American Literature Lecture 4u2014Desire under the...

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9/27/17 seDesire under the Elms (Revising the National Mythology: Sons and Lovers) Picking up on Emperor Jones o O’Neill engages and dismantles two melodramas in this play American Exceptionalism o The playwrights in this course helped create the national mythology responsible for the credo of American exceptionalism o This doctrine supplied trans-historical fantasies with which to resolve the problems that US citizens and denizens experienced in their daily lives o Sovereign: figure who has the monopoly over the power of deciding—US in regards to other nations. They are in charge of making new rules and redefining old ones—where did this notion come from? How is it in the play Desire? Exceptionalism: A Contested Concept o It can mean: The US is merely different That the US is morally superior That the US is exempt from the laws of history to which other nations are subjected That the US is an exception to the rules stands authorized to enforce them The Genealogy of Desire o Part of a trilogy in which O’Neill compulsively returns to the site of an impossible dramatic encounter with women. O’Neill felt as if he were simultaneously a son and an abandoned male in his own household o O’Neill’s mother needed morphine more than she needed him. In Desire he transposes the primal language of need into a dramatic discourse that has to take up the idiom of love Oedipus, Phaedra, and Hippolytus o O’Neill’s relation to Ella is not that of a son to his mother or a bond between lovers o O’Neill recreates figures from Greek mythology and drama—Phaedra and Hippolytus, Medea – to re-present it o Eben to Abbie is like Hippolytus to Phaedra. Abbie is medea The National Melodrama o Desire was set in 1850, a historic turning point.. It is a moment in national history in which Americans didn’t know how they were going to give expression to national freedom. Many of the great works of American literature ( The Scarlet Letter, Moby-Dick, Uncle Tom’s Cabin ) were working through historic contradictions (slavery, Indian removal, expansionism, and secession) o The moment condensed a turning point. O’Neill imagines a character, Ephraim Cabot, whose prototypes are Lincoln and John Brown. Like them, he seems a Biblical figure incarnated in mid-19 th century New England. With all the ordeals of the Biblical Abraham. The Melodrama o Desire goes to the heart of the need to believe in American Exceptionalism: No matter what happens to us, we are God’s people. O’Neill takes a founding father out of the national melodrama, Ephraim Cabot, to reveal his innermost tensions: settle or go West, lift boulders to plow his fields or go to California and take gold out of the ground Frontier Personality o A prototypical wilderness man, Ephraim built a farmstead at the margin of the frontier and worked through the urge to go West by displacing this desire onto women who were made to embody his own weakness. Ephraim structures his sexual desires in his aversion to

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