East of Eden
“East of Eden” by John Steinbeck
What about a novel where the purest of heart is ruthlessly punished? What version of morality is Steinbeck advocating for?
A clear extraction from all of his narrative decisions is the idea that goodness is only a virtue when it exists in tandem with bad, only when a man composed of equal measures of malice and benevolence wills himself to abide by the latter. When goodness manifests effortlessly, it is more of a vice than a virtue, as seen in our less rounded A- characters.
With that in mind, for Steinbeck’s take on morally nuanced, irrepressibly good-willed men, we turn to Samuel Hamilton and Lee, two narratives not bound by namesake, running adjacent to the more archetypical Trask family. The two, through experience and wisdom of age, have developed the ability to accept in stride the paradoxical amalgamation of good and evil in themselves and actively find empowerment over their respective destinies.
Samuel Hamilton, Steinbeck’s larger-than-life righteous man, is so rapidly aged from continuous familial tragedies and acting as the dutiful patriarch of a wholesome family that his unsatisfying, wrongful demise seems inappropriate. His son, Tom Hamilton, shoots himself in his farmhouse with his extended family miles away despite being a loving brother and a kind soul. This is contrasted with the implication that Cathy ‘got what was coming to her’, committing suicide by poison in the solitude of her office. The inconsistent degree of poetry justice Steinbeck dishes out stands to confuse rather than clarify.
The rationalisation of that is as follows. Steinbeck’s good is defined as good entirely without conditions, not so much blind as it is selfless. The stories from the fictional Trasks make narrative sense because they are written to convey an unambiguous moral lesson, but the Hamiltons are real people and hence their stories irregular. If the autobiographically inclined narrative following a conventional framework- our heroes get their well-earned happy endings and our villains eternal damnation- the decision to do good becomes a selfish one and much less free, as a choice between happiness and misery scarcely qualifies a choice. The consequences of our choices outside of Eden do not necessarily coincide with our intentions, good or bad. Adam’s good is irrational, without proper motivation or justification, which explains why it eludes Cathy entirely, why she could not fathom Adam’s immunity to her manipulation. Straining the qualifier further, Steinbeck offers that goodness arising from a fear of hellfire or a desire for heaven does not qualify as true goodness. It may also serve as a final condemnation of Aron’s warped sense of entitlement, who wanted the story and he wanted it to come out his way. couldn’t stand to know about his mother because that’s not how he wanted the story to goand he wouldn’t have any other story. So he tore up the world (Steinbeck 444).
East of Eden treads the careful line between fact and fiction, vacillating from an ancestral biography from the perspective of Samuel’s grandson and an omniscient moralistic creator, specifically in-between the Trask and the Hamiltons. The Trasks lead a life dictated by mythical symbolism while the Hamiltons’ legacy seem more or less grounded in reality. A moment that illuminated this diversion is during Cathy Trask’s childbirth. Cathy Trask’s physical descriptions are blatantly villainous, first likened to a reptile with Her ears were very little, without lobes, and they pressed so close to her head that even with her hair combed up they made no silhouette (Steinbeck 58), and later morphs into the Sabbatic goat Satan, her feet small and round and stubby, with fat insteps almost like little hoofs. (59) Around the Hamilton, such outlandish character become comically antagonistic, borderline satirical, lashing out by biting Samuel Hamilton on the hand during childbirth, an injury that sent him into a feverish slumber, not alike the symptoms of a venomous snakebite. Fantastical characters like these not only leave disbelief not only unsuspended, but also actively enforced.
Lee is, rather unambiguously, the mouthpiece by which Steinbeck underscores the story’s theme. The moment he decides to is when he gives up his singular character motivation to open a bookshop is when he fully committed as a framing device, likewise when he was passed over from friendship with the somewhat truthful Hamiltons to the servitude of the completely fabricated Trasks. Hence his experience could be regarded as the same metafictional excessiveness as the Trask characters. His horrific birth in particular exemplifies the ugliness one has to suffer through to grapple with Timshel.
Amidst the maudlin revelations and impassioned journey of each character, Lee’s story is a horrifically depersonalised, less delicate illustration of the ubiquitous truth. My father came to [my mother] on the pile of shale. She had not even eyes to see out of, but her mouth still moved and she gave him his instructions. My father clawed me out of the tattered meat of my mother with his fingernails (Steinbeck 276) Something so deeply personal accounted by Lee himself in such a clinical, cooly visceral way again enforces his role as a transcendent, objective overseer to the drama, even his own. The narrative fabricated has Lee’s mother brutally raped then left to bleed out after the construction workers discovered she had lied about her gender and subsequently hidden her pregnancy to get work. That much is fully sufficient to establish the primal evil in man, but then we are told that Lee was cared for and brought up by the entire camp, the same people who murdered his mother, hence the capacity for penance even in the irredeemable. As extreme of a conclusion that might be, it shows how sure Steinbeck is in his convictions that humans are equal parts good and bad, so resolute that he is willing to take the ridiculous yet inevitable conclusion against the evidence of common sensibilities.
Despite all the pillage and misery, classifying Steinbeck’s world as bleak and dreadful would be a grave misnomer. East of Eden is a jeremiad, but an infectiously hopeful one at that. And though not subtly put, Steinbeck’s message is an important one. The title East of Eden alludes to the biblical passage where Cain went out from the presence of the Lord and dwelt in the land of Nod, east of Eden. (Genesis 4:16, New International Version), where he transformed human culture from innocence to craftiness, the society that sprung from him Godless and independent. To live far from his influence was a punishment in the Bible, but to Steinbeck, a world rid of supernatural control, adherent to the fickle whims of humanity, is the only legitimate one.
East of Eden – Setting
Intro John Steinbeck was born in 1902, in Salinas, California, the setting of this novel. From The Grapes of Wrath to Cannery Row, he has given American Ethos memorable portraits of the dispossessed- immigrants, farmers, rural underclass and the like. Though not in grinding poverty, Steinbeck did not manage to publish a commercially successful book until 1935, during which he observed how America responded to the Great Depression and labor unrest.
He grew incredibly fond of the proletariats, their compelling stories and concrete ethics, an admiration that would bring to the socially small and insignificant to fictional heroism, like Lennie of Of Mice and Men Samuel Hamilton of East of Eden. The fruit that the snake entices Eve to ingest is from the forbidden tree of knowledge of good and evil. The consequences of the Fall are that humans are no longer innocent and, as Satan appeals to them with lies and grandeur, will always be naturally inclined to do evil.
God punishes his disobedient children with a trying mortal life of suffering, and asks humans to use free will to eradicate the urges of sin completely, repent otherwise and be good by His authoritatively prescribed standards for salvation. This binary, absolute path to the Pearly Gates provides comfort and consistency in a radical world. It is also this very simplicity of the divine that Steinbeck rejects for the complexities of that glittering instrument, the human soul. (Steinbeck 32). To say Steinbeck is interested in the tension between man and God would be an understatement- all but one novel in his wide body of work contain overt references to neo-Christian ideas. An Episcopalian from childhood and conversant with traditions of the faith, he gradually distanced himself from organised religion and grew skeptical of its role in American culture in his later years. If his previous work had the refrain to give polish and poise to his meditation on this dilemma, East of Eden makes no such effort to shield his intent evident in the primitivism in structure and hardheaded attitude. Coupled with his awareness that this should be his magnum opus- the work he has been preparing for all his life- this novel is the one where his authorial voice comes through the loudest, both in moral lesson and in artistic vision.
East of Eden takes two familiar biblical stories from the Book of Genesis- Adam and Eve and Cain and Abel- using the narrative framework of each to tell a multigenerational epic following the Trasks and the Hamiltons, that first and foremost pays tribute to the human spirit in all its good and evil. It explores what Steinbeck sees as the single most important question of existence- A man, after he has brushed off the dust and chips of his life, will have left only the hard, clean questions: Was it good or was it evil? Have I done wellor ill? (Steinbeck, 317). Sprinkled in between those sweeping questions is Steinbeck’s interrogation of the validity of these long-held moralities and the Juedo-Christian doctrines that defend- not only questioning its application outside of the Bible, but also whether it is realisable at all as a code of ethics. Both intentions manifest in inextricably intertwined ways- from the collapsed ruins of now obsolete scriptures, modern morality must rise in its place. What critique of evil present is so obvious and indisputable by nature that it has taken an ancillary role to the more revelatory study into good. Hence, in this essay, I will be examining the rich moral tapestry the characters must navigate to achieve Steinbeck’s idea of good. Goodness is traditionally unflinching and unwilling to capitulate to circumstances.
