Desire Under the Elms as a Play of Psychological Study of its Three Characters.
Eugene O’Neill’s Desire Under the Elms is considered as super natural play and it is also a deeply psychological play which shows us how to enter the inner states of mind of the various characters. We also get an excellent analysis of human nature and human motives. The character of Cabot, Eben and Abbie makes the play more psychological and psychological realism is the key note of the play.
After observing the play deeply we have the feelings that we have totally entered into the very mind of each of these characters.
In this story, there is the role played by the ancient Greek legends about Oedipus and Phaedra and Phaedra and by the Freudian theory known as the Oedipus complex.
A Glimpse of the Minds of Simeon and Peter: In this play we find Simeon and Peter differently who dislike their father so much that they wish him dead. Actually they think that their father makes them bound to do too much farm works over the years. There we also find a mental conflict between father and his three sons. So, Simeon and Peter decide to get away from the farm and they want to go to California where they think they can get rich in a short time.
Eben’s Abhorrence for his Father and Step-brothers: According to the view of Eben, his father killed his mother by working hard and applying mental torture. Eben also has an objection against his step-brothers because they did nothing to protect his mother against their father’s cruelty to her in spite of her kindness towards them. Eben believes that, his father had slaved his mother to death. He also believes that the farm of which his father is so proud originally belonged to his mother and his father had unjustly obtained it from her. When his father returns home with his third wife, who will particularly make a claim to the farm, it makes Eben more revengeful to his father.
Eben’s Mother Addiction: Several times Eben’s mother addiction is emphasized. So, Eben often tells his step-brothers that when he is working in the kitchen, he always feels that the spirit of his dead mother comes and stands by the stove, watching him in the work. It cannot rest peacefully in her grave. The spirit also feels sorry to see that her son has to perform same the hard duties which had been performed by her previously.
When Abbie enters the Parlous, she feels that some invisible presence in the Perlous. Hearing this Eben says that, it must be the spirit of his mother. He again feels that his dead mother is promoting him to respond to Abbie’s affectionate advances and to acquire Abbie as his mistress and sweet heart.
Revenge: Eben’s visit to the prostitute Minnie and his making love to Abbie are both motivated in part by his desire to take revenge upon his father. Abbie regards Eben’s making love to her as a kind of many- sided revenge. After having love to Abbie during the night, when Eben meets his father next morning, he tells the latter that they are now quits and that the spirit of his dead mother can now sleep peacefully in her grave.
The Oedipus Complex: Eben’s making love to the prostitute Minnie and afterwards developing a love-affair with Abbie are both incestuous in character because Minnie has once been his father’s mistress and Abbie is his step-mother. Both these incestuous relationships may be known psychologically as the Oedipus complex. Thus a mixed motivation lies here.
The working of Abbie’s Mind: Abbie’s motive in marrying old Cobot was to find a home for herself and get a feeling security. When she realizes that Cabot might leave the farm to Eben, she decides to have a son and if old Cabot can beget a son by Abbie, he would leave the farm to Abbie and her son. But the process of getting a son by Eben, she really falls in love with Eben and removes his beginning plan to get the farm.
When Eben misunderstands her motives, Abbie feels compelled to murder her child in order to prove her love to Even, and to show that she will not allow anything, not even the baby, to come between her and Eben. She has an extraordinary motivation power and determination. By murdering the child she has proved that she loves Eben and she has also regained his love. So, when she is placed under arrest she feels no guilt.
A Subconscious Scene: When Abbie and Eben are in adjacent rooms, their yearning for each other becomes so powerful that they seem to see each other through the wall. Finally, Abbie gets up and listens, her ear to the wall. Eben behaves as if he saw every move that she was making.
Cabot’s Mind: Cabot is callous and hard towards his wives and sons because he has been nurtured in the puritan society and tradition. In his past life, he is a faithful believer in God and a fanatical believer in work.