East of Eden

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Novel by John Steinbeck, published in 1952.

In the late 1890s Adam Trask marries Cathy Ames, a beautiful but viciously evil former prostitute, and moves from his family farm in Connecticut to the Salinas Valley, California. There, aided by Sam Hamilton, a warm-hearted Irishman, he develops a large ranch, and Cathy gives birth to their twin sons. Hating her situation and her husband, Cathy shoots Adam when he tries to prevent her leaving, and under the name of Kate Albey joins a house in Salinas run by a madam whom she slowly poisons so as to get a place of her own to cater to men's darkest and most perverted desires. Adam, withdrawn and detached, has the help of kindly Sam and of his educated servant Lee, a Chinaman, in rearing his children, Caleb and Aron, whom he had considered naming Cain and Abel, particularly since Lee interpreted the Biblical story to show that although God exiled Cain to the land east of Eden, He said to him, “if thou doest well … thou mayest rule over sin.” The boys grow up, Aron as a naïve, open-hearted, and religious young man innocently loving a girl named Abra, while Caleb has a stormy adolescence, torn between desires for innocence and for adventures in evil, conceived by him to be a heritage from his mother, whom he comes to know. To hurt Adam, who dotes on Aron, Caleb takes his brother to meet their mother, and Aron is so shocked by the experience that he gives up Abra and enlists in the army during World War I. Kate commits suicide, bequeathing her wealth to Aron, whose own death in war leads to Adam's paralysis by a stroke. Caleb is guilt-ridden by the sequence of events he set in motion, but Adam on his deathbed recalls Lee's Biblical interpretation, and in forgiving Caleb he gives him the chance, like that given Cain, to make a moral choice and thus to create of his life what he will.

Subjects: Literature.

Reference entries

John Steinbeck (1902—1968) American novelist

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