It, in its purity, stands in opposition to evil, and is forever in combat with it. To quote from Lee, Evil must constantly respawn, while good, while virtue, is immortal. While good is consistent and everlasting, it also necessarily means that good does not change, evolve or adapt, the harms of holding onto it like an anchor we see in each of these characters’ undoing. A central idea of Steinbeck’s characterisation is espoused in perhaps the most iconic line of the book: And now that you don’t have to be perfect, you can be good.. This line implies that perfection stands as an obstruction to the pursuit of goodness, that the two are diametrically opposed in nature. When the novel states outright that the wretched are empty because they are incapable of love, the same can be said about an absolute good. Adam’s romanticism disallows him from seeing the person as whole, leaving him unable to reciprocate love in any meaningful way. He still feels a general ambivalence towards his sons, despite his want to connect with and care for them.
Adam is good to his own detriment. During his interactions with his father and brother, and during his service in the army, he is continually exposed to brutality and betrayal, yet never develops the survival instinct of suspicion and measured cynicism. He has no comprehension of his wife Cathy’s immense darkness, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary. Burned in his mind was an image of beauty and tenderness, a sweet and holy girl… and that image was Cathy to her husband, and nothing Cathy did or said could warp Adam’s Cathy Although Adam recognises darkness in his father and brother, he determines Cathy to be good without calling for reaffirmation, blinded to her malevolence by a veneer of feminine vulnerability. This sightlessness is punished with a shot to the shoulder and consequently, a deep, lethargic depression as Adam feels his bedrocks of belief shaken. As no real human thought is without fault, Adam is thoughtless and grows to be hollow and inert, living in an internal world with no room for pride, ambition or desire. Later on, his cabbage importation business fails and he becomes a laughingstock due to his idealism and failure to consider the financial outcome of the project, one of many times Adam’s lackadaisical thinking causes harm. He fails at being a good brother when he was not perceptive enough to respond to Charles’ destructive cries for help.
He fails at being a good father to Abel when he rejects the gift he offers him , even after witnessing the immense sorrow and violence a similar refusal by his father imbued in his brother Charles, and at parenting Aron by being the same meddlesome, oblivious dad that he once resented Cyrus for being. He fails at being a good husband when he forces Cathy to behave in alignment with his idyllic vision of the future without considering her thoughts. When Adam would swell out in his stomach with a pressure of ecstasy that was close kin to grief, it is not real love, which is tempered with complexity and understanding, but a painful and volatile impression of love. Comparatively, those capable of hate are proven to be equally capable of love- the idea that love and can only thrive when one is familiar with the absence of it. Adam and Aron do not feel affection for their father, while Charles and Cal love their fathers fiercely. Cal, in particular, grew up a passionate love for his father and a wish to protect him and to make it up to him for the things he had suffered after he learns about Cathy, because having been on both ends of hurt, he understands the sheer extent of evil Cathy must have possessed to unleash this enormity of pain unto his father.
This understanding escapes Aron, who acts out in confusion and selfish anger. The idea that a perfect being cannot empathise with the plights of the corruptible as explored here is also a prominent strand in anti-theology, which states God is an intrinsically problematic judge of character as he does not possess our marred agency. The biblical Adam story is about a uncorrupted man’s arrival at humanity, and to a certain extent, Adam Trask manages to reach the same enlightenment, with his final labored utterance summing up the simultaneous gift and burden of free will: Timshel, or Thou mayest. His son, on the other hand, the closest adherent to the Christian ideal of morality, is never afforded the luxury of redemption or growth. In the same way that Abel dies before arriving at the promised Land of Canaan while Cain joins the rest of humanity in exile in the Land of Nod, Aron remains trapped in adolescence while his brother matured. Aron skews goodness into obsessive purity, taking on a much more sinister manifestation of perfect morality as a religious man bound by the rigid doctrines of his faith. Aron is perfect while Adam is good, and that makes all the difference. In maintaining the illusion that his father is categorically forthright and his absent mother an untainted saint, the revelation that people contradict his code of ethics by acting immorally breaks Aron completely. When he discovers Kate is the owner of a brothel, he is unable to comprehend it and rejects the notion.
Again, as with all perfect ideals, purity crumbles under the duress of complexity. Ultimately, the didactic lesson of the book is that everyone gets to choose between good and evil, yet complications with this rise in interpretation of Aron and Cathy. The ways in which Aron’s characterisation may be problematic in a narrative all about self-will are immediately apparent. During Aron’s life and his transformation from coddled golden child to devout theist to lost soul, he is so one-dimensionally depicted that his missteps seem inevitable by design. The fact that Cathy is introduced as a monster by birth, designed to make a painful and bewildering stir in her world (58), allows for very little room for postulation about the soul-stricken, innate nature of her evil. Crawling onto the Trasks brothers’ porch, leaving a slick trail of blood behind her, her entrance in their legacy is not just sinuous- it is the original biblical sin, which seems an odd choice when considering how the point of Steinbeck’s creation is to refute against the existence of any purely evil entity. Cathy did not have the agency to opt out of evil, as if the others knew something [she] didn’tlike a secret they wouldn’t tell [her]” (355). When Cal confronts her about her deficiency she seems to be in genuine grief, agonising over the emptiness of her conniving life. While other characters are given a wealth of opportunities to change, Aron and Cathy seem logically predisposed to make a specific set of decisions for epitomising their respective extremes, so much so that they are cursed by Steinbeck from the start.
They seem out of keeping in the complex moral realm so delicately crafted by the novel, but in fact, the coexistence of these two diametrically opposed ideas is reconciled when considering the metafictional identity of these characters as Christian-defined metrics which every other character compares themselves to. In the Bible, Jesus was sacrificed to allow the forgiveness of human sin, his infinite benevolence balancing out our infinite moral ruination. In East of Eden, grace has to be given by us to each other. In the same way Christ died for equilibrium, each symbolic character died to restore true free will into the world of East of Eden, with Adam’s ending the novel. As Adam would not be able to react proportionately and forgive, his death spares Cal from fulfilling the looming fate of Cain, retreat from the edge of his predestined demise and is finally truly free to choose. In Steinbeck’s words: The danger and the glory and the choice rest finally in man. (Steinbeck, Banquet speech) The caveat of Aron’s tragic end is religion. He passively takes spiritual instructions from a clergyman and builds his moral framework according to the holy text without question. In usurping personal choice to divine intervention, he effectively denies himself the chance to choose between good and evil, becoming the perfectly good child of God without impure desires or any affinity to sin- men in Eden before being tempted by the snake.
The argument then seems to be that such a hypothetical being cannot survive outside of paradise and hence does not exist outside of the fictional vacuum. When Aron’s preconception of his mother shatters, the first aberration from his sinless existence, he becomes liberated from Eden, and uses his newfound free will to recklessly enlist in the army, stranding himself in the most amoral, diseased landscape of human making. In such, Aron embodies another criticism on Christian conduct, in that the cynical assumption that humanity is all ugliness is a self-fulfilling prophecy. People who look out for sinners to chastise will find an abundance. Those who do not accept the integral nature of vices along with virtue could run off and hide, but escapism may cost them their resilience and wisdom, and their insufficiencies will eventually catch up on them. The parallel evoked between the church and the whorehouse in Chapter 19, both having “arrived in the Far West simultaneously,” (Steinbeck, 166) and each “intended to accomplish the same thing: … [to take] a man out of his bleakness for a time” (166), is similar to that drawn between Kate’s and Aron’s experiences, with the two mirroring each other despite being on opposite ends of the moral spectrum.
Aron considers himself above the common and sullied crowd, Kate too thinks of herself as an intellectual superior to everyone else, and both suffer from their self-imposed desolation- In the end, both characters puts an end to their miserable existence through suicide or self-inflicted danger. Kate’s fondness of Aron as a son she had never spoken to no doubt stems from a superficial level of physical resemblance, but it could also be attributed to her understanding that he is the only character with a psyche as detached as hers. In the curious case of Kate Trask, it would still be reductive to label her a serpentine madam. In her old age, Kate is riddled with crippling arthritis, becoming a sick ghost, crooked and in some way horrible (Steinbeck 425) having lost her sexual allure to age, and conveys a loneliness and paranoia readers can relate to. Her doting on a son she never got to know, frantic attempts to restore control over her brothel’s toppling hierarchy, and contemplation of and eventual suicide all establish a humanity that was absent prior.
