If you ever wonder about humanity, what it means to be loved, or what it feels like to be hated, if you ever want to hear about why we all seem to fit into categories of good and evil, why there isn’t ever a gray area in the depths of light and darkness, then East of Eden will not only leave you in a daze, but inspire you to change the very fibers of your life.
East of Eden is a classic novel that explores the themes of good versus evil, free will, innocence, and family. It will upend your perspective on the world, and cement your values into laws that never break. It is a beautiful book with a striking spirit and powerful meaning.
In the Bible, Adam and Eve lived in the Garden of Eden until they experimented with sin and were exiled to the land east of it. There they had two sons: Cain and Abel. We know that Cain kills Abel. This story, from the Book of Genesis, inspires the content of John Steinbeck’s tale, and its main characters are based on the famous Biblical characters.
East of Eden is set in the 1940s and 1950s, beginning with a detailed description of
Salinas Valley, California. The very first words are, “The Salinas Valley is in Northern California. It is a long narrow swale between two ranges of mountains, and the Salinas River winds and twists up the center until it falls at last into the Monterey Bay.”
But while the story informs the reader about California, Adam and Charles Trask are two brothers who live somewhere outside a big city in Connecticut. The novel opens with the death of their father, Cyrus, who left them each with a sum of $50,000 which Charles thinks was acquired dishonestly in the military, where Cyrus spent his life.
Meanwhile, a little way away, Cathy Ames is a “psychic monster” with a “malformed soul” who uses her sexuality to destroy the people who love her. When she is beaten almost to death by a w****master after setting fire to her parents’ house and stealing their money five days earlier, she ends up on the porch of the brothers’ farmhouse. Charles is disgusted by Cathy without even knowing her past, but Adam falls deeply in love and marries her. The two move to Salinas Valley, and there they have twin sons, Aron and Cal.
Charles falls out of the story for another ten years while Aron and Cal grow up with their mother missing; Cathy runs away to a brothel, and they live in unknowing devotion to her,
assuming she is dead.
While Adam and Charles are the first generation of Cain and Abel, Adam and Cathy become Adam and a twisted version of Eve. Cal and Aron are the new Cain and Abel.
Cal has always had a cruel heart, which scares him. He is not as soft as his brother, and believes that Adam loves Aron more than him. When he learns about who his mother really is, he uses that information to ruin the sensitive Aron, who is shattered by the news.
A chain of events leads to death, and Cal is faced with a chance to change his unintentional yet evil ways. Adam and Cal discover the most important word in the world, a Hebrew word which means “thou mayest,” which contrasts the binding word in the Bible, “thou shall.” They use this word for their future: they may be whoever they want in their lives. This brings up what is said to Cal after the climax of the story: “ … and now that you don’t have to be perfect, you can be good.”
East of Eden is about being human, the need to be loved, and the fear of the opposite – self-worth and jealousy – and turning the page to a new chapter in life. It’s a story about losing everything: love, family, and even the restraining past, but becoming who you want to be.
East of Eden will mesmerize you, and it will leave you inspired to take the road of change in your own life.
This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.