East of Eden Summary – Part I Chapter 1-4
In the beginning of East of Eden, before introducing his characters, John Steinbeck carefully establishes the setting with a description of the Salinas Valley in Northern California. As a youngster, the narrator learns to tell east from the bright Gabilan Mountains and west from the dark Santa Lucias Mountains. The weather there is cyclic: years of heavy rainfall, then moderate rainfall followed inevitably by dryness which always surprises the inhabitants. Historically, the valley was settled first by “lazy” Indians, followed by the “greedy” Spanish and finally the “even greedier” Americans.
In 1870, the narrator’s grandparents Samuel and Liza Hamilton immigrate from the north of Ireland and settle in the driest land in the Salinas Valley. Very prolific, they work hard to raise their nine children. Samuel’s good nature and hard work on his near barren ranch makes him sympathetic to the reader. Liza is stern but good-hearted. Had their land been fertile, they would have been rich.
Samuel Hamilton is a neighbor of the wealthy Adam Trask but Adam settled in a much better part of the Salinas Valley after his move from New England. As a child in Connecticut, Adam lived with his devilish father Cyrus Trask-a one- legged syphilitic Civil War veteran-his affectionate stepmother Alice, who was a timid young woman intent on hiding her tuberculosis, and a cruel younger half-brother named Charles. His own mother commits suicide after learning Cyrus has infected her with syphilis. Cyrus creates a package of lies about his heroic role in the Civil War by studying military strategy and is so convincing that when he moves to Washington D.C. he is granted a very high government position.
Adam and Charles experience a difficult childhood. While Adam is gentle and passive, Charles’ aggression becomes apparent when he beats his brother senseless after Adam defeats him for the first time in a game. Although Alice never smiles in public, Adam one day discovers his stepmother smiling by herself and secretly leaves her presents that she mistakenly believes are from her son Charles. Cyrus all the while attempts to convince Adam that the Army will make a man out of him, yet he doesn’t encourage his other son Charles to join out of fear of exacerbating the dark parts of his personality. Charles feels deep resentment toward Cyrus for ignoring his birthday present, a valuable German knife, and for valuing instead the stray puppy given him by Adam. Jealousy overcomes Charles and he savagely beats his brother and leaves him close to death on the side of the road. Cyrus goes after Charles with a shotgun but in time settles down. While Adam is recuperating, Cyrus enlists him in the Army.
Part I Chapter 1-4 Analysis
At the beginning, Steinbeck sets up the Biblical metaphor of good vs. evil, or light vs. dark by setting East of Eden in the Edenic splendor of the Salinas Valley, California, where he grew up. Evil is represented in the form of the Santa Lucias Mountains to the west and contrasted with light “good” welcoming Gabilan Mountains to the east. Although the narrator favored the light mountains, he nevertheless will, like all human beings, have to find his way through life’s labyrinth of light and dark: good and evil.
Here, both the Hamilton and Trask families are introduced. Although the happy Hamilton family is fertile, ultimately containing nine children, they live on the poorest, driest most barren land. On the other hand, the Trask family, which lives on the richest most fertile land, is small and almost sterile. Samuel Hamilton and Cyrus Trask represent two biblical patriarchs, Samuel the archetypal force for goodness- loving, healthy, and passionate about education-and Cyrus, a force for evil-hateful, diseased and a liar. Samuel’s brood will fare comparatively well, but the sins of the father will be visited upon the kind-hearted Adam and the evil-hearted Charles. Adam parallels the biblical shepherd Abel, whose sacrifice of his best lamb pleased God more than the farmer Cain’s (the equivalent of Charles) offering of grain. This original incidence of sibling rivalry is mirrored throughout the novel.
East of Eden Summary – Part I Chapter 5-8
Samuel Hamilton’s childhood was spent in Ireland where he was self-educated from borrowed books. Although he experienced initial distrust from his California neighbors, in time, he won their hearts. Although they never achieve wealth, the Hamilton family never goes hungry. The family consists of four boys: sinless George, lucky Will, passionate Tom and lazy Joseph, and five girls: studious Una, solitary Lizzie, fun-loving Dessie, scholarly Olive (the narrator’s mother who becomes a teacher) and beautiful Mollie. Liza, the mother has a will of iron. Adam joins the army, Cyrus moves to Washington D.C. to take a job at the Office of the Secretary of War, and Charles remains on the farm. He has an accident which results in a large dark brown scar which embarrasses him and makes him more reclusive and lonely.
