desire of attaining a higher socio-economic status. Optimism is reflected in the speeches of President Polk; in his 1848 message to congress, Polk declared: “the accounts of the abundance of gold in that territory are of such an extraordinary character” (qtd. in Byrnes 85). The president used to brag about American exceptional wealth and to introduce California as the land of golden opportunities where any citizen has the chance of reaching affluence through a short journey to the gold fields. In this respect, in a letter to his wife the miner Alfred Jackson wrote: “the excitement and fascination makes one endure the hardships, working up to one’s knees in cold water, breaking one’s back in gouging,…the chance that the next painful will indicate the finding of a big deposit” (qtd. in Wasserman 122). The speech of the miner is punctuated with the use of a soothing tone, which springs from the belief in a better tomorrow. The new American dream added positive vibes to people by making them cling to the idea of the easy realization of their dreams and the bright future that awaits them.

Unlike the Old American Dream which was based on the Puritan ideals of hard work and meritocracy, “the new dream was the dream of instant wealth, won in twinkling by audacity and good luck” (Brand 99). Benjamin Franklin is the paragon of the old Dream as he started from scratch and was able to accumulate wealth by relying on a great deal of personal effort. “Franklin, is maybe the best embodiment of the classic stereotype of the American dream: a self-made man, starting in Philadelphia with nothing and making history by sheer hard work and ingenuity” (Moseley 53). The Founding Father used to criticize lazy citizens who were plunged into slumber by accusing them of being responsible for their destitution. Franklin’s main motto is, “Laziness travels so slowly, that poverty soon overtakes him” (Franklin 7). The Puritan ideals were abandoned during the second half of the twentieth century when the majority of dreamers believed in the possibility of achieving after collecting gold without making any further effort. “This yellow dirt embodi[es] means for gratifying love, hate, lust, and domination” (Bancroft 53). Gold is described as “yellow dirt” as it dimmed the bright picture of the old American dream and has led to the implementation of a new mindset based on passivity and the consideration of prosperity as the outcome of a game of chance. Indeed, what is specific about California is that “[it] presented to people a new model for the American dream. One where the emphasis was on the ability to take risks, the willingness to gamble on the future” (Brand). The idea of gambling “on the future” hints at the deterioration of the Puritan values of hard work and the movement from self-reliance to idleness, the superficial belief in luck, sudden change and accidental success. The American transcendentalist Henry David Thoreau harshly criticized the new Californian ideology. He depicted the new dream as, “the greatest disgrace on mankind…. The gold of California is a touchstone, which has betrayed the rottenness, the baseness, of Mankind. Satan, from one of his elevations, showed mankind the kingdom of California, and they entered into a compact with him at once” (Thoreau 82). The biblical image of Satan is meant to highlight the negative impact of the new dream. Like Satan who seduced man and led to his fall, the California dream tempted American citizens and transformed some hopes into nightmares.

O’Neill’s Parody of the American Dream

Like Thoreau, O’Neill parodies the new American Dream when he pokes fun at the old Cabot’s desire of acquiring an immediate material prosperity. Parody is defined by Linda Hutcheon as “a vehicle for ridiculing the vices or follies of humanity, with an eye to their correction” (54). In the Play, parody emerges when O’Neill deals with the illusory nature of this dream and puts on stage two brothers who long for economic mobility but they will not achieve the status they desire. The final goal is to show that the New American dream was not a reality for every American citizen. The bother’s obsession with the desire of massing money and their soaring expectations about a brighter future are revealed through the image of the sky. The brothers have a recurrent daydream of imagining the blue sky as a golden colored one. They often shout in a dreamy tone: “gold in the sky! In the west golden gate_California! Goldest west! Field o’gold” (Part 1, 4). The image of the sky suggests the Cabots’ passionate longing for having new horizons in California. The image of the sky is accompanied with the motif of sunrise and sunset. Instants of optimism are introduced through the rosy light of dawn when “the sky is beginning to grow flushed with sunrise” (Part 1, 14). The rosy light alludes to the rosy idea about the possibility of achievement without making any effort. The brothers’ strong desire for getting heaps of money is further reinforced through the metaphor of light and the illuminating sunny rays. In this context, Peter informs his brother: “Sun’s startin’ with us fur the Golden West” (Part 1, 15). According to Peter, even sun is not able to shine in the gloomy farm where nothing grows. The farm bears a nightmarish reality and the family space denies the possibility of progress and the fulfillment of desire. Accordingly, Peter and Simeon are easily attracted by the California dream, which raised their desire of possessing a large amount of money merely through digging deep in search for gold. They dream of a better future in California: “they’s gold in the West-an’freedom, mebbe. We have been slaves t’ stone walls here” (Part 1, 15). Their strong desire for achievement makes them speculate about an upward movement from the tight farm and the stony walls, which reflect the harsh living conditions to the spacious mines fields. Animal imagery highlights this strong desire and the instinctive side of the brothers. The uncontrollable instincts are made obvious through the way of devouring food: “The two elder as naturally unrestrained as beasts of the field…. They hurry clumsily to their food like two friendly oxen toward the evening meal” (Part 1, 6). The brothers are clearly driven by violent instinctive impulses and they share an insatiable hunger for possession.