As seen from Cathy’s association with Alice in Wonderland since childhood, she feels bewildered and alone in a world too abstract and bizarre for her purely calculating mind. Alice… would put her arm around Cathy’s waist, and Cathy would put her arm around Alice’s waist, and they would walk awaybest friends (425) hints that she still desires companionship, and that the reason she so adamantly drives away everyone who ever got close to her may have been fear of true vulnerability or having a connection with someone that is not fictional. Even the verisimilitude of love abandons her in the end, as Alice doesn’t know (425) of her final journey to grow smaller and smaller and then disappear (426). This subdued end to her gloriously twisted life is candid and melancholic. In engendering feelings of empathy for the truly irredeemable, who does not by any stretch of the imagination deserve any goodwill, our instincts as moralistic readers prove to be the antithesis for Kate’s denouncement of humanity as nothing more than the gray slugs that come (180).
Much in the same way, the readers are able to identify narcissism and unflattering self-indulgence in Aron’s perfection where Adam, in his naivete, is blind to. Steinbeck trusts the readers to be able to pick up on the nuances and minitae, through attentiveness to complexity of psychological design, that makes them better humans than Adam and Cathy. In such, we see the characters compliant in the overarching theme. Steinbeck’s disinterest in making these symbolic people believable is not a mistake. The storyteller in-universe being named John Steinbeck, the decision to publish all his letters documenting the creative process and his quote that reads The design of a book is the pattern of a reality controlled and shaped by the mind of the writer.” (Steinbeck, The Log from the Sea of Cortez 1) all invite us to view the Trasks through metafictional critical lens, to read the story through a novelist’s mind and interpret it as such- a constructed story with a focused moral message. Considering that lens in application, conventions of storytelling dictates that if a novel where good triumphs implores us to be good.
East of Eden: The Nature of Human Choice
Circumstances can only shape a person’s life to the extent that they allow them to. The truth is that people’s lives are determined by their choices not their circumstances. This is not to say that circumstances like a tragedy that occurs in one’s life does not play a role in shaping an individual.
However, an individual always has the ability to choose their response, despite not being able to choose their circumstances. The power of choice produces lessons and values that form people’s overall characteristics. Over time, people realize that who they become is not determined by outside sources, but instead dependent on their responses to the outside influences they face. A simple example comes from a set of children being raised under similar conditions, yet they develop different types of characteristics due to the different life choices they make. Larger scale examples can be found in the texts used in this analysis.
Texts used to further dive into this analysis are the Bible and East of Eden by John Steinbeck. The main topics being discussed in this paper address man’s nature versus man’s nurture, and how nature plays a more significant role in a character being good or evil. These topics ultimately aim to show how man’s nature of choice develops an individual’s character more than the amount of nurture they receive during their life time. First is an overview at how the nature compares to the nurture of an individual. Next is an explanation of how free will is given to man by God and how the power free will is determined by choosing good or evil. Lastly, the focus shifts to how man’s pursuit of good or evil choices shapes the individual’s character. This break down highlights how every human being has the same nature, which includes choice and good and evil. Man can choose good or evil, because he has the power to pursue the life he wants. An individual’s character is dependent on man’s nature of free will, which is man being able to choose good or evil more than people or circumstances that may play a role in his nurture.
The significance of a short introduction into both books is important as it shows the idea of human choice and good and evil. The Bible gives some of the very first accounts of God presenting man with having to make choices for himself. Looking at the story of Cain and Abel, found in the book of Genesis, each brother develops a character based on the choices they make. Cain and Abel are known for having a long-standing testimony of brother rivalry, focused on the idea of human free will. When God asked these men to bring forth the best of what they had to offer, Abel follows the instructions given to him by God and automatically wins favor with him. Abel gives what is asked of him to God gaining God’s favor; The Lord looked with favor on Abel and his offering, but on Cain and his offering he did not look (NRSV, Genesis. 4:4). God favors Abel because he gave what he had and more. Cain only gave half of what he had to God, causing God to look past Cain for not being true to his request. This irritates Cain for he does not understand (NRSV, Genesis.4:7). Cain grows jealous of his brother Abel because he holds a stronger relationship with God. An anger inside Cain grows and he develops a solution to the problem by killing his brother Abel; Listen! Your brother’s blood cries out to me from the ground (NRSV, Genesis. 4:10).
In East of Eden, Steinbeck devotes much of the plot to the exploration and championing of human nature. For in East of Eden also has a family of two generations, the Trask family, and its ultimate triumph is about overcoming the forces of evil. The two brothers, Adam and Charles, have a jealous relationship fraught with tension and violence. Charles envies his brother Adam because he feels that their father Cyrus treats him with preference. The second generation of Trask boys Cal and Aron struggle will similar issues. Steinbeck mostly examines how the nature of man is developed through the concept of Timshel. The novel is concerned with the idea of self-determination as the true measure of man’s moral character, and his key to triumph in the eternal struggle between good and evil that takes place within him. It particularly celebrates the power of human beings to determine their own destiny through exercising free will. This novel shows the unique development of human potential and grants a power of action and responsibility to man. One of the major questions being addressed in this paper is how the development of the characters in the East of Eden connect to the nature of good and evil.
In the way that East of Eden depicts generations struggling with the choice between good and evil, it might be referencing a call to salvation. It comes as no surprise, that many say that the tale has close ties to the old testament story of Cain and Abel including how it mirrors Cain’s offering being rejected, Cain murdering his own brother, Cain becoming guilty and Cain’s punishment for his choice. Both the theme and structure of East of Eden come from biblical influence. A central biblical idea Steinbeck uses in East of Eden is the Hebrew word, Timshel, to demonstrates the idea of overcoming evil. Timshel is defined as the idea that human will is the strongest force on earth and can overcome anything. Steinbeck’s novel tries to escape evil and do good by focusing on the end of the story of Cain and Abel: thou mayest rule over sin (NRSV, Genesis. 4:7). Steinbeck sees this in the Bible as a key term for men to remember. East of Eden was different from many of Steinbeck earlier novels they never rose to such a height of glory in their view of what human begins can be. East of Eden reveals the source of human evil, and its forms. Nothing compared to the word Timshel that says, the way is open (Steinbeck 303). This idea was completely new to Steinbeck’s writing.
First of all, nature is more influential to one’s character because an individual’s nature gives them the power of making choices as passed down from one generation to the next. When Steinbeck introduces the characters of Adam and Charles Trask, he describes the two boys.
Adam is described as:
Young Adam was always an obedient child. Something in him shrank from violence, from contention, from the silent shrieking tension that can rip a house. He contributed to the quiet he wished for by offering no violence, no contention, and to do this he had to retire into secretness, since there is some violence in everyone. He covered his life with a veil of vagueness, while behind his quite eyes a rich full life went on. this did not protect him from assault, but it allowed him an immunity (Steinbeck 20).
Charles on the other hand, is strong and closer to the perfect child that his father would want:
his half-brother Charles, only a little over a year younger, grew up with his father assertiveness. Charles was a natural athlete, with instinctive timing and coordination and the competitor’s will to win over others, which makes for success in the world (Steinbeck 20).
The description of these two brothers is key because it plays a role in showing that physical and personal traits exist but are not the only things that shape the character. Further character development comes from the choices that they make between good and evil. Both of these men have the ability to choose between good and evil due to the fact that this is their nature. They have the same nature but not every man’s nurture is the same. Since Adam Trask was the weak one, he always received more love and recognition from his father; whereas because Charles was the stronger brother, his father never felt the need to give him as much affection. Both these characters are developed by circumstances and relationships showing that man’s nurture influences a piece of who they become. Although nurture has a slight influence on the way these characters develop, their nature forms a stronger foundation towards their overall character.
As previously stated, nature has to do with genetics, but more importantly nature has to do with free will. In the old testament, the story of Adam and Eve begins with God giving humanity free will ,And the LORD God commanded the man, ‘you may freely eat of every tree of the garden; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall, not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall die’ (NRSV, Genesis. 2:16-17). Free will was given to man in the form of choosing between good and evil, which can be translated as man’s nature. If Adam and Eve were to make the choice to go against the one restriction that God had for them, they would be bringing sin into the world. Adam and Eve did bring sin into the world by later eating of the tree of knowledge, thus man is faced with having to overcome sin. Man’s nature comes from God, which means that God gives all man free will. This gives man the opportunity to use free will to overcome sin.
Therefore, the key element to nature having more influence on an individual’s character is free will. This being said man has control over whether or not he becomes good or evil because he has the ability to choose between good and evil. Man can never choose his circumstance, but he can choose how he is going to responds to things that are out of his control. He is able to do so because God has given every man free will. Even though Adam is favored over Charles, which leads to conflict between the two, both are able to make a choice on how to deal with the conflict. The same can be said for the conflict that Cain and Abel find themselves having to resolve. Each of these examples of character of dealing with conflict points back to the key concept of Timshel in Steinbeck’s novel. When facing adversity, a character will be developed by his choosing of good or evil.
Sam Hamilton’s Wife: East of Eden and the Failure of Feminism
In 1950’s America, women were ensnared in suffocating gender roles. It was a retroactive decade in feminist history compared the power women had in the work force in the 1940s and the progression to come in the 1960s. Bound to the home and pressured by high beauty standards, women found themselves cornered, bored and desperate. Since the public did not value the female voice, women needed was a powerful male member of society to speak for them. John Steinbeck did not step up to this challenge. With his influence and popularity, he could have done a great service to women by advocating for them using his incredibly famous novels as a medium. Instead, in East of Eden, Steinbeck shies away from the idea of revolution and only succeeds in creating underdeveloped, unlikable and weak female characters. Liza Hamilton is the most prominent example of such a character. Unscrutinized, she may seem like a strong, powerful woman. Liza runs a strict household; she expects respect from her husband and children, believes the bible literally, and does not tolerate any drinking. Yet as the novel progresses, each of her expectations, which are really just Steinbeck’s feeble attempt at character traits, are disrespected thereby making her a weak character. Through the characterization of Liza, it is clear that East of Eden is not a feminist text.
Early on in the novel, Samuel shows disrespect for his wife. When he comes home late from dinner at Adam Trask’s ranch, Liza is clearly upset the following morning. She moves “like a caged leopard” (Steinbeck 177) while making breakfast. Despite knowing he has done wrong, Sam walks into the kitchen only announcing, “I’m late, Mother” (178). He does not offer an apology. Furthermore, he kisses Liza and asks for her blessing. His actions shows a refusal to accept responsibility and a blatant belittling of his wife’s feelings. A man who truly respected how his wife felt would apologize or at least give her space, knowing that most likely she would not be in the mood to serve him breakfast. Then, surprisingly, she not only complies but does so “automatically” (178). While her obedience to Samuel is already a submissive action, it is made even more weak by the fact that she does so without thinking. This portrays Liza as a flat, weak woman who is helpless against her husband and lacks the ability of cognition.
As if the former example was not enough evidence of the inequality in Sam and Liza’s marriage, Sam again proves how little he respects his wife in a conversation with Adam about Cathy:
“What does Eve say to that? She has a say, you remember. And Eves delight in apples.”
“Not this one.” Adam’s eyes were shining. “You don’t know this Eve. She’ll celebrate my choice. I don’t think anyone can know her goodness.”
“You have a rarity. Right now I can’t recall a greater gift.” (167)
At first, readers may be tricked into thinking that Samuel does value females and their opinions, or more specifically Liza and hers, when he states that “She has a say” (167). Yet as the conversation continues, he immediately contradicts himself. When Sam says that Adam has a rarity and a gift, he means that he is lucky to have a wife who lacks opinions, who does not contradict her husband, who remains submissive and subordinate. Through Samuel’s disrespect for his wife’s free will, Steinbeck depicts an unflattering and weak image of Liza thus furthering East of Eden’s unfeminist theme.
Liza praises her favorite and youngest son, Joe, and only wishes the best for him. She even puts him, and only him out of her nine children, through college, a rare and cherished opportunity during the time period. Therefore, one could logically infer that Joe would want to do everything he could to please his mother in return. Yet due to Liza’s weak character, she is manipulated and disrespected by her sons, just like she is by her husband. When Samuel asks if he can take Joe with him to help him work on Adam’s farm, Liza immediately and vehemently disagrees. Instead of respecting his wife’s wishes, Sam and his sons Joe and Tom devise a way to manipulate Liza. Sam pretends to be against Joe coming with him by saying “I’m sure you would if you could come. But I’m against it. And when you talk to your mother about it, I’ll thank you to let it slip that I’m against it. You might even throw in that I refused you” (181). Here Samuel indicates if Joe lies to his mother and tells her that his father is against him coming, she’ll change her mind. To this, “Joe grinned, and Tom laughed aloud” (181). Her sons’ joviality at lying to their mother shows their disrespect for her. Of course, Sam’s plot works and Joe is able to help his father on the Trask farm. The manipulation of Liza and her husband’s and sons’ lighthearted nature about doing so show the disrespect that Sam and the children have for Liza thus once again highlighting her weak nature.
The disrespect that Liza’s children have for her continues throughout the rest of the novel. As Sam and Liza get older, their children decide it’s time for their parents to tour the country and visit their children’s homes before they die. This creates a lot of tension in the family for they Hamilton children know their parents’ attachment to the ranch. Yet in 4 pages of discussion, there only one brief mention of Liza when Will says “It’s time Father and Mother saw something of the world” (284). Just that fact that the single time their mother is brought up is in conjunction with their father almost discredits the mention of her at all. The children say how “he could have a happy life” and how a trip “would freshen him” (284) but not one of them talks about Liza’s desires. Whether Liza would be content to stay on the ranch the rest of her life or would eagerly travel to visit her children is never discussed. Because Liza is a woman, her opinions, even about her own future, are seen as irrelevant. Her own children do not respect her wishes or care to consider them. Or, even worse, because Liza is a woman, the Hamilton children just assume that she will be submissive and obediently follow her husband wherever he decides to go regardless of her own desires. Either way, the blatant ignoring of Liza’s wishes for her future further Steinbeck’s unfeminist and weak development of her.
One of the first traits we learn about Liza is her dedication to the Bible. Devoutly religious, Liza believes the Bible word for word and ignores all contradictions. Unlike most who study the Bible routinely, Liza does not like to find meaning, she’ll “just read it” (42). In fact, she reads nothing else. “In that one book she had her history and her poetry, her knowledge of peoples and things, her ethics, her morals, and her salvation” (42). Intellectually, her husband could not be more opposite. Samuel is an extremely intelligent and thoughtful man. He has a “knowledge of things that cannot be eaten or worn or cohabited with” unlike the common people of Salinas Valley, an “interest in poetry” and “respect for good writing” (42). Simply put, “If Samuel had been a rich man…he would have had a great library” (42). By juxtaposing Samuel’s grand and existential intellectual drive to Liza’s, whose “total intellectual association was the Bible” (42), readers come to almost pity Liza. When her husband is so revered for his intellect, and Liza is so clearly the opposite, readers develop an attitude of contempt towards Liza. She is constantly compared to and seen as lesser than her husband as far as intelligence goes. By creating Liza to be so narrow-minded and uneducated, Steinbeck only succeeds in making her character underdeveloped and weak.
Liza’s strongest character trait may be her religious devotion. From this derives her repugnance towards alcohol. She “hated liquors with an iron zeal” and regarded drinking any alcohol “as a crime against a properly outraged deity” (42). Her disgust is so strong that it is widely known throughout the whole community if Salinas Valley. Of course Samuel disrespects his wife again and often drinks throughout the book. In fact, the first time that Adam goes to meet Samuel, he brings a bottle of whiskey customarily. Louis, the man that Adam travels with, tells him about Liza’s abhorrence of the drink and tells him to “leave it under the seat” (42) so they can sneak it to Samuel without Liza seeing. Louis then says “That’s what we always do” (42). The fact that sneaking Sam whiskey is a regular occurrence not only shows Sam’s disrespect for his wife’s values but the whole community’s disrespect for her. While this is bad enough, we also discover that later in life, Liza is forced to take port wine as medicine in her old age. “From that moment on she never drew a sober breath” (42) and her entire personality changes. She becomes an alcoholic, “more happy and more relaxed” (42). Liza’s repulsion of alcohol was her strongest trait. When she loses this part of her character, she loses what she is best known for and she essentially loses herself entirely. She loses her identity. The fact that this lose of identity happens so quickly and that the catalyst is an action as petty as drinking a tablespoon of wine demonstrates Liza’s weak characterization more than an other point in the novel.
Upon reading about Liza Hamilton, readers can clearly see that East of Eden is not a feminist text. Though Steinbeck attempts to depict Liza as a tough as nails woman, he ultimately fails and only succeeds in developing another weak and subordinate female character. While Steinbeck could have been a pivotal figure in the early feminist movement with his popularity and influence, he fails to do so. Whether his failure is due to his reservations against the movement or his incompetence as a feminist writer is unclear. The only remark that can be made with absolutely certainty is that with East of Eden, Steinbeck missed opportunity to make a difference in the fight for gender equality.