Although discharged, Adam cannot stand the idea of returning home and after he re-enlists his father sends for him. He finds Cyrus living luxuriously with a new prosthetic leg. Cyrus attempts to convince Adam to enter West Point but Adam returns to his old regiment.
After his final discharge, Adam still cannot return to the Connecticut farm and happily wanders around the country as a hobo until he is arrested for vagrancy and placed on a chain gang. Charles receives a letter informing him of his father’s death and that that his fortune of $100,000 will be split evenly between his sons.
Adam escapes from the chain gang and wires Charles to send him $100. The brothers discuss their inheritance which Charles believes is ill-gained. His father lied about his past as an Army hero. Adam suggests they leave Connecticut and go to California.
Cathy Ames makes her appearance in chapter eight. Although she looks like an angel with a lovely face and hair of gold, she is full of guile, unfeeling and without guilt. An only child, her parents adore her. She demonstrates an uncanny ability to lure men sexually. When she is twelve, she ensnares a group of teenage boys in a sexual peccadillo just to see them suffer punishment. A teacher commits suicide after an involvement with her.
For no reason, Cathy hates her parents, burns down their house and kills them.
Part I Chapter 5-8 Analysis
In contrast to Samuel Hamilton’s goodness, the Trask family patriarch, Cyrus, is sinful by committing, in effect, the novel’s original sin, as Adam and Eve did in the Garden of Eden by disobeying God and eating the forbidden apple. And, as the first couple’s descendents were cursed, so too are the offspring of Cyrus. Despite their windfall inheritance, the brothers are socially inept and miserable. Although Adam represents the slain Abel, it is he, instead of his brother Charles (Cain), who wanders the earth after his dismissal from the company of man by God. Cathy Ames, whose “aims” are pure evil, clearly represents Satan. Unfeeling, uncaring whatsoever, she tempts people sexually, and brings pain to everyone she encounters.
East of Eden Summary – Part I Chapter 9-11
After killing her parents, Cathy reemerges as Catherine Amesbury, a burgeoning prostitute. She approaches Mr. Edwards, a successful whoremaster who runs a ring of prostitutes in small inns throughout New England. He lives a respectable life otherwise; his devout wife knows nothing about his trade. Although he thought himself immune to the wiles of women, Edwards, however, is taken completely off guard by his powerful sexual attraction to the delicate Cathy and cannot stand the idea of another man possessing her. He keeps her in luxury, giving her a house, and she steals from him with his full knowledge after Cathy lures him into her web. In time, he learns of the fire in which she killed her parents and after a night of drinking-he forces Cathy to drink wine-he sees her true evil nature. After she threatens his life, he beats her viciously, almost to death, and leaves her near the Trask farm.
Although they are rich and don’t ever need to work again, Charles and Adam work the farm, arguing constantly over domestic issues such as getting up early. Adam leaves for South America and returns to find Charles has increased the acreage.
After they find the unconscious and bloody Cathy on their back steps, Adam’s tender nature emerges and he falls in love but Charles worries about their reputation and insists that Cathy leaves. When the sheriff questions her about the beating, she feigns amnesia. Charles is not fooled, however, and this scares Cathy who senses in him a dark nature similar to her. Adam, on the other hand, is completely blind to her manipulative ways and asks her to marry him so he can protect her. Charles is furious. On their wedding night, Cathy insists she is still too injured to sleep with her husband, then drugs him, and finds her way to his brother’s bed. Allowing her in, Charles calls Adam a “poor bastard.” Adam is thus betrayed by both wife and brother on his wedding night.
