An Analysis of Eco-feminism in Desire Under the Elms2

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    An Analysis of Eco-feminism in Desire Under the Elms

Abstract: Desire under the Elms, one of the famous plays in the ―Father of Modern

    American Drama‖ Eugene O‘Neill‘s early period, expounds a family tragedy caused by the fighting for a farm. This play involves many eco-feminist concerns such as equivalence of women and nature, womanization of nature, naturalization of women, and the oppression to women, women‘s rebellion in male-centric culture. This paper is

    going to do an analysis about eco-feminism through these aspects and get the concept that harmony between men and women, between human race and nature, can be achieved only when we overcome anthropocentrism, treat nature and women equally, and come to realize the equality and complementarity of the two sexes, and the mutual dependence between human race and nature.

    Key Words: eco-feminism; equivalence of women and nature; womanization of

    nature; naturalization of women, harmony



    1. Introduction ........................................................................................................... 1 2. A brief introduction of eco-feminism ..................................................................... 1 3. An analysis of the relationship among women, men and nature in Desire Under the

    Elms ...................................................................................................................... 2 3.1 The relationship between women and nature .................................................... 2

    3.1.1 The equivalent social status of women and nature .................................... 2

    3.1.2 The ―nature femininity‖ and ―female naturalized‖ .................................... 4

    3.2 The relationship between women and man in Desire Under the Elms ............... 5

    3.2.1 The oppression of male to female ............................................................. 6

    3.2.2 The women‘s rebellion ............................................................................. 6

    3.3 The oppression of men to nature ...................................................................... 7 4. Conclusion ............................................................................................................ 8 Bibliography ............................................................................................................. 9 Acknowledgements ................................................................................................. 10


    1. Introduction

    Desire Under the Elms is a play written by Eugene O‘Neill, published in 1924,

    and it is now considered as an American classic.

    Eugene O‘Neill was an American playwright and Nobel laureate in Literature. In December 1953, on ―The Times‖, the famous American drama critic John Gassner

    said: ―Before O‘Neill, the United States only has theater; After O‘Neill, the United States has drama.‖. His plays were among the first to include speeches in American vernacular and involve characters on the fringes of society, where they struggle to maintain their hopes and aspirations, but ultimately slide into disillusionment and despair. O‘Neill wrote only one well-known comedy and nearly all of his other plays

    involve some degree of tragedy and personal pessimism.

    Desire Under the Elms was completed by Eugene O‘Neil in 1924. It mainly

    expounds a family tragedy caused by the fighting for a farm. It is the last of O‘Neill‘s naturalistic plays and the first in which he re-creats the starkness of Greek tragedy. And this play also involves many eco-feminist concerns such as equivalence of women and nature, womanization of nature, naturalization of women, and the oppression to women, women‘s rebellion in male-centric culture.

    At home and abroad many related papers have resolved Desire Under the Elms

    which are mainly from naturalism, feminism, mythology, religion and the Bible to resolve this works. This paper is going to analyze this play from the following aspects: the equivalence of women and nature, the ―natural femininity‖ and ―female

    naturalized‖, the oppression of male to female, the women‘s rebellion, and the oppression of men to nature and to get the concept that harmony between men and women, between human race and nature, can be achieved only when we overcome anthropocentrism, treat nature and women equally, and come to realize the equality and complementarity of the two sexes, and the mutual dependence between human race and nature.

    2. A brief introduction of eco-feminism

    Eco-feminism is a kind of political and social movements. It believes that there is a relationship between women‘s oppression and degradation of nature. The eco-

    feminism mainly consider the interaction among the gender discrimination, the control of nature, racial discrimination, speciesism and other various social inequalities.

    Eco-feminism is generated by feminist and ecological. It believes that the social mentality which leads to the oppression and domination of women is directly linked to the social mentality which leads to the abuse of nature.