The desire for ascending the socio-economic ladder is also traced through the image of the wings. Simeon wishes he had wings to fly to the land of golden opportunities: “[sardonically] if ye’d grow wings on us we’d fly thar” (Part 1, 11). They choose California because it is considered as an “earthly paradise” where they would not only be endowed with freedom but also with the possibility of reconstructing a new luxurious way of life. The soaring expectations about opulence are further reinforced through promising the youngest brother: “we’ll send ye a lump o’ gold fur Christmas” (Part 1, 17). The lump of gold adds extra dreamy beats and indicates the excessive desire for acquiring financial gain. The attraction of the Cabots by the American dream is projected through their fascination by the optimistic tunes of the famous song of gold seekers that is known as “Susannah song.” The joyful music tones are heard when they chant: “I jumped abroad the Liza ship, and traveled on the sea, and every time I thought of home I wished it wasn’t me! Oh! California that is the land fur me! I am off to California! With my wash bowl on my knee” (Part 1, 20). The rhyming couplets echo the seductive effect of the California dream and the role of advertising on the psychological manipulation of the Cabots. They move from life-weariness to being mired in the dreamy world of achievement.

O’Neill revisits desire when he ridicules the obsession with desire without making an effort to make their wishes come true. The playwright anticipates the illusory nature of the American dream when he gives hints about the gloomy future Simeon and Peter. The pessimistic outlook is noticed through the dichotomy between images of light and images of darkness. Light is suggested through sunrise and darkness is indicated through the image of sunset: “it was spring an’May an’sunset, an’gold in the West” (Part 1, 8). Sunset confers a mysterious mood suggestive about the chimerical dimension of the American dream and the idea of the impossibility of achievement. Mystery foreshadows the self-deception of Peter and Simeon and indicates some of the American people’s illusions about a new world where their nation will be the champion of freedom and equality. In this way, O’Neill parodies the American dream by showing that “the land of golden opportunities” has been turned into a jungle where middle class citizens dream without achieving. Indeed, the new Urban way of life has turned the romantic dream into a “rat race” which is based on serving the interests of the elite and the dehumanization of some middle class citizens. “The rat race is no game, but a deadly serious struggle for success in which the loser is pushed aside to the bleak fingers of American life” (Gardner 60). The Cabots will be losers in “the rat race” as their dreams will be doomed to failure. However, they will acquire a more pragmatic view about the idea of possession. Excessive desire for possession leads to an immersion in illusion and prevents the characters from having steady steps in the ground of reality.

The dream of reaching material power will not be fulfilled because they flout some Puritan values like hard work, the sanctity of the family. What is ironic about Peter is that he displays an irreligious behavior, especially when he violates the Puritan commandment of honoring the father and prays for his death: “honor thy father! I pray he’s died” (Part 1, 5). Praying for the death of the father stems from the desire at inheriting the farm. Desire is responsible for the icy relationship of the Cabots and their dysfunctional family. Desire in the play brings about self-centrality; each member of the disunited family is striving to satisfy his personal desire at the expense of his close relatives. Apart from cutting off the close-knit threads of harmony and building higher walls of discord inside the family, excessive desire has also dire consequences on the psychological well- being of the older brothers. Indeed, the obsession with the desire for possession has resulted in the lunacy of Peter and Simeon. In this respect, their father rebukes them: “lust fur gold from the sinful, easy gold o’California! It’s made ye mad!” (Part 1, 19). Madness is a sign of having a dysfunctional head and body. The dysfunctional body and the lack of motion are noticed when “Simeon and peter shoulder in, slump down in their chairs” (Part 1, 6). The continuous act of sitting instead of acting and working indicates the laziness of the bothers. They are engrossed in hallucinating about the vast dreams of material success and collecting gold. The hallucination of the brothers, the vacillation between dream and reality and madness are the outcome of California “gold fever.” In fact, gold was considered as “a yellow metal that makes whites crazy” (“Black Elk). Madness helps Peter and Simeon evade the ugliness of reality and create their own worlds.