Part I Chapter 9-11 Analysis
Cathy Amesbury, whose evil aims are buried, represents evil incarnate. She causes chaos, pain and death wherever she goes. She also represents the biblical Eve who first brought evil into the world when she ate the forbidden fruit. She also marries the love-besotted Adam and causes his downfall by bringing evil into his world. Charles and Cathy mirror each other like evil twins. Indeed, her wounds leave a scar-the mark of Cain-similar to Charles’ scar. Cathy cannot fool Charles about her evil nature and links herself to him by seeking him out sexually on her wedding night. Cathy’s behavior is hardly surprising given her immoral past, but this action on the part of Charles demonstrates the depth of his depravity and his evil nature. Earlier he said to Cathy, “I think you are a devil.” In effect, by sleeping with his brother’s wife, he sleeps, or mates, with the devil.
East of Eden Summary – Part II Chapter 12-15
Looking backwards in time from 1900, the narrator meditates on how humans tend to forget disagreeable historical facts. But this tendency, he maintains, serves the purpose of enabling the human race to progress. He states that the nineteenth century was one of murderous chaos, we are well rid of it, and then shares his worries about the impending twentieth century. The forces of mass production that compel people to labor collectively in factories, whether it be building automobiles or baking millions of loaves of bread, will result in the loss of individual creativity, “the one thing that separates us from the uncreative beasts.”
Over Cathy’s objections, Adam buys out Charles’ share of the farm and the couple moves by train to the Salinas Valley in California. Adam immediately feels at home and sets about looking for rich farmland. Cathy discovers she is pregnant and fails in her attempt at abortion with a knitting needle. She manages to placate the doctor by lying about her fear of passing on epilepsy and the doctor informs Adam of her condition.
Adam seeks out Samuel Hamilton for advice in acquiring land with water. The two men become fast friends and Adam buys the old Sanchez place located near King City.
In chapter 14, Steinbeck the author pays homage to his own mother through the character, Olive Hamilton, the mother of the novel’s narrator. Not desiring to live as a farmer’s wife, Olive decides to become a schoolteacher. This high-status job assures her a myriad of marriage proposals and she marries the owner of the King City flourmill. The mother of four, during World War I Olive set records for selling Liberty bonds and as a prize was offered a ride in an airplane. Terrified, but unwilling to let her family down, she prepares for death and gets on board. When the pilot asks if she would like him do some dare-devil maneuvers, she cannot hear him and smiles in seeming agreement. She reaches the ground in a state of shock.
For the first time Adam finds happiness. Life in California is good and Cathy is pregnant. His servant Lee, a Chinese-American man who acts the part of the degrading stereotypical, pidgin-speaking Chinese immigrant, despite an American university education, becomes indispensable. Lee also senses the negative energy hidden within Cathy and she doesn’t like him. However, his excellence as a servant insures his survival on the Trask ranch. Lee makes fast friends with Samuel, a fellow immigrant, who treats him as an equal. Samuel begins his search for water.
Adam shares stories about his life farming in Connecticut and Samuel accepts an invitation to dinner but is chagrined during the meal when Cathy doesn’t speak and leaves for home in a hurry. Cathy announces her departure to Adam as soon as she can after giving birth. Adam chalks this up to her pregnancy and ignores her.
Part II Chapter – Analysis
In Part 2’s opening meditation, Steinbeck insists on the creative power of the individual mind and the danger of following the crowd mentality. Beyond doubt, he considers the power of the individual mind to be indomitable. He wonders, however, about predestination-do people really have free will? Are they born good or evil? And, can they choose between the two? For instance, could Charles have chosen not to sleep with his brother’s wife? Was Cathy born a monster? It seems at this point that the author favors the idea of individual choice.
The devilish Cathy is juxtaposed with the angelic Olive Hamilton as the bad mother vs. the good mother. Cathy’s pregnancy is announced and she attempts to abort it-barrenness attempting to overrule fertility-but the loving Olive is willing to die in an airplane crash rather than disappoint her children.
The Chinese servant Lee acts as another witness to Cathy’s depravity. A philosopher and a poet, in his “disguise” he possesses the ability to “read” people, to observe without being observed. Like Samuel, he acts to contrast and thus heighten the novel’s evil characters. Steinbeck, well known for championing the poor and downtrodden, also illustrates the plight of Americans of immigrant parents, who in an effort to survive, must maintain the degradation forced on them as foreigners in America. Samuel, an Irish immigrant, has been far more successful in assimilating because of his
East of Eden Summary – Part II Chapter 16-19
During his ride home from Adam’s ranch, Samuel becomes depressed as he remembers a time as a child in Ireland when he saw an evil man before he was executed. The golden-haired man had the same inhuman eyes as Cathy. Despite his wife’s objections, Samuel agrees to help Adam rebuild the old ranch with the help of his sons.