    Based on the western worldview‘ level binary and the logic of rule, the



    eco-feminism indicate how does the ―scientific‖ worldview of androcentric, analysis and mechanistic cause the oppression of men to women and nature; and also point out that how does the different kind of oppression combine because of the male-dominant, and regards women and nature as the ―others‖ which causes that the eco-feminists

    think the liberation movement of women and nature discrimination must be perceived and carried out. Because of the this understanding of combination between women‘s

    liberation and the natural liberation, the eco-feminists regard the ancient wisdom of respecting natural pre-modern worldview as the valuable theoretical resources. The pre-modern worldview regard the nature as a holistic organism, and also recognize the natural immanence value, and believe that the value of man is equal with the the other species‘ and nature‘s.

    There are different relevant schools of feminist thought and activism that relate to the analysis of the nature. Eco-feminism argues that there is a connection between women and nature that comes from their shared history of oppression by a patriarchal society; this connection also comes from the positive identification of women with nature. This relationship can be argued from an essentialist position , attributing it to biological factors , or from a position that explain s it as a social construction. 3. An analysis of the relationship among women, men and

    nature in Desire Under the Elms

    In that kind of male-center society, the relationship between women and man is complicate. However in Desire Under the Elms, the relationship between women and

    nature is also diversification. And this play mainly represents the relationship among women, men and nature in the following there aspects.

    3.1 The relationship between women and nature

    In Desire Under the Elms, the relationship between the women and nature is

    mainly represents the the equivalence of women and nature and the ―natural femininity‖ and ―female naturalized‖. Both women and nature are the objects of

    men‘s oppression in that male-center society.

    3.1.1 The equivalent social status of women and nature

    In Desire Under the Elms, the women who have the quality of ―materialization‖

    is equivalent with the nature, Both women and nature become the targets of men‘s hunting and exploitation, they have lost their subjectivity and have been mercilessly pushed into the ―marginalized‖. Erskine Tel King, the eco-feminism theory pioneer,

    once said: ―the nature is objected, conquered and has become the ‗otherness‘ who have the essential difference from the rulers. In the the patriarchal society, women are regarded as nature and both of they are objected and conquered. In this sense, women and nature have become the most primitive ‗otherness‘‖ (King 21)



    In the patriarchal society, the equivalent is mainly indicates their same society station. In Desire Under the Elms, the main representatives of women are harlot,Min

    and Cabot‘s three wives, and the main representative of nature in this play is the Cabot‘s farm including the house, plants, and animals. All the women and the farm are in the low social station and they have no freedom. As far as the men are concerned, women are their slaves, their private property and their tormented objects. In a word, women can‘n be regarded as human beings. We can know the women‘s social station according to the conversation between Abbie and Cobot:

    CABOT: But har‘s the p‘int. What son o‘mine‘ll keep on here t‘ the farm –when

    the Lord does call me? Simoon an‘ Peter air gone t‘ hell—an Eben‘s follerin‘ ‗em.

    ABBIE: They‘s me.

    CABOT: Ye‘re on‘y a woman. (Desire 223)

    According to their conversation, We can get that cabot never thinks over his wifeAbbie when he is considering his heir of his farm, in his eyes, women have no qualification to take over his farm. His attitude to his former wives also reflects the women‘s oppressed station. Women have no freedom no rights and even become the objects of men‘s oppression. ―In our social order, men according to the natural right to

    rule women is what basically not been inspected and even often been denied however has been institutionalized‖;Millett 33), in Cabot‘s eyes, wives have no ―ontology‖

    status, and just be regarded as his private property without care about their joy and their life.