Steinbeck’s Strong Female Characterization: An Asset of East of Eden
John Steinbeck’s East of Eden was published in the 1950’s, a time when having a large family was a virtue and a source of comfort. Given the devastating psychological effects of World Wars I and II and the growing fear of the Cold War, people sought out a sense of calmness. This desire for comfort led to an increase in conventional lifestyles and conventional gender roles. Thus, women were defined as mother or wife in society, lacking identity and independence. Steinbeck, however, has opposed this occupation of a traditionalist conception of femininity through his characterization of strong-willed women: Cathy Ames, Liza Hamilton, and Abra Bacon. These three important characters challenge the societal expectations of the submissive woman, all possessing an inner-strength. Furthermore, these three women play pivotal roles in the text. Steinbeck has successfully criticized the stereotypical view of the traditional woman typical of male mid-twentieth century authors, through his illumination of strong female characters.
Cathy Ames uses her sexuality and inner-strength to manipulate others and acquire power over man, ultimately gaining an independence in which challenges traditional female roles. From causing her Latin teacher to commit suicide to having sex with countless men at her whorehouse in order to gain protection, Cathy has dehumanized and ruined the lives of many men around her. Her rejection of societal norms and capitalization of her sexuality begins in her childhood. At an early age, Cathy realizes she can use sex as an advantage: “At ten Cathy knew something of the power of the sex impulse and began coldly to experiment with it,” (Steinbeck 74). Throughout the novel Cathy “experiment[s]” with her body and uses it in a completely unconventional way, contrary to traditional expectations of the female body: she uses her sexuality to get what she wants and humiliate the men around her. For instance, after Cathy is beaten up by Richard Edwards, she tempts Adam with her sexuality in order to get money. Unfortunately, her plans backfire and she becomes Adam’s wife and the mother of his children. Her relationship with her husband and sons illuminates her lack of traditionalism: As a wife she doesn’t care about her husband and his emotions, and as a mother she doesn’t care about her children. After leaving her family, Cathy spends the rest of the novel working at a whorehouse, which is particularly significant: her new home and place of employment allows for her sexuality to flourish. Without really endorsing Cathy’s lifestyle, Steinbeck has nonetheless rejected the typical “mother and wife” figures women have been subjugated into through his characterization of Cathy Ames.
Liza Hamilton exhibits a sense of inner-strength throughout East of Eden, which was an unlikely depiction of women during the 1950’s. Although Liza seems to be an idealistic picture of the perfect woman of the mid-twentieth century given her simple-minded nature, Steinbeck illuminates her vigor and courage. Throughout the novel it is clear that Samuel Hamilton admires his wife. For instance, after Samuel delivers Cathy’s babies, he asks Liza to offer Cathy assistance: “And if Liza doesn’t want to come, tell her we need a woman’s hand here and a woman’s clear eyes,” (Steinbeck 194). Samuel is aware of his wife’s strong characteristics and, therefore, entrusts her to help Cathy. Although he highlights the fact that she is a woman and that they need a “woman’s hand,” and a “woman’s clear eyes,” it is apparent that these are not simply menial tasks often accomplished by the traditional housewife. Samuel acknowledges the evil in Cathy, and knows Liza can withstand Cathy’s overflowing small pond of evil. Thus, despite her conventionality in comparison to other characters in East of Eden, Liza possesses an inner-strength, capable of caring for such a destructive human being like Cathy. Steinbeck’s characterization of Liza Hamilton and her revealed feminine identity is uncommon to the female characters depicted in many mid-twentieth century texts.
Steinbeck identifies Abra Bacon’s shift into maturity in East of Eden, providing another strong female character. Therefore, he has rejected societal norms of the time. Throughout the novel, Abra dedicates her life to being Aron’s wife, which suggests that she is a traditional, submissive woman. However, once Aron flees for the Army, Abra’s dedication to Aron has also fled: “‘I think I love you Cal.’ ‘I’m not good.’ ‘Because you’re not good,’” (Steinbeck 576). Abra realizes she has fallen in love with Cal. This meaningful shift in Abra’s preference in man demonstrates her maturity as a character. Additionally, once she figures out that her father has embezzled money from his company, she discovers that she has bad within herself as well: “‘Abra, my mother was a whore.’ ‘I know. You told me. My father is thief.’ ‘I’ve got her blood, Abra. Don’t you understand?’ ‘I’ve got his,’ she said,” (Steinbeck 596). This realization expands Abra’s attraction to Cal, and her newfound attraction to complicated men like herself, highlighting her maturity. The traditional woman reflected in most mid-century texts would never claim such a maturity comparable to Abra’s.Abra is helpful in Cal’s redemption at the end of the novel, which depicts her inner-strength, and this characterization ultimately challenges traditional female roles of the 1950’s. For instance, when Cal is about to run away and wants to take Abra with him, she convinces him not to leave his father: “Cal said, ‘Then I don’t know what to do. What shall I do? Tell me what to do.’ ‘Will you listen?’ ‘I don’t know.’ ‘We’re going back,’ she said. ‘Back? Where?’ ‘To your father’s house,’ said Abra,” (Steinbeck 597). Abra plays a pivotal role in East of Eden, protecting Cal from inevitable self-destruction. Her love and care for Cal reflects her immense maturity and inner-strength as a character. Abra has essentially saved Cal and has rejected the conventional gender role submissive women play in the 1950’s.Although a piece of literature may include a story, which takes place in the past, many texts are often clouded with aspects of the time when written.
East of Eden is successfully stripped of the conventionality of the 1950’s. In fact, Steinbeck employs female characters with individualities, which go deeper than the ingrained housewife identity of the time, through his characterization of Cathy, Liza, and Abra. These three women break the barriers of traditional gender roles, given their inner-strength, while additionally offering the text with new, interesting dynamics. Ultimately, Steinbeck has torn away the patriarchal lens of which many male authors of the mid-twentieth century operate by.
The Usage of Language in East of Eden
With its intricate, complex plot infused with an abundance of emotional turmoil, John Steinbeck’s East of Eden is indeed successful in fulfilling its author’s intention to rip a reader’s “nerves to rags.” As one finally becomes satisfied with the novel’s progression, Steinbeck orders a dramatic turn of events which transforms the satisfied mindset of the reader into hair ripping frustration within a matter of seconds. Thus, with descriptive imagery, use of theme, and specific diction, Steinbeck without a doubt succeeds in failing to satisfy his reader and is able to elicit vivid reactions.
Steinbeck opens East of Eden with detailed descriptions of setting. It is noticed that his description of Salinas Valley in the beginning of the novel parallels with the theme and future progression of the story. He introduces his theme of “balance” and the comparison of good and evil in an analogy to the setting; he describes his childhood in the Salinas and states, “I remember the Gabilan Mountains to the east of the valley were light gay mountains […] The Santa Lucias stood up against the sky to the west […] they were dark and brooding – unfriendly and dangerous. I always found in myself a dread of west and a love of east” (Steinbeck 1). Gabilan vs. Santa Lucias, loving vs. brooding, east vs. west, birth vs. death, good vs. evil; already the author alludes that there will always be a bad side to everything, which causes the readers’ angst. Situations where the reader temporarily becomes satisfied changes as the “bad” to the “good” steps in. In his description of the Valley, the author also mentions blue flowers, and how the white flowers tend to bring out the blue. By placing contrasting colors or events together, one would stand out more. Therefore, by placing the “bad” with the “good,” the “bad” seems worse. The ups and downs, the bad and good, the unsatisfied and satisfied, contribute to the emotional turmoil that the active reader experiences.
Furthermore, the ambivalent nature of the story inhibits the reader from maintaining a single emotion and a single mindset, as Steinbeck is able to turn the story around instantaneously. When Adam meets Cathy, the readers know that Cathy is evil, though Adam is seemingly oblivious. After she recovers, he pops the question, “A surge of love filled him. ‘Will you marry me?’” (Steinbeck 120). Adam’s naïve and innocent words of love causes agitation within the reader. Nearly every single individual, both book character or reader, knows the true nature of Cathy. On the other hand, Adam’s common sense is clouded and disillusioned by his love for her. When he asks her to marry him, already the reader is able to anticipate an unfortunate future that has yet to come. These turn of events give the readers an uncontrollable urge to toss the book and shout at the characters – and perhaps the author – “WHY?” Adam’s proposal to Cathy is one of many events that have caused an intense reaction in the reader.