Cathy goes into labor and Samuel, experienced with delivering his own children, is called by Lee to help. The men discuss their troubled feelings regarding Cathy on the way to the Trask house where they find the nervous Adam tripping over his own feet forcing Samuel to order him to leave. Cathy despises Samuel and bites him severely when he touches her scar in an attempt soothe her. She gives birth to twin boys and refuses to see them. Shaken, Samuel admits he doesn’t like her and sends for his calm and orderly wife, Liza, to care for the newborn twins. Within a week of giving birth Cathy informs Adam she is leaving and when he attempts to stop her, she shoots him in the shoulder.
The local deputy Horace Quinn does not believe Adam’s report of an accidental shooting. When he learns of Cathy’s disappearance, he reports the incident to the sheriff in Salinas who believes Cathy is now an inhabitant of Faye’s brothel. The men decide not to inform Adam so the babies will not learn their mother is a prostitute. Samuel becomes Adam’s source of strength as he recovers.
The Irishman advises the depressed Adam to go through the motions of living and that in time he will mend.
The narrator states that in a new country, the arrival of the churches and the brothels coincide. The three houses of prostitution in the Salinas Valley vary in nature and attract different clienteles. Cathy, who now calls herself Kate, becomes a worker in Faye’s brothel. Before long, Faye cannot do without Kate because she organizes the house so well and saves money. The sheriff, whom Kate likes because he is direct, warns her never to contact the twins and to dye her hair black to avoid recognition. He also orders her never to accept his own son as a client.
Part II Chapter 16-19 Analysis
These chapters show the clash of good with evil. The upright, honest Samuel is weakened with a fever after the animal-like Cathy bites him and he has to turn to his devout wife to cure him of his infection. Liza’s non-stop cleaning of a newly renovated home signifies it as dirty and diseased. Quinn and the sheriff are cast as good men intending to enforce the law and protect the citizens of the Salinas Valley. This is especially apparent when they decide to protect the babies from the evil nature of their mother who lives as a prostitute. In this section, good and evil become inextricably linked. Steinbeck juxtaposes churches and brothels, stating they arrive in a new country at the same time. The theme of good versus evil is further enhanced when the decent sheriff visits the evil Kate and warns her to stay away from his son.
East of Eden Summary – Part II Chapter 20-22
Faye is a motherly type madam, well loved by her girls and a generous contributor to local charities. Kate becomes so indispensable to the older woman that she begins to refer to Kate as her “daughter” and in a private party informs her she is going to leave everything to her. To celebrate, she orders Kate to drink champagne and, as she did once before when Mr. Edwards forced her to drink. Kate loses control and informs Faye that she has been carrying out lucrative sadomasochistic sexual adventures with clients behind Faye’s back. However, in an effort to regain her favored position after she becomes sober, Kate convinces Faye she had a bad dream and keeps her in a drugged fog.
Kate takes complete control of the brothel and collects a cache of drugs to poison Faye. She appears to be so crestfallen when Faye dies, her complete devotion remains unquestioned.
Adam spirals into depression and Lee informs Samuel that he has yet to name the babies, whom he views as symbols of his loss. Samuel finds Adam sunken into despair and unable to reach him with words, and hits him to jolt him out of his melancholy.
Lee, by now openly speaking proper English, joins them and while the babies sleep in the warm dust, they look in the Bible and after reading it discuss the story of Cain and Abel. A philosophical discussion follows on the ongoing human cycle of rejection, revenge and consequent guilt. They quickly settle on the names Caleb and Aron. One of the children cries at the mention of Caleb, the other at Aron, as if responding to their appropriate names.
Part II Chapter 20-22 Analysis
Central to this section is the biblical story of Cain and Abel. Samuel initially suggests naming the children Cain and Abel, but Adam shivers in response. As the three men discuss the universality of the tale, Adam argues that he never killed his brother, and then he pauses, we can assume, as he recollects and perhaps dismisses, the time when his brother Charles almost killed him in anger when he was rejected by their father Cyrus.
