Transformation of the Self in Desire under the Elms

Qun XIE

Abstract


As a masterpiece of Eugene O’Neill, Desire under the Elms challenges the limitation of time and interpretation.  Employing Charles Taylor’s theories of ethics, the author explores the moral state of the main characters in the play. Though deeply influenced by the dominant culture of utilitarianism, Eben and Abbie can’t find happiness in pure material possession and physical pleasure. In their competition for wealth, they come to recognize a more enduring power that may bring purgation to greediness and spiritual fulfilment, that is, the good originated from Christianity. Inspired by the power of this good – the other-regarding love, both Eben and Abbie give up selfishness and material desire and gradually achieve a self transformation. The changes that occur on the two characters reveal one of O’Neill’s major concerns in his dramatic creation: the moral confusion of modern man in America.Key words:  Eugene O’Neill; ethics; the good; utilitarianism

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DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.3968%2Fj.sll.1923156320100101.004

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