    In addition to the women, the nature is also the object of Cabot‘s oppression and exploitation. The only purpose of Cabot‘ life is to build a farm over the poor land. In order to get his goal, he impels his family to work for him even never mind his former wivies‘ life. Greedy and depredation of thing fills Cabot‘s will, he has to force his

    there sons to work days and nights on the farm as beasts. In his opinion, he is the master of this farm, including his own wives and children, all of which are his private property that can be driven and dominated arbitrarily by him. We read a period of his two son‘s dialogue:

    PETER: (with sardonic bitterness) Here—it‘s stones atop o‘ the ground—stones

    atop o‘ stonea—makin‘ stone walls—year atop o‘ year—him ‗n‘ me ‗n‘ then

    Eben—makin‘stone wall fur him to fence us in!

    SIEON: We‘ve wuked. Give our strength. Give our years. Plowed ‗em under in the ground(he stamps rebelliously)—rottin‘==makin‘ soil for his scrops! (a

    pause)Waalthe farm pays good for hereabouts. (Desire 198)

    Obviously, in Cabot‘s eyes, nature is the object of his oppression and exploitation. He can arbitrarily transform nature and let nature lost its intrinsic value. In order to build the farm, ―He hain‘t never been off this farm ‗ceptin‘ t‘ the village in thirty year



    or more‖(Desire 198)

    De Beauvoir said: ―the oppression brings the oppressors benefits, even the most humble oppressors would feel superior‖; ―even the man who are the most mediocre compared with woman, he will feel extraordinary‖ (Beauvoir 12). The men in the play

    regard the women and nature as their own private property and the objects of their oppression and exploitation. Women and nature have lost their ontology status in that kind of patriarchal society.

    3.1.2 The “nature femininity” and “female naturalized”

    It is a tragedy for women that suffer the men‘s abuse and conquer, for human, it is more than a tragedy. Only with a sort of natural similarity between women and nature, the male-center culture magnifies this kind of ―similar‖ infinitely, and roots it in human culture which causes the production of two deadly poisonous ―fruit‖—‖natural women ― and ―women naturalized‖. As a result, women and nature are conquered and oppressed by men in that kind of male-center society. The morbid contact between women and nature can earliest date back to the western ideaBible

    which provide a culture basis for human beings (mainly referring to men) to conquer nature. After making human, the God endow the right to rule and conquer nature to human (man):‖You have to multiply; all over and control the Earth. You should manage the fish of the sea, the birds of the sky and the animals on the earth.‖(Old Testament Genesis 1:28)When Adam and Eve were expelled from the Eden, the God gives the rights to control nature to man and also allow Adam to control and dominate his wife: ―Your desire is for your husband, your husband shall rule over you.‖

    The eco-feminism theory thinks that nature and woman are the origin of human survival and development. Nature is often compared to mothers, it is the basis of material existence. Springfield Fontenay said: ―the earth and the womb are to follow the rhythm of the universe.‖(Falk 63) The eco-feminism theory thinks that the earth

    and women have the inner link in the creation of life, the ruler of patriarchal subjugation oppress the nature, it also oppresses and conquer women‘s body. However, this similarity of nature and women in male-centered culture was mixed together and become the ―food‖ of men.

    In Desire Under the Elms, the men often converse women and nature

    unconsciously, regard they as natural feminine and naturalization of women and show their tremendous disgust to women. For example, at the beginning of this play, it show us two big elms which are filled with the ―Evil of maternal‖:

    They bend their trailing branches down over the roof. They appear to protect and at the same time subdue. There is a sinister maternity in their aspect, a crushing, jealous absorption.…They brood oppressively over the house. They are like exhausted

    women resting their sagging and hands and hair on its roof, and when it rains their



    tears trickle down monotonously and rot on the shingles.(Desire 194)

    Obviously the elms are draw on the equal sign with women, at least, there are many similar characteristics between the elms and women. The men in the play invariably uses a word ―purty‖ when they are describing the beautiful of the farm and Abbie. In Cabot‘s eyes, there is no difference between farm and Abbie: ―Sometimes

    ye air the farm an‘ sometimes the farm be yew.‖(Desire 234)

    And when Simon is telling the grange slavery, he used this kind of language:

    ―ye‘ve thirty year o‘ me buried in yr—spread out over ye—blood an‘ bone an‘

    sweatrotted away—fertilizin‘ye—richin‘yer soul—prime manure, by God, that‘s

    what been t‘ ye!‖(Desire 213)Through these words, we can know that the representative of naturethe farm—appear as a woman in the men‘s eyes.