The impossibility of achievement is further evidenced through the pessimistic outlook and the cynical attitude of the father. He notices: “Mebbe they’s easy gold in the West but it hain’t God’s gold.” (Part 3, 57). The “Apollonian” father describes gold as an “easy gold” because it it makes his sons lost in the dreamy thoughts of achieving success without sweating for it. The brothers are deeply submerged in the illusion of possession that they tease their younger brother whenever he reminds them of the crude nightmarish reality. For instance, they change the topic of discussion when Eben tries to mention the idea of disillusionment with dreams. They silence him violently: “we never had no time t’meddle” (Part 1, 8). This type of displacement is used as a defense mechanism against reality. They develop an offensive behavior against Eben because he plays on their sentimental chords and triggers in them the fear of failure. On the other hand, Eben blames them for being ungrateful to the motherland and for having stony hearts: “An’ makin’ walls-stone atop o’stone-makin’ walls till yer heart’s a stone” (Part 1, 7). The image of stone has symbolic implications as it stands for erasing the spiritual side. In fact, “The stones suggest more than spirit ruling –soul killing labor” (Waterstradit). The idea of” killing labor” is another fine example of breaching the principles of hard work and desiring without working. This laziness and absence of activity will lead to a certain absurdist end and an absence of purpose. The nihilistic mood is raised through the dance of the brothers: “Whoop! They do an absurd Indian war dance about the old man who is prettified between rage and the fear that they are insane” (Part 1, 19). The absurd dance gives hints at the failure of achieving their final goals. Like the Indian dance that anticipates an upcoming war, the dance of the Cabots alludes to the futile dream. Their dreams will be aborted because they “dream at the expense of their souls” (S. Bloom 96). In this way, O’Neill is implicitly inviting the audience to ponder over the notion of desire and to find out that excessive desire is destructive. Excessive greed paves the way to downfall; the Cabots have a precarious position in California because their dreams are likely to collapse at any moment.

Eben’s Oedipal Desire for Possessing the Land

Another form of desire for possession is exemplified through Eben’s intense longing for preserving the land. Eben is dedicated to hold the land because it reminds him of his dead mother. There are many areas of convergence between Eben’s mother and mother earth. Eben draws parallel lines between his biological mother and Mother Nature when he declares: “her eyes weepin’ an bloody with somek an’ cinders…. She cannot find it maternal sleepin’ an restin’in peace. She can’t git used t’being free-even in her grave” (Part 1, 8). The image of the acrid smolder foregrounds the contamination of mother earth by the effects of urbanization. Like the mother who cannot enjoy moments of rest, nature is no longer the locus of peace for the Cabots because the machine of capitalization distorts it. Unlike the elder brothers who prefer to join the “rat race”, Eben decides to preserve the land and to defend his mother. In this respect, Eben informs his father: “You’ve no right! She wa’n’t yewr Maw! It was her farm! Didn’t he steal it from her? She is dead. It’s my farm” (Part 1, 7). There are affinities between the land and the protective maternal womb. Indeed, Eben “seeks to belong to the land as an unborn child belongs to the womb” (Gupta 69). The image of maternal womb and the desire to recapture the maternal love evinces his oedipal tendencies.

According to Freud, the Oedipus complex is noticed when the child “he desires his mother and wants to get rid of his father as being rival” (Sydie 70). The Oedipus complex reaches its peak when Eben displays a rancorous attitude toward the father. The father admits: “[He] hated me’ cause I was hard” (Part 2, 32). The antagonistic father\ son relationship is an important sign of Eben’s oedipal desires. Indeed, the Oedipus complex is accompanied with an “unconscious desire to replace or destroy the parent of the opposite sex” (Schultz 57). Commenting on son’s desire to destroy the father and recapture the instants of maternal love, the father remarks: “It’s lust eatin’ his heart…. I’ll git the shot gun an’ blow his soft brains t’the top O’them Elums” (Part 2, 28). Put differently, the father rebukes the son for his softness and his excessive lust for to the mother. In the Freudian canon, the word lust “refers to sexual arousal and the wanting to have more of that, as well as to sexual satisfaction” (Janssen 328). The boy’s lust for the mother is conveyed through the shadow of the Elms. Eben feels secure under the elms because their shadows remind him of maternal protection. Indeed, “the famous description of the elms expresses a sense that a maternal presence watches over the farm, inescapable and overpowering” (Black 307). The undying ghost of the tender mother is introduced through the shadow of the elms: “sky is suffused with deep colors, tree green of the elms glows” (Part 1, 1). The green elms provide Eben with a moment of comfort since they remind him of the maternal softness and contribute to attenuate the impact of paternal harshness. The harshness of the father is set in opposition with the infinite tenderness of the mother. Unlike the father who is despised, the mother is spiritually present even after her burial. Accordingly, Eben refuses the presence of any other woman in the farm and he displays an antagonistic behavior against his stepmother. When she penetrates the spatial space of his mother he drives her out: “Get out afore I murder ye!.... Maw! Whar air yew?” (Part 2, 34). The mournful voice is meant to resurrect the dead mother. Eben’s mournful tone is an indication of his oedipal lust and the difficulties at cutting off the umbilical cords with the mother.

