"Desire Under the Elms" takes place on the Cabot farm in rural New England. The people in the play are low on the social ladder and not of noble birth or royalty. The subject matter is not mythological and the plot is serious and complex and throughout the play there is evidence of harsh and cruel treatment of the individuals by the Puritan society.
The play shows unity of action and the events follow in a logical sequence. The play is based on the struggles of family members possessed by greed and revenge. Each of the characters believes that they are entitled to the farm. Eben strengthens his rights to the farm by offering his brothers money he steals from his father. The arrival of Abbie on the farm is the starting point of the conflict. Her greed and sexual desires present her as a threat to both Eben and Ephraim. Complications develop when Abbie has an incestuous relationship with Eben. Abbie wants a son as insurance that the farm will remain hers. Abbie to prove her love for Eden supersedes her desire for the farm and murders the child. When she tells Eben what she has done he is shocked and in horror goes to the sheriff. In the final scene Eben is convinced of her love, and accepts punishment and Epharim is left alone on his farm.
The setting is realistic and presents a vivid picture of the 19th century New England farmhouse. The story takes place in three days and is structured according to seasons (summer, autumn, spring) over a period of three years. Of unity of action, time and place, only the action is patterned after Greek tragedy.
The plot of "Desire Under the Elms" resembles many of the tragic incidents of the old Greek myths. As in Oedipus, the son fights with the father and commits adultery incest with the mother (in this case the stepmother). Later he shares the blame with Abbie for the murder of their son. Like Oedipus, Eben did not intentionally commit his crime, but the words of his anger and betrayal gave Abbie the idea of killing their son to prove her love. And like Oedipus, Eben participates in his punishment by giving himself up to the sheriff.
The scene, which resembles the Dionysian celebration, is the drinking, dancing and party given by Ephraim Cabot at the farm to celebrate the birth of his son. At the party, the neighboring farmers resemble the `chorus' as they comment on Eben and Abbie's affair, and Ephraim's ignorance of being the father.
Action associated with hamartia (tragic flaw-tragic hero makes a...