    Paralleled with the ―natural feminine‖, it is the ―women naturalized‖. In Desire

    Under the Elms, Abbie is often regarded an animals. For example, when she just married with Cabot, Eben once fiercely warmed his father: ―You‘d better put her with another sow in the pigsty.‖(Desire 218)And when Cabot is describing the beauty of Abbie, he said: ―yer two breasts air like two fawns; yew air my rose o‘ Sharon.‖(Desire 230)Cabot also compared Abbie to his cows ―Ceptin‘ the cows. Then I‘d turn free.‖ ―Ye‘d be turned free, too.‖(Desire 237)Cabot never forget the image of animals no matter when he is meeting others or stay with himself ―What‘re ye all bleatin‘ about—like a flock o‘ goast? …an‘ thar ye set cacklin‘ like a lot o‘ wet hens with the pip! Ye‘ve swilled my likker an‘ guzzled my vittles like hogs, hain‘t ye?‖(Desire 250)

    Beauvoir once analyses the complex relationship between human and nature ―he

    was born in it, but died of it; it is the source of his existence is also the Kingdom that he conquered according his own mind … sometimes it‘s the allies, but sometimes it‘s

    the enemies, as if it poured out the dark chaos of life, as if it is the life itself.‖(Beauvoir 169) The nature is the gentle mother of life but also is the dark cemetery of life. Its endless life cycling function is coincided with the fertility and swallowed force of women. In the eyes of men, the women give birth to life but also exude the atmosphere of evil. ―Women naturalized‖ makes the fact become perfectly justifiable that the male‘s oppression to women, and it also makes the passive personality turn into their ―natural instincts‖. Both ―natural feminine‖ and ―women

    naturalized‖ continually suffer the forced control. All of the eco-feminists regard

    nature as women‘s friend and believe it is coincident that the oppression and domination of nature and women in the patriarchal culture.

    3.2 The relationship between women and man in Desire Under the


    In Desire Under the Elms, the men oppress and conquer women and nature



    without endless, and the sometimes the women in the play also revolt the men‘s control. However in that patriarchal society, womem‘s rebellion is bound to fall.

    3.2.1 The oppression of male to female

    In Desire Under the Elms, the harlot Min is the representative of the men‘s

    oppression to women. Before going to her house, Eben said:

    ―I don‘t give a damn how many sins she‘s sinned afford mine or who she‘s sinned ‗em with, my sin‘s as purty as anyone on ‗em.‖(Desire 192) In his eyes, Min is the undertaker of all the sins no matter she is with hia brothers or his father. Abbie is another objet of the men‘s oppression. Her first husband is a tipper, for her life, she has to work for others. She married with Cabot for his farm, however Cabot won‘t give her his farm, he just wants to give his sons. And she falls in love with Ben, but Eben does not believe her. For the love between Eben, she even killed her own son, however Eben went to the police station and informed her. This is the tragedy of a woman, for changing her station and her tragedy life, she lives with another man, however it is just another tragedy. The reason of Abbie‘s tragedy is because she didn‘t find the source of the tragedy and rely on men blindly.