Triangular Desire

Eben transcends the oedipal desire of possessing the mother when he falls in love with his stepmother. The competition of the father and son over the love of Abbie creates a sort of triangular desire. According to René Girard, triangular desire occurs when “the subject is unable to desire on his own, he has no confidence whatever in a choice that would be solely his own. The rival is needed because his desire alone can confirm value” (54). It is the case of Eben who shifts from hating the stepmother to falling in pure love with her and treating the father as a rival. At the beginning, the stepson used to demean Abbie and to tease her using the following terms: “ye darned old witch! I hate ye!” (Part2, 22). His words contain pejorative connotations that are meant to blame her for usurping the place of his tender mother. The desire for recapturing motherly love is transformed into the desire for preserving Abbie’s sincere love and eliminating the father. The father functions as “a mediator” because he contributes to strengthen the emotional bonds between Eben and Abbie. According to Girard, “the mediator is there, above the line, radiating toward both the subject and the object: the spatial metaphor that expresses this triple relationship is obviously, the triangle” (10). The triangle is established when the father seduces Abbie and strives to separate the lovers. In this respect, he tries to poison his son’s mind by whispering in his ear: “She’ll be too much fur ye-‘round her she knows yer tricks…. She says, I wants Eben cut off so’s this farm’ll be mine when ye die!” (Part 3, 46). The father’s gossip reflects his selfish desire to possess the farm and to reconstruct a new family with Abbie. O’Neill’s triangle of desire brings to the fore the devastating effects of the self-centered desire. In the last scene, the father leaves the stage after “com[ing]out and around the corner of the house, his shoulders squared, his face stony, and stalks grimly toward the barn” (Part 3, 58). The stringency of the father and his harsh attitude remain the most-compelling factors behind the failure in establishing a united family.

Pure Love

Unlike Epharaim, Eben and Abbie go beyond any form of egocentric desire when they cease plotting against each other. Their personal desires of possessing the land have been transformed into the common wish at preserving their authentic love. Transformation is reinforced through the use of intertextuality [1] or the incorporation of Greek mythology within a modern text. Desire is among O’Neill’s early experimental plays and his “explicit attempts to write an American tragedy using the basic plots of ancient Greek tragedy” (S. Bloom 87). Indeed, Abbie’s act of killing her unborn child recalls the Greek Medea and her infanticide. Euripides’ Medea often curses her sons: “oh what misery! oh what pain! Cursed sons and a mother for cursing! Death takes you all. You and your father” (Euripides 37). The Greek woman is dedicated to kill her offspring because she is overpowered with the desire for retaliation against her husband. Killing the sons aims at cutting off any yoke correlating her to the husband. The modern Medea commits the same murder of infanticide but she has different motivations. Unlike her Greek replica, Abbie has good intentions and aborts her baby to prove her infinite love to Eben. She reassures Eben and convinces him about her sincere intent: “I’ve proved I love ye-better n’ everything-so’sye can’t never doubt me no more” (Part 3, 50). She resorts to infanticide to demonstrate that immaterial love triumphs over any greedy desire for material gain.

The gradual metamorphosis is also noticed when Eben moves from insulting his stepmother to appreciating her genuine love. Replacing avaricious desire with pure love has a positive impact on the mood of Eben and his inner peace. In the early scenes, the audience meets an ill at ease character with “a fierce repressed vitality…. He spits on the ground with intense disgust” (Part 1, 3). This type of nausea divulges the tedious way of life and the deep frustration of Eben after the loss of his mother. Pure love could successfully get Eben out of his lethargy by turning him into an enthusiastic person. Even his facial expression “seems changed. His face wears a bold and confident expression, he is grinning to himself with evident satisfaction” (Part 2, 37). Contentment betokens the inner peace of Eben after sharing the beams of authentic love under the green elms.

