Desire Under the Elms by Eugene O'Neill: Summary

When the play opens, the two sons of old Ephraim, Simeon and Peter are very excited and determined to go to gold mining in California. They want to be free from the toil of farm work. One day, their father leaves for the town and keeping his sons Simeon, Peter and Eben in the farm.

Eugene O'Neill (1888- 1953)

They all hate old Ephraim for various reasons. The two sons of the first wife hate him for being so greedy and making them work so hard in the farm, and Eben shuns him for snatching his mother's land and not being a good husband to his mother.

In their father's absence, Eben makes a plan to get rid of his two brothers once and for all. He knows that they want to go to California, but they are backed off because of lack of money. He proposes them to sign in a paper renouncing all claims to the farm and promise to give them a hundred dollars each. The two brothers happily accept his offer and set off for California.

After a while, Ephraim appears in the farm with his third wife, Abbie. He is seventy-five years old and his new wife is just thirty-five. Abbie has married the old man just for the sake of home and security. Eben hates her because he thinks that she has come to snatch the land of his mother. Abbie tries hard to make friend to Eben but all goes to vain. As the time passes, Eben realizes the life has become easier after Abbie comes to the farm.  Abbie falsely blames Eben for making advances of her and tells it to her husband. Old Ephraim being so angry threatened him to kill. But, Abbie pacifies him and convinces him to give birth to a son who would claim the land after their death and that would be a better way of getting back at Eben than to kill him. Ephraim in dream of having a son even at the age of seventy-five agrees to leave Eben alone.

One night, Ephraim goes to sleep out in the barn. Abbie thinks of seducing Eben for the sake of having a son. She lures Eben in his mother's parlor, which remained closed after his mother's death. She convinces him to have sex with her and take revenge with Ephraim for the ill treatment of his mother. He agrees and enjoys the copulation.

Abbie gives birth to a son and to celebrate his birth, Ephraim invites his neighbors and friends. They dance and drink in the kitchen of the farmhouse. Many of his guests doubt on the father ship of Ephraim and directly make the point. He pretends not to listen to and goes on dancing.

Ephraim goes out to cool himself off and meets Eben. They have a quarrel over the possession of the land. In anger, Ephraim tells Eben that Abbie has tricked him by having a son who would inherit the land. Hurt and furious Eben threatened Abbie to kill her son he has fathered. By this time, she genuinely loves Eben and wants to prove her love to him. She kills the baby to justify her love for Eben that she wants Eben not the baby.

Enraged and shocked Eben goes to take the sheriff for Abbie's arrest. But, on his return with the sheriff, he realizes her love to him and confesses his part in the crime. They are arrested and taken to the punishment. Old Ephraim is left alone in the farm.