East of Eden Summary – Part III Chapter 23-26
Part III begins in 1911 with a summary of the Hamilton Family. Una, Samuel’s favorite, married a photographer and moved to Oregon where her dispassionate husband starved her. Samuel’s guilt over Una’s ill-treatment casts him into a depression from which he never emerges. He ages quickly and his children are shocked at his decline. They cook up a plan to have their parents come to visit them, ostensibly as a vacation but really so they can care for them. Samuel knows what they are up to but accepts nevertheless.
Samuel visits Adam before he leaves and once again meets the twins he delivered, now eleven years old. Immediately, the story of Cain and Abel comes to mind. When Lee brings drinks, the three men take up their conversation of the Cain and Abel story and the philosopher Lee explains he has in the interim been studying the story with four aged Chinese gentlemen and a rabbi in San Francisco. One translation of the Bible maintains that God promises Cain that he will overcome sin, but another translation says God orders Cain to overcome sin. After years of research, the men happily come to the conclusion that the correct translation is neither, and that the Hebrew word, timshel, the verb causing the discrepancy, actually means “thou mayest.” Lee beams in satisfaction when Samuel comes to fully grasp the meaning: God gave human beings the freedom to choose goodness over evil. At this point, Samuel makes a choice in an effort to help his friend Adam and tells him Cathy, now known as Kate, is still in Salinas and runs a notorious whorehouse. Adam, unable to stand the pain, runs away in horror.
Adam attends Samuel’s funeral and afterwards gets drunk and goes to see Kate. He sees her not as a beautiful woman, but as a monster and feels free for the first time in years. She tempts him sexually and shows him photos of powerful men in sexually compromising situations, and becomes hysterical when he fails to respond.
Kate throws one last weapon at Adam by telling him he might not be the children’s father, but Adam says it doesn’t matter.
Adam decides to buy a car from Samuel’s son Will. At home he tells Lee about Kate. Lee asks Adam to allow him to fulfill his dream of establishing a bookstore.
Part III Chapter 23-26 Analysis
The biblical Cain and Abel story is central to the novel, as is the exegesis of the Hebrew word timshel. Although the novel is filled with the presence of evil, humans have the power to overcome it. A tragic destiny is decreed for no one; it is all a matter of human choice. In these chapters, Adam at last shows an ability to recognize Cathy for who she is. In order to choose good over evil, evil must first be recognized.
East of Eden Summary – Part III Chapter 27-30
The Trask boys hunt rabbits. “Right through the heart,” says the dark-haired Cal who always wants to fight. Aron is golden-haired and fights only when provoked. Cal tells Aron he knows a secret: their mother isn’t really dead and still lives in Salinas. Cal delightfully realizes he has found Aron’s Achilles heel-the love of their mother.
Unexpected visitors await them at home. The Bacons have with them their beautiful eleven-year-old daughter Abra. While the children play outside, Mr. Bacon suggests that the family move to Salinas for better educational opportunities. Abra takes control of the boys. Adam runs to get the dead rabbit and places it in a box with a note asking her to marry him. When he is gone, Cal scares Abra into thinking there is a snake in the box and Abra tosses the box out of the cart. Aron’s heart breaks.
During dinner, Adam surprises the boys by inquiring about their lives. Cal, ever one to take advantage of a situation, asks about his mother, and Adam is again forced to lie. Lee suggests he tell them the truth and tells Adam how his own mother disguised herself as a man to follow her railroad laborer husband to the United States from China and gave birth to him after a mob attacked and raped her. Adam writes to Charles inviting him to visit his family in California.
Will Hamilton arrives with the new car and after a week of failure, Adam drives into town where he retrieves a letter announcing the death of Charles and an inheritance of $100,000 to be split between Adam and his wife. Cal eavesdrops on a conversation and learns that his mother is not only alive but presently living in Salinas as a whore. Before going to bed, he begs God to make him good.
Part III Chapter 27-30 Analysis
The Cain and Abel paradigm is expanded in the two boys: one good-hearted, the other headed toward evil. Cal is jealous that Abra favors his brother. Upon hearing of their uncle’s death, Cal thinks immediately of money while Aron thinks of putting flowers upon his grave. However, Cal exhibits the ability to choose good over evil. The novel’s central thematic concern, the battle of goodness over evil, rages on. Here too, we see the results of Cyrus’ “original sin”; the ill-gained inheritance Cyrus left to Adam and Charles comes into play once more.