At the end, Eben is no longer isolated because of his personal desire; he is rather sacrificing himself for the sake of saving his beloved. He is independent from his individual whims and he cannot help being fascinated by Abbie and her profound feelings. In this context, Eben admits being an accomplice in the sin of infanticide and shows a willingness to share momentous moments of retribution with Abbie. The warm –hearted lover elucidates his belief in collective retribution when he informs his partner: “I got’t’ pay fur my part’o’the sin! An’ I’d suffer wust leavin’ ye…. I want’t share with ye, Abbie-prison ‘r death” (Part 3, 56). We infer through this statement the shift of Eben from yearning for satisfying individual desires to sharing even the bitter moments with Abbie out of love. According to Eben, love has the power of transmogrifying agonizing experience into a sweeter one. He comforts his beloved using a soft tone: “hell ‘r anthing!.... If I’m sharin’ with ye, [we] won’t feel lonesome, leastways” (Part 3, 56). The remarkable movement from using the exclusive personal pronoun “I” to the reiterated use of the inclusive “we” implies the transformation of selfish lust for material possession into mutual love. The playwright’s aim behind this transformation is to show that “[the] desirable is never what ought to be desired after reflections and deliberate consideration” (Diggins 158). Accordingly, Abbie and Eben are endowed with happiness after transcending any sort of selfhood and being engaged in altruism.

The play is characterized by its open ending, which alludes to the importance of desire in determining human identity. The idea of openness is suggested by the advent of the sheriff and his strong lust for power. Instead of being responsible for promoting peace and punishing the couple for their sin of infanticide, the Sheriff forgets about his original mission after visiting the farm. Before lowering the stage curtain at the end of the play, the Sheriff divulges his admiration for the land: “[looking around the farm enviously to his companion] it’s a jim-dandy farm, no denyin.’ Wished I owned it” (Part 3, 58). This statement reflects the sneering tone of the playwright and his criticism of Man’s uncontrollable desire for possession. O’Neill criticizes excessive desire when he points at its destructive effects and shows that Abbie and Eben are the triumphant and spiritually victorious characters of the play since they have relinquished their selfish preoccupations. At the end, they are arrested and physically imprisoned, but they are spiritually free and redeemed by the power of love. Spiritual freedom is obviously achieved after getting rid of selfish desire.


In Desire Under Elms, O’Neill has given a critical stance about excessive human desire. The play encompasses different types of desire. The common thread between all these desires is that they are unrestrained and are abandoned by the end of the play. This paper has endeavored to study O’Neill’s parody of the California dream by bringing together the text and its historical context. The older Cabots are a miniature of the middle class citizens who have a maniac desire for economic gain and are constantly struggling against socio-economic forces that are beyond their capacities. The main tragic flaw of Peter and Simeon remains their obsessive desire for possession that paves the way to their tragic end as jolted dreamers. They have spent the play staring at sky, looking for winds of change and longing for possession without having the chance to possess. However, the audience possesses a new vision about the American dream. It is a deceiving mirage, which starts to vanish as soon as you come nearer into it. O’Neill is implicitly denouncing the ideology of capitalism that has produced a “rat race.” Capitalism puts the machine of desire into motion and makes each member of the Cabot family lost in the thoughts of personal achievement. Selfish desire has dire effects as it made the Cabots live separately like monads. Each single member strives to reach his own desire at the expanse of his relatives. Excessive individual desire has ignited a pathetic form of family disunity. The best form of rivalry inside the Cabot family is exemplified through triangular desire and the competition between father and son over the love of the same woman. Both Abbie and Eben left the triangle and prevailed over their uncontrollable desire when they transcended the material world and refused to be manipulated by mammon. They are the most spiritually triumphant characters in the play because they have grasped that “unhappiness is caused by becoming preoccupied with the wrong things, especially wealth and material possessions” (Diggins 172). Accordingly, they have reached inner peace and have gone of the psychic hell produced by self-centered desire when they transformed insatiable desire for material possession into perennial love. O’Neill recommends pure love as the key for reaching inner peace. He contends that uncontrollable desire germinates the seeds of destruction and leads to social and psychological dislocation.


[1] Intertextuality: “any text is constructed as a mosaic of quotations, any text is the aborting and transformation of another” (Kristeva 37).


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