    And in the play, the representatives of men‘s destruction to women are Cabot‘s former two wives. Eben emphasized again and again, his father forced his mother to work and maltreated her to death. Eben said:

    ―It was on‘y arter she died I comen to think o‘ it. Me cookin‘—doin‘ her work—that made me know her, suffer her sufferin‘—she‘d come back t‘ help—come

    back t‘ bile potatoes—come back t‘ fry bacon-- come back t‘bake biscuits-- come

    back all cramped up t‘ shake the fire, an‘ carry ashes, her eyes weepin‘ an‘ bloody with smoke an‘ cinders same‘s they used t‘ be. She still comes back—stands by the

    stove thar in the evenin‘—she can‘t find it natural sleepin‘ an‘ restin‘ in peace. She can‘t git used t‘ bein‘ free—even in her grave.‖(Desire 217) Women not only do the work on the farm, but also do the housework in the family, they even have no time to have a rest. Finally, the heavy labor crushed women, let them go to the grave early. 3.2.2 The women’s rebellion

    In the face of the patriarchal society with a strong tragedy fate and compared to men, the women in Desire Under the Elms are in a disadvantage station. Their

    encounter is sympathized and their situation is worried, however, their vulnerable does not mean that their station and role in the social gender can be completely replaced by men. Abbie, a typical representative of the resister, does not succumb to her fate and remains tenaciously struggling with her fate.

    ―A woman is not be born, but rather said that a woman is gradually formed.‖(Beauvoir 257) However, Abbie never stops giving up struggle for her

    non-dominate fate which is the same as the nature‘s. She is tried to put herself under



    the same situation with men. From the fist moment of her riding Cabot‘s home, we can found that ―Her mouth is powerful, stubborn; her eyes are full of a firm, no retreat of dignity.‖(Desire 217) The same as the men in the play, she also wants to get the farm. When she went to Cabot‘s house, her first words are: ―home! really pretty—I

    don‘t believe this is really mine.‖(Desire 217) when Cabot told her that a home need a woman, she retorted ―a woman need a home.‖(Desire 217) with a voice full of the

    master of all forces. Although her answer is a transformation of Cabot‘s word, it typically represents Abbie‘s subject consciousness in her characteristics. In a sense, her possessive is from her protest, and also represents that she wants to save and take advantage of the initiative of her own destiny. She wants to master the farm and occupy, dominate Cabot rather than to transform herself into the private property of Cabot.

    Relative to these comparisons conceal discourse, Abbie also has some words that bluntly express her desire of the farm. When Eben found her desire he cursed: ―Aa‘ bought yew—like a harlot! An‘ the price he‘s payin‘—this farmwas my Maw‘s,

    damn ye!—an‘ mine now!‖(Desire 223) She immediately responded in confidence: ―Yewr‘? We‘ll see ‗bout that! Waal—what if I did need a hum? What else‘d I marry

    an old man like him fur? … an‘ he‘ll drive ye off the place! This be my garm—this be

    my hum—this be my kitchen.‖ (Desire 223) Even Cabot also changed a moderate voice retored : ―Our‘n—mebbe!‖ when Abbie said : ―it‘s r‘ally mine.‖ In terms of

    language or momentum, Abbie looks like an invincible conquest person.

    Engels pointed out: ―In any society, the extent of women‘s liberation is a natural scale of measuring universal liberation‖ ―the conscious women have the suspicion and

    shaken of the feudal ethics and fight them; this kind of consciousness is expressed their fight for freedom of love, marriage and independence. ―(Engels 56) Abbie is one of the conscious women, when the feelings between Abbie and Eben from abnormal turn into true love, Abbie become a female without being the vassal of a man. In order to pursue the true love and never be the vassal of men, she even be a infanticide, spend her rest life in prison.

    3.3 The oppression of men to nature

    In Desire Under the Elms, the men‘s control to the nature mainly indicates the

    transformation and destruction of nature.

    Nature can not speak, and the obtain and deprivation will only make more expansion of human greed, also make men believe ―be proud of conquering nature,

    conquering nature for fun. ―(Wang Nuo 172) Cabot is that kind of man. Cabot wants to transform nature through land clearance and gold rushing and he builds his farm over the poor land just with stones. He said: ―Stones. I pick ‗em piled ‗em into walls.

    Ye kin read the years o‘ my life in them walls, every day a hefted stone, climbin‘ over


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