At times, the mood is absolutely ominous. Other times, the mood is playful. With his specific diction, Steinbeck is able to alter his tone and the readers’ emotion however he pleases. He thoroughly enjoys the use of figurative language, especially similes, metaphors, or any type of comparison. By utilizing comparison, Steinbeck is able to put any situation on an intensity scale and give either a negative or positive connotation. At one point in the story, Adam speaks to Eva, Kate’s assistant. Eva’s reply is noticeably cold and uninviting, as “the girl’s voice took on the edge of a blade sharpened on a stone” (Steinbeck 315). The specific word choice indicated in the metaphor is the very sharp edge of a blade. Steinbeck very well could have merely used “the girl’s sharp voice” but instead chooses to portray the girl’s voice as the sharpness of a blade. He specifically utilizes this phrase to insinuate that her voice, though sharp, is also murderous, dangerous, and able to kill like a blade. In this situation, the blade metaphor makes the uninviting mood even more uninviting. One of many of Steinbeck’s uses of extremely descriptive word choice and figurative language, this quote furthermore gets on the readers’ nerves and engraves into his or her head a lifelong impact.
One final relation, which is extremely significant to the story, is the term “timshel,” or choice. Though of course there is a contrast between good and evil, Steinbeck weaves “timshel” into this plot. Each man is given a choice of which path to choose. The unpredictable nature of decisions; the unpredictable, and sometimes disappointing, result of “timshel,” leaves the reader in a state of angst and exasperation. Steinbeck is ultimately successful in causing emotional turmoil within a readers’ mindset with his descriptive imagery, unique twist to plotline, and specific word choice. “I’ve done my damndst to rip a reader’s nerves to rags, I don’t want him satisfied,” and indeed Steinbeck easily achieves this goal.
Cathy Ames’s Manipulative Power in East of Eden
“Sexuality with all its attendant yearnings and pains, jealousies and taboos, is the most disturbing impulse humans have” (Steinbeck 75). To Cathy Ames, a seductively charismatic sociopath, sexuality and the vulnerability that accompanies it is the biggest downfall of humans. She discovers the key to controlling anyone is through such impulses. At age ten she takes advantage of two boys through their sexuality, and then proceeds to frame them to get what she wants. This behavior continues for the rest of her life, as she spends most of it at various whorehouses manipulating the owners until it is clear that she is the one who truly runs the establishment. Cathy feels so comfortable at a whorehouse, a place where she controls people through their sexuality, because she herself possesses no weakness to such impulses, and therefore uses everyone else’s vulnerability to gain control.At a young age, Cathy Ames realizes the power she has over other people through their sexuality, and how she can use such a vulnerability to take advantage of them. The first example of this behavior is when she tricks two young boys at the age of ten. While looking for her daughter, Cathy’s mother hears giggling coming from the carriage house. Upon walking in, she saw that “Cathy lay on the floor, her skirts pulled up. She was naked to the waist, and beside her two boys about fourteen were kneeling” and “Cathy’s wrists were tied with a heavy rope” (Steinbeck 76). Cathy’s mother is horrified; but the reader knows this incident is clearly Cathy’s doing. When the families have a meeting regarding what happened, the boys have a defense that seems ridiculous: “Cathy, they said, had started the whole thing, and they had each given her five cents. They had not tied her hands. They said they remembered that she was playing with a rope” (Steinbeck 77). To this defense Cathy’s father responds, “Do they really mean to say she tied her own hands? A ten-year-old child?” (Steinbeck 77). Mr. Ames’ inquiry serves as a rhetorical question to the reader, underscoring the irony of the situation. He asks this question, of course, to make such a notion sound completely foolish. The reader has better insight into Cathy’s personality than her father does, however, and knows that Cathy likely manipulated and framed the boys by using her newly discovered sexuality. Cathy’s reasoning for doing such a thing becomes apparent in the tone Steinbeck takes towards her character: he believes she is pure evil and everything she does is solely to benefit herself. To Cathy, this event served as an experiment. The reader is unaware of exactly what Cathy says to the boys, but it is obvious that she wanted her way with them and knew how to get it. From a young age she knows that she is able to control people, but uses this event, and people’s reactions to it, to judge exactly how far she can take things. When the boys get “whipped to raw cuts” and Cathy gets attention and sympathy, it becomes clear to her—as well as the reader—precisely how much power she has, and how dangerous it will become in the future (Steinbeck 77).As an adult, Cathy first takes advantage of Mr. Edwards, a married man whose livelihood comes from owning a brothel. From the day she meets him, Cathy plans to get whatever she wants from him then proceeds to achieve this goal by using her mock innocence and feminine lure to make him fall in love with her: “He rented a sweet little brick house for her and then gave it to her. He bought her every imaginable luxury, overdecorated the house, kept it overwarm. The carpeting was too deep and the walls were crowded with heavy framed pictures” (Steinbeck 93). Cathy has once again used her seductive mystique to gain control of the situation. She maintains that control in the bedroom: “She convinced him that the result was not quite satisfactory to her, that if he were a better man he could release a flood of unbelievable reaction in her. Her method was to keep him continually off balance . . . And when she sensed the near approach of insane, punishing rage, she sat in his lap and soothed him and made him believe for a moment in her innocence. She could convince him” (Steinbeck 94). Steinbeck makes it clear that Cathy knows exactly what she is doing and how far she will go to control a man so “hopelessly, miserably in love” with her (Steinbeck 93). The more “off balance” Mr. Edwards becomes, the more stable Cathy becomes and this stability leads to control. As long as she remains unobtainable, she holds this control. According to Sherry Argov, author of Why Men Love Bitches: “A woman is perceived as offering a mental challenge to the degree that a man doesn’t feel he has a 100 percent hold on her . . . She’s available sometimes; other times she’s not. But she’s nice. Nice enough, that is, to consider his preferences for when he’d like to see her so that she can sometimes accommodate them. Translation? No 100 percent hold” (5). Cathy Ames does just this to Mr. Edwards to secure her place being in control of their relationship: “She gave him an impression of restlessness, as though she might take flight at any moment. When she knew he was going to visit her, she made it a point to be out and to come in glowing as from some incredible experience” (Steinbeck 94). Cathy realizes that each time she does something like this, it never completely satisfies Mr. Edwards and he falls more in love with her because she is so elusive. As he becomes more smitten, he becomes equally as submissive, losing all his dignity. Cathy knows exactly what to say to put Mr. Edwards in this state. For example, “When she would return in the late afternoon and find him waiting for her she would explain, ‘Why, I was shopping. I have to go shopping, you know.’ And she made it sound like a lie” (Steinbeck 94). Cathy’s sexuality and seductive lure put her in control of any situation, and give her power over anyone.The second brothel owner Cathy takes advantage of is Faye, a woman in her sixties who also falls under the spell of Kate, the new name Cathy assumes when she starts working at Faye’s. Like Mr. Edwards, Faye finds herself seduced by Kate’s sweet and unassuming nature: “Faye, the essence of motherness, began to think of Kate as her daughter. She felt this in her breast and in her emotions, and her natural morality took hold. She did not want her daughter to be a whore. It was a perfectly reasonable sequence” (Steinbeck 223). Kate essentially seduces Faye into treating her much better than she treats the other girls at the house. Faye is happy to take Kate under her wing because Kate knows, like she did with Mr. Edwards and the two boys in the carriage house, exactly what to say to come off as innocent and loveable and therefore get what she wants. When Faye asks about Kate’s choice to dye her hair from blonde to black, Kate is “very clever. She [tells] the best lie of all–the truth” (Steinbeck 226). By mixing truth in amongst all her lies, Kate makes everything sound believable, and therefore no one doubts anything she says. When she has everyone’s trust in a way this powerful, she can get whatever she wants. What Kate wants out of Faye is her fortune, as Faye has accumulated much wealth from being the owner of a successful brothel for many years. As soon as Faye declares Kate as her daughter and writes her into her will, Kate begins scheming and planning Faye’s death. She poisons her slowly over time and simply blames it on an illness. She never raises suspicion because she is so careful in her planning: “At first they had to tie Kate down to keep her from hurting herself. From violence she went into a gloomy stupor. It was a long time before she regained her health. And she forgot completely about the will. It was Trixie who finally remembered” (Steinbeck 251). Kate’s false front makes the girls think that she is sincerely devastated by Faye’s death, when in actuality, she was the one who killed her in order to inherit Faye’s money and title. Kate’s ruthless seduction and then careful planning help her take over the whorehouse and inherit the owner’s six-digit fortune.Cathy Ames, or Kate, as she becomes known later, is by far the most manipulative, conniving, and cunning character in East of Eden. She uses her sexuality to control anyone she chooses and to get what she wants from that person. As a child, she frames two young boys when first discovering the power of her sexuality. Later, as an adult, she seduces two brothel owners and achieves overwhelming control over both of them, resulting in the inheritance of a large fortune from one of them. Because she is a sociopath with no real conscience, Cathy is able to live the greater part of her adult life in control of any situation through her scheming manipulation of sexuality. As the two boys and Mr. Edwards learn, that manipulation is dangerous. In Faye’s case, it is deadly. Works CitedArgov, Sherry. Why Men Love Bitches. Avon: Adams Media, 2004.Steinbeck, John. East of Eden. New York: Penguin Books, 1992.