East of Eden Summary – Part IV Chapter 31-33
After a period of brooding, Adam visits Kate at the brothel to inform her of his brother’s death and about her share of the $100,000 inheritance. She becomes fearful and frustrated when she realizes she cannot control him. Adam next visits Samuel’s wife, Liza, in Salinas. Here he meets Olive’s children Mary and the narrator and author, John Steinbeck. Liza tells Adam he should buy her daughter Dessie’s house.
Tom Hamilton never recovered from his father’s death. Alone on the ranch, Dessie’s return cheers him. She doesn’t want to distress him and hides her severe stomach pains.
Tom and Dessie decide to raise pigs to finance a trip abroad. Tom finds Dessie in severe distress and inadvertently gives her the wrong medication. After Dessie’s death, Tom’s overwhelming sense of guilt causes him to shoot himself.
Part IV Chapter 31-33 Analysis
The Hamilton family illustrates twentieth-century progress in the Salinas Valley, the site of author John Steinbeck’s childhood. Steinbeck insists that in developing a new land, first come the strong individuals followed by the industrialists, bankers and lawyers. Samuel and Liza work the driest land and yet they survive. Their children Tom and Dessie lack the strength of their parents. Their brother Will, the car salesman, however, possesses the wherewithal to succeed.
East of Eden Summary – Part IV Chapter 34-37
Humans, the narrator explains, are caught in a net of good and evil. The quality of a person’s life can be measured by the reaction of the people left behind.
Adam buys Dessie Hamilton’s house and moves the family to Salinas, and Lee finally fulfills his dream of owning a bookstore. But he returns shortly and gladly begins life anew at home in Salinas.
The twins fit in their new school. Aron is smitten with Abra. They pretend to be married and Abra comforts him by laying his head in her lap. Overwhelmed by the maternal affection, he bursts into tears. They share a kiss.
In 1915, Lee buys an icebox which fascinates Adam. He invests most of his fortune in a disastrous refrigeration venture to bring lettuce stored on ice across the country during winter. The neighbors ridicule him mercilessly. Abra and Aron spin a private cocoon and exclude everyone causing Cal to feel jealous. Rumors about Kate spread around the town and after Abra overhears one advises Aron to inquire into his mother’s past. Aron resists her suggestion.
Part IV Chapter 34-37 Analysis
The lives of Aron and Cal predominate now, with Will Hamilton as a peripheral character. The Cain and Abel legend unfolds once more with Cal continuing the role of dark Cain and golden-haired Aron as Abel. Cal, however, becomes a far more well-rounded character. He experiences jealousy over the relationship Abra shares with his brother.
East of Eden Summary – Part IV Chapter 38-41
In the manner of Cain, Cal becomes restless, wandering the streets at night. After a drunk named Rabbit Holman invites him to Kate’s brothel, Cal finally learns the truth about his mother. He worries he has inherited her inhumanity but Lee reassures him that he has free will and he attempts to live a moral life. However, he feels drawn toward darkness.
Cal is arrested during a police raid and his father tells Cal about the year he spent in jail. Cal tells Adam he knows about Kate and both decide Aron should be spared the truth.
Cal begins to spy on Kate. She confronts him and tells him she thinks they are very alike. However, Cal realizes that Lee was correct; he does not have to be like her and he tells her that she hides because she is afraid.
Kate receives a visit from Ethel, a former prostitute who attempts to blackmail her. Kate has Ethel arrested and she is forced to leave the county. However, Kate’s nervousness escalates into paranoia and she fears being arrested for Faye’s murder.
As World War I approaches, Aron wants to leave but Cal convinces him to finish high school a year early so he can go to college sooner. He even offers him financial support in college. Lee offers Cal his savings of $5,000 to help. Cal talks to Will Hamilton and together they form a partnership to market beans during the upcoming war. As predicted, the war breaks out and Cal makes enough money to restore the money Adam lost on the refrigerated lettuce fiasco.
Part IