How is Desire Under the Elms similar to a greek tragedy?

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Ashley Kannan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I think that O'Neill's basic premise is similar to a Greek tragedy.  There is a desire to evoke something primal and universal in the individual exploration of a family or a specific person.  The triangle of Ephraim Cabot, his son Eben, and Ephraim’s new wife, Abby Putnam, helps to bring this out.  Naturally, the delving into the dark forces that drive human beings in a very base state is Greek, in its nature.  Infanticide, incest, and the Oedipal challenges between father and son are all a part of this delving that O'Neill brings from the Greek setting to the New England condition.  The fact that O'Neill presents his characters as having committed transgression and then accepting and awaiting punishment for their actions is reflective of the Greek conception of tragedy.  There is no evasion of responsibility.  Eben and Abby both have committed unspeakable acts and like Greek conceptions of tragedy, individuals assume the maintenance of the social and ethical order of being.  When Ephraim remarks, "God's hard," it is almost a Tiresias- like statement on the nature of being in the world.  The Greek element of seeing fated forces, something outside the realm of free will that drives individuals, is also evident, helping to make O'Neill's work powerful and compelling in scope.

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Desire Under the Elms

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