Symbolism in Desire Under the Elms

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Julianne MandaraDue: 10/19/10
Desire Under the Elms EssayDSTP- Nan Withers

Symbolism In Desire Under the Elms
The drama Desire Under the Elms by Eugene O’Neill is a tragedy that is full of symbolism. The themes of the drama are brought about through the use of symbols that exist within various elements of the play, especially in the setting and the plot. Such themes include a power struggle among the major characters, human greed, and humanity being controlled by the fates. Ultimately, however, symbols such as the elm trees, the farm, the parlor, and the baby help characterize the protagonists, provide tone, explain the conflict and expose the characters’ weakness as humans who fall to their emotions. The first major symbols, described in the introduction of the setting, are the two massive elm trees. These trees are symbolic of the two dead wives of Cabot. Their omnipresent location looms over the house, signifying that the deaths of the two women still affect the lives of those living in the house. O’Neill himself describes the elms as, “[brooding] oppressively over the house…like exhausted women resting their sagging breasts and hands and hair on its roof, and when it rains their tears trickle down monotonously and rot on the shingles.” [i] Aside from establishing a conflict for the characters of dealing with accepting the loss of the wives, the elm trees establish a gloomy tone right from the play’s commencement. Eben mourns his mother throughout the play, and is sour towards Cabot for working her to death. His objective of inheriting his mother’s farm, and his internal struggle of whether to be with Abbie are influenced by whether he feels his mother’s presence in the house. His primary objective is to win back his mother’s farm, and he becomes blinded by his ambitions; so much that he is quick to accuse Abbie, the woman he loves, of plotting to steal his mother’s farm. Similarly, Cabot is affected by the memory of...
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