Biblical Themes from Desire Under the Elms

4 April 2015
This essay examines O’Neils’ use of biblical themes to highlight the destructive power of improper desires in “Desire Under the Elms.”

This paper looks at Eugene O’Neil’s classic drama, “Desire Under the Elms” and allusions that are made to the Bible. The author pays close attention to the significance of Ephraim Cabot’s name and his connection to the land, the similarities between Jacob and Eben in their attempt to secure their birthright, and a perversion of the Adam/Eve account in the relationship between Eben and Abbie.
While most critics will attribute O’Neil’s styling to that of Greek tragedy, I feel that in many cases we can see that it goes back much further. Although he never professed a need for a god within his life, it is quite obvious that he often times chose to draw upon many of the tragedies found within the pages of the Bible for his inspiration. His repeated consideration of godlike figureheads was perhaps a means by which he attempted to come to a better understanding of the plague of the human condition. O’Neil once said, Obsessed by a fairy tale, we spend our lives searching for a magic door and a lost kingdom of peace. Since his life was for the most part devoid of peace, much of his writing ended up being somewhat cathartic in nature. It is no surprise then that the Bible, which has always addressed the age old questions and concerns of man, figures so highly in much of his work.

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