Whether a tragedy or not , Eugene O'Neill's play , Desire Under the Elms , is surely a drama of passions , dealing with love , hate , revenge , working out quite controversially the themes of incest , infanticide and intense possessiveness.
Ephraim's bid to dispossess his son , Eben , from the inheritence of his mother's land , Eben's mother being overworked to death , Eben's clever alluring modus to drive his two half-brothers from their father's farmland , the love-hate tumult between Eben and his father's young wife Abbie , the smothering of the incest-born child of Eben and Abbie, the catastrophic isolation of old Ephraim--all suggest the reduction of human beings to the level of promordial savagery and passions.
The play may not be called a true tragedy though O'Neill has borrowed motifs and structure from ancient Greek tragedies. Characters are all passion-driven, and may be said to lack tragic depths and heights. The conclusion seems more pathetic than truly tragic.