Religious Allegory In Steinbeck’s Novel East Of Eden
John Steinbeck is a nobel prize winning author who is well-known for his realistic and imaginative writings. Steinbeck wants his audience to gain a new perspective and empowering message that influences his readers’ daily lives. East of Eden is a prime example as Steinbeck captures the Bible’s story of Genesis in a modern retelling. Steinbeck faced monumental challenges growing up and throughout his life. Within his time period, the study of psychology was beginning to emerge, and this new phenomenon helped piece together why there was such a large extent of racism and hurtful rhetoric among those who were not white in the early 1900s.
John Steinbeck grew up in a quickly industrializing society in which people were rapidly developing new technologies and innovations. In the novel, Lee, the chinese servant to Adam Trask, tells a powerful and meaningful story of what it was like to be chinese or a minority in such a rapidly advancing society. A quote that goes to show this is, “…to the so-called whites I was still chinese, but an untrustworthy one…” (Steinbeck, 163-164). Because Steinbeck chooses to represent a chinese servant in the early 1900s, it goes to show the deep racial divide within the country. As people like Lee began to populate and immigrate into the country, the U.S. government passed the Chinese Exclusion Act in 1882. This goes to further show that as the number of chinese immigrants began to become entrepreneurs, the strength of hate and anti-chinese rhetoric steadily increased. This rhetoric is abuntundly prevalent in the novel; To Kate, Adam’s ex-wife, he’s the Chinaman, to Quinn, the police chief, he’s the Ching Chong, and to Adam’s nurse, he’s Chink. All of this harmful rhetoric connects back to the idea of psychology and WHY people felt justified in saying the hurtful things they said. Because racism does not have a genetic or evolutionary basis, racism is generally a defense mechanism generated by feelings of insecurity and anxiety. When people feel insignificant or inadequate in their life, they respond by becoming more prone to seeking status, materialism, greed, prejudice, and aggression. They are more likely to conform to culturally accepted attitudes and to identify with their national or ethnic groups. Therefore, the progressive era in the early 1900s was a period of rapid social and political reform which included comprehensive labor laws, a ban on the sale of alcohol, women’s suffrage, etc… People were very anxious during this time, which is why Steinbeck made his characters conform to this racism in order to show his audience what polarization looked like throughout the progressive era.
Cathy represented evil and was the antagonist throughout the novel. However, one could infer that Steinbeck chose to write this story in order for his readers to better understand the philosophy of psychology. Steinbeck continuously hints that there may be something mentally wrong with Cathy. A strong example of this is when Cal asks Cathy, “Did you ever have the feeling like you were missing something? Like as if the others knew something you didn’t – like a secret they would tell you?” (Steinbeck, 465). Cal is trying to infer that Cathy is lacking something imperative, such as ‘good’. Earlier in the novel, Adam ponders to Cathy that she does not hate their evil, but instead their good, in which she does not have. Therefore, people were beginning to understand differences within people through a psychological lens. To a large extent, this was because of the bible. The Bible strongly condemns evil, and embraces the good in people. The book of genesis explains that every person was made in the image of G-d. No matter what color you are, you are no more worthy or deserving of dignity than any other human. This discovery brings back the topic of why Steinbeck decided to write this novel. Because the U.S. was overwhelmingly Christain, Steinbeck wanted to tell this story through a religious allegory in order for most Americans to understand Steinbeck’s views. He wanted the polarization, division, and racism in America to be resolved, and articulating a story as a biblical allegory was the best way Steinbeck felt his voice would be heard in order to get his message across to the Amercian public.
Steinbeck wrote East of Eden to further enhance his readers’ perspectives and minds on the time period in which he grew up in. It was the norm to essentially hate and even kill people who were simply not white. There was a strenuous amount of racism and division in the United States during this time period. However, the emergence of psychology helped explain why people felt the need or justified in saying hurtful rhetoric towards minorities. It was their own insecurities and anxiety that prevailed their efforts. All in all, Steinbeck wants his readers to learn life lessons through his stories to enhance their own lives and to not allow history to make the same mistakes his generation made.
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