Impotency of Money in East of Eden
The plot of Steinbeck’s East of Eden has the issue of money tightly woven in with the stories of most of the main characters. On the surface money seems to be accepted by the society and serves as the solution to all problems; on numerous occasions, the wealthy are able to afford the best lands and latest technologies. However, a closer look reveals that money is actually quite powerless. Often Steinbeck features the affluent characters as being dispirited with their surroundings or roles in life. As a result, through his treatment of characters in East of Eden, Steinbeck suggests that financial success cannot buy happiness and love, but can only lead to isolation from society.Many characters try to buy love, but are unsuccessful. Cyrus, for example, creates suspicion rather than admiration from his sons. “‘I think he stole the money,’ Charles said miserably,” upon reading Cyrus’s will (69). He feels betrayed by his father whom he loves. Even Adam, who never mourned Cyrus’ death but instead accepted and used his share of inheritance freely, remarks “He was a thief… He stole from the G.A.R.” (582). Cyrus’ wealth leaves an imprint of remorse instead of respect on his sons. Charles, reciprocally, tries to purchase his father’s love. He spends six bits on a knife for Cyrus’ birthday, which goes unappreciated – “Where’s that knife?… I never even saw him hone it” (29). Mad at the lack of attention he receives for his expensive gift, Charles tries to take out his anger on his innocent brother.Adam does not try to get his father’s attention, but instead lavishes money and attention on his wife and son Aron, where it is futile. Cathy leaves the ranch as soon as she is well enough and Aron never bothers to tell his father anything. Adam’s carefully thought-out gift to Aron is not cared for, “He didn’t take the gold watch” (573). Interestingly, just like the previous generation, while the father is busy chasing after the son that doesn’t love him, his other, neglected son is busy finding ways to be noticed by the father. Cal works hard on a large and valuable present of fifteen thousand dollars for his father, only to have it rejected and told that it doesn’t match up to his brother going to college. “I would have been so happy if you could have given me – well, what your brother has – pride in the thing he’s doing, gladness in his progress. Money, even clean money, doesn’t stack up with that” (544). All these unavailing attempts show that money is insufficient to purchase love.Instead of benefits, money can actually lead to isolation. In East of Eden, the wealthy characters are often secluded from the society. Both Adam and Charles, rich from their father’s will, have enough to live on comfortably so that they do not have to work and therefore interact with others. Yet Charles, even though he’s rich, is such a miser that he “Never spent a dime. He pinched a dollar until the eagle screamed” (372). He labors like crazy on the farm and never has any fun. Even little amounts gets bickered, “You remember when you sent me a telegram for a hundred dollars? You never paid it back” (108). Charles even wants to buy his brother out so that he will not be bothered (107).His brother, Adam, also takes advantage of his financial stability by wallowing in self-pity after Cathy leaves. His wages to Lee guarantees that he and his sons will be fed and their house will be cleaned for. He never bothers to pay visits to any neighbors because since he has money, he thinks that he does not need help from them.The Trask brothers are not the only ones separated from their surroundings because of their money. Will feels isolated in his family because of his different views on success and life. “I am the only one who ever made a dime,” Will remarks proudly, trying to hide his hurt feelings of being the outsider (436). Will’s greed for money is so strong that he forsakes happiness for it. “He hated Fords with a deadly hatred, but they were daily building his fortune” (364). He hates his job and never even bothers to understand the things that are making him rich: “Will Hamilton, puffing under the burden of his new fat, explained the workings of a mechanism he did not understand himself” (364). Will is the only one in his family to care about money. However, due to his feeling left out, he even speaks badly of his much-beloved father, making Adam comment in surprise, “You make Sam Hamilton sound like a criminal” (436). Will, Adam, and Charles’ actions reflect that wealth is a factor that promotes isolation.In Steinbeck’s novel, the happy characters do not care much about money. Sam Hamilton is greatly loved despite his financial status, “The daughters of Samuel Hamilton were not destined to become work-destroyed farm wives. They had a pride that transcended their poverty. Samuel raised a distinctly superior breed” (147). He is constantly praised by his neighbors, to whom he is always courteous and kind. “Mr. Hamilton maybe hasn’t got four bits put away, but he’s our people and he’s as good as we got. And he’s raised the nicest family you’re likely to see” (140). His achievements are not judged on his bank notes but instead on his morals, character, and family. Sam is always more concerned about changing things for the better and never gets mad at the patent firms for selling his ideas for their own profits. Steinbeck constantly quotes Sam whenever another character is thinking about the meaning of life. Even long after his death, Sam is well remembered in Lee’s memory: “he had so much, he was rich. You couldn’t give him anymore. Riches seem to come to the poor in spirit, the poor in interest and joy” (583). Therefore, happiness and love may be obtained by all, with no regard to materialistic values.Money is not the solution to problems in East of Eden. It results in unhappiness as attempts to buy love fail. The wealthy also end up isolated from the society. Instead, it is the kind and generous people that end up happiest. As Lee sums up nicely, “Money’s easy to make if it’s money you want. But with a few exceptions people don’t want money. They want luxury and they want love and they want admiration” (541).
Good and Evil in East of Eden
In the novel East of Eden, Steinbeck emphasizes the theme of the struggle between good and evil. He says that this perpetual battle is the only true human story in that all of mankind can find themselves and their thoughts and actions in this tale. “We have only one story. All novels, all poetry, are built on the never-ending contest in ourselves of good and evil.” Writers, musicians, farmers, and salesmen alike have found themselves caught in this internal conflict. Stein beck says, “I think this is the only story we have and that it occurs on all levels of feeling and intelligence.” In East of Eden, many of the characters’ struggles are obvious as they grow and learn of the often harsh and unjust world in which they were placed. Charles is torn between good and evil as a child faced with a father that only loves him second-best. Likewise, Cal feels that he is inferior to Aron’s near perfection and must battle with himself constantly.The story of good and evil, present throughout East of Eden, has been told since the beginning of mankind. In the Garden of Eden, man first became aware of the difference between virtue and vice after eating from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. From that point on, humans had the choice to fall prey to sin or to rise about it and find God’s favor. Since this story is common to each of us, it has been retold countless times in many different forms, from John Proctor’s struggle in The Crucible to the creature’s battle in Frankenstein. These stories and East of Eden have endured through the years because they tell the story of mankind and our never-ending quest to conquer evil with good.In East of Eden, the struggle between good and evil is constantly seen both internally and between characters. Cathy, symbolizing Satan, looks for the evil in each person and tries to draw it out and exploit it. Steinbeck says, “And it occurs to me that evil must constantly respawn, while good, while virtue, is immortal. Vice has always a fresh young face, while virtue is venerable as nothing else in the world is.” Cathy must change her name and appearance and move often to continue her corrupt work. After murdering her parents, she becomes Catherine Amesbury and later changes her name again to Kate after shooting Adam and leaving her sons. Cathy has to put on different faces regularly. To Faye, she is the sweet, adoring daughter, but to the girls who live in her whorehouse, she is the merciless punishment enforcer. She must constantly watch her steps and plan any action from start to finish to make sure she will be able to carry it out. This is the story of evil. Satan can always conceive new and creative ways to lure people to him and yet the evil always dies and is forgotten. On the other hand, virtue is remembered and honored from generation to generation. Samuel’s teachings and philosophies are often relied on long after his death. Lee incorporates Samuel’s teachings into his upraising of the Trask twins. Therefore, good always conquers in the end as it does in East of Eden. Cathy begins to realize reluctantly near the end of her life that the evil on which she thrived caused her downfall. She had trained herself never to trust anyone and in the end Cathy even began to doubt herself.The most obvious case of an internal struggle between good and evil is present in Cal. As a child, he is aware that his light-haired brother is favored over him by nearly everyone. When Cal finally confronts his mother, he believes that Adam loves Aron more because he looks like Cathy. Cal’s peers are scared of him and he has no friends. The first young girl that that twins meet is won by Aron. Cal often feels that he has no choice in his evil actions. He believes that his mother’s blood that runs through his veins causes him to be bad. Most of Cal’s evil actions are merely because of his desire for love and acceptance. “…everyone in the world to a large or small extent has felt rejection…and there is the story of mankind.” Cal has felt this rejection throughout his entire life. He knows that Abra favors Aron so he tricks the young girl to try to win her love.But underneath Cal’s harsh appearance, is an earnest desire to live a good life. He has a genuine love for Aron and a desire to protect his weaker sibling. One night he cries and prays to God to help him be good in both his actions and thoughts. Once he gets to know his father better, Cal wants to help him recover some of the money he lost in a business venture and devotes his time to making over $20,000. Yet when he presents his gift to Adam, it is rejected and Cal feels that it is he who is being rejected. He who loves and respects his father is turned away while Aron who feels that he is almost too good to talk to his father is honored with a gold watch. This rejection causes Cal to feel that he is evil and that leading a good life is hopeless. At the end of the novel, goodness returns again to Cal. On his deathbed, Adam blesses his only living son, giving him the choice to live his life in either good or evil from that minute onward. Cal now understands that even though he has made mistakes throughout his life, his father’s love will always be with him and he is free to live his life righteously. “In uncertainty I am certain that underneath their topmost layers of frailty men want to be good and want to be loved. Indeed, most of their vices are attempted short cuts to love.” Cal’s attempt to lead a good life had to start with self-love and self-acceptance. Once he realized that he would make many mistakes in his life and that this was common of all of mankind, he was able to dedicate his life to living it so he will be remembered as a good person. Cal was accepted by both his father and Abra and found the love for which he had been searching for. In Cal, one can see the entire story of mankind unfold-the search for love, the feeling of rejection and hopelessness, and finally the acceptance of one’s individuality. Steinbeck successfully created a story that will endure for generations because of its truth and honesty of the story of mankind and our constant battle between good and evil.
