Desire under the elms
‘The natural world and the individual’s very essence’ Talita E. Sigillo
Desire under the elms was written by American play write, Eugene O’Neill in 1924. It is said that in this masterpiece O’Neill successfully incorporates Greek drama by reliving Greek mythology through Phaedra, Hippolytus and Theseus. A play with many themes, such as this one, is also flooded by symbolism and irony, but above all a prevailing theme «sticks out» right from the title: Nature, ‘the natural world and the individual’s very essence’. More specifically the relationship between human beings and nature; the human nature of desire, of «pathos» lingering under the unbeatable, ever growing, strong and steady elms. Right after the readers’ first encounter with nature in the title, at the turn of the page O’Neill has them in for a surprise, his masterpiece was written in vernacular American? «God! PURTY!» are the first two words uttered in the play. Acording to Alfred Hickling theatre review in the guardian, O’Neill was the first to publish a play in vernacular American bringing the natural environment of every day speech on the surface.
Furthermore, in more than one parts of this play, one can note how intuition and second-sense play a major role. Intuition emphasizes the close bond between humans and nature and how their senses were acute before they were contaminated by the modern way of life. At the beginning of the play when the three boys discuss the arrival of the father, they say that they knew he was not dead because they could sense he is near: EBEN--Hain't I as far-sight as he's near-sight? Don't I know the mare 'n' buggy, an' two people settin' in it? Who else . . . ? An' I tell ye I kin feel 'em a-comin', too! (He squirms as if he had the itch.)
Later on, in the play, Cabot and Abbie have a conversation about having a son then she promises to give him one. At the question to how she can promise, she claims to have second sight: ABBIE--I got second-sight, Mebbe (?). I kin foretell. (She gives a queer smile.) CABOT--I believe ye have. Ye give me the chills sometimes. (He shivers.) It's cold in this house. It's oneasy. They's thin's pokin' about in the dark--in the corners. (He pulls on his trousers, tucking in his night shirt, and pulls on his boots.)
During the above quote it is noticed that, Cabot senses something uneasy, something poking in the corners. He mentions this about four-five times in the script, only for the reader to discover that this was him sensing the affair between Eben and Abbie, which further demonstrates a strong correlation between second sense and intuition with human nature. Later on the same night, Abbie and Eben consume their love in Eben’s dead mother room and the second sense reappears: «ABBIE--When I fust come in--in the dark--they seemed somethin' here. EBEN--(simply) Maw.
ABBIE--I kin still feel--somethin'.
ABBIE--At fust I was feered o' it. I wanted t' yell an' run. Now--since yew come--seems like it's growin' soft an' kind t' me. (addressing the air--queerly) Thank yew. »
The question of desire ( the desire of lust, love, greed, hatred, and belonging) is ever present in the play and can be found in every character and their interpersonal relations. Ephraim has become a victim of his natural impulse towards greed. He is a very selfish man and has known no love in his life. He constantly feels cold in the house and seeks for warmth in nature, on his farm or in the barn, sleeping with the animals, trying to overcompensate for something he is psychologically lacking.
CABOT--(queerly) Down whar it's restful--whar it's warm--down t' the barn. (bitterly) I kin talk t' the cows. They know. They...