Maternal Absence and Paternal Rejection in East of Eden
Often times when we read or analyze texts, we ask simple, broad questions that are at the root of larger, deeper questions. For example, why does a particular character act a certain way? What are the motivations behind those actions? These questions often have no concrete answers that we can derive from the text. But by looking at these questions through the lens of a specific literary theory, we are able to create a hypothetical answer based on logical rules. By analyzing characters’ actions and motivations through the lens of psychoanalytic theory, which is highly influenced by Freudian thought, we are able to answer difficult questions about troubling characters in East of Eden. Psychoanalytic theory allows the reader to do an in-depth character analysis using Freud’s highly developed psychoanalytic concepts. In East of Eden, Cal struggles with an unusual Oedipus complex. This, combined with his under-developed superego, results in paternal rejection being significantly more traumatic for him than it would be for a person under normal psychological circumstances. These factors cause him to act out against his brother.
Freud identifies the Oedipus complex as the childhood desire to sleep with your mother and get rid of your father. Freud believes every child begins developing this complex as early as infancy, and its presence can remain throughout a person’s lifetime if it is never repressed. Freud believes that in order for a child to resolve the Oedipus complex, the child must form a strong identification with his mother or father at some point between the ages of 4 and 7. If the child does not resolve the Oedipus complex by this point, it can remain a dominant part of the psyche that manifests itself in a person’s adult actions. This is called regression, a return to childhood desires despite older age. Freud also introduced the idea of the superego, which controls a person’s impulses and is guided by a vision of the ideal self. But without a childhood which enforced strong moral values, a person’s superego can become misguided. The superego is also responsible for rewarding someone when they behave properly. But if the person is not rewarded, or is rewarded too rarely, a person’s response can be incredibly traumatic, especially if they have other psychological damage.
By analyzing Cal through Freudian thought, we are able to derive a better understanding of his actions and emotions. Because Cal’s mother is absent from his life during his childhood, Cal has an unconventional Oedipus Complex. He never had the chance to connect with his mother or create a close relationship with his father, and thus becomes severely dependent on his father’s attention and approval. But when he does not receive this approval, his superego does not know how to respond. Adam’s rejection is extremely traumatic for Cal, and his response to this experience is largely dictated by his unresolved Oedipus complex. Cal’s longing for a paternal relationship is evident from the beginning of his life, and this is partially because of the competition and jealousy he feels with his brother. Steinbeck writes, “From his first memory Cal had craved warmth and affection, just as everyone does…once a boy has suffered rejection, he will find rejection even where it does not exist-or, worse, will draw it forth from people simply by expecting it” (440). This cycle of competition and rejection began early for Cal, and as he grew up he was constantly vying for his father’s attention, because he never had a mother to develop and repress his Oedipus complex, a key process in childhood. Cal recalls being young and remembering that if he sat very quietly near his father and leaned on him, his father would caress his shoulder. This caress “brought such a raging flood of emotion to the boy that he saved this special joy and used it only when he needed it” (441). Cal takes immense pleasure in this action. Cal vys not only for his father’s approval, but for the simple affection and warmth that he never received from a mother. During a conversation with his father, Cal is desperate for “some wild demonstration of sympathy and love” (450) and “aches with affection” for his father (451). When he does receive approval, he is giddy. Steinbeck writes, “Adam’s recognition brought a ferment of happiness to Cal. He walked on the balls of his feet. He smiled more often then he frowned” (455). Because Cal grows up without a mother, with a relatively uninvolved father, and a twin who he feels competitive with, his superego is desperate for approval and affection. When he does not receive this attention, he acts out.
Cal aches for paternal approval and love, and believes that a gift for his father will be a way to receive more attention and prove he is the better twin. Because of his damaged Oedipus complex and the fact that he is constantly competing with his brother, Cal feels the need to win over his father. He devises a plan to earn back all the money that his father lost in his lettuce-shipping attempt. Before he even gives his father the gift, Cal acknowledges his ulterior motives. He says, “Why am I giving the money to my father? Is it for his good? No. It’s for my good…I’m trying to buy him…I sit here wallowing in jealousy of my brother. Why not call things by their names?” (535). After months of earning the money, Cal presents it to his father. Adam quickly rejects it, and Cal is immediately shocked, angry, and heartbroken. Soon, his angry feelings turn into jealousy and hate for Aaron. Steinbeck writes, “He [Cal] fought the quiet hateful brain down…he fought it more weakly, for hate was seeping all through his body, poisoning every nerve. He could feel himself losing control” (541). Although Adam was the one who rejected the gift, Cal feels hate and anger towards Aaron, and he is jealous because his father loves Aaron more. Cal deeply internalizes the rejection, but he takes that anger out on his brother, not his father. Cal apologizes to his father, and then goes out to find Aaron. Cal is in a state of severe anger and rage, and “his mind is numb”. When he finds Aaron, he tells him, “I want you to come with me…I want to show you something…You’ll be very interested.” He leads Aaron “past Central Avenue toward Castroville Street,” toward Cathy’s whorehouse (453). Aaron has no idea who his mother is or where she lives, and he is deeply religious. Cal purposely leads his brother to Cathy to punish him and make him feel as awful as Cal does in that moment. Cal’s psyche has complete control over his actions after his father rejects him, and his Oedipus complex and undeveloped superego completely dictate his decisions. Because Cal’s Oedipus complex makes him so attached to his father’s approval, he cannot accept the idea that perhaps it is his father’s fault for not giving him enough attention, rather than his brother’s for being the favorite.
Cal’s behavior is a direct result of his psyche and unconscious. Because of his estranged relationship with his father and abandonment by his mother, Cal’s Oedipus complex was never resolved or confronted. Because he did not have normal relationships with his parents, his superego never developed, and remained dependent on praise and approval. When he does not receive this praise, he takes his anger out on his brother. This reaction has been present since he was young. He took pleasure in his brother’s discomfort. When he pushed his brother’s buttons, “he felt his power, and it made him glad” (370). Cal acts out against his brother as a way of redirecting the anger he feels toward his father for not giving him attention. By understanding Cal’s behavior through psychoanalysis and Freud’s specific psychoanalytic theories, the reader can gain a better understanding of Cal’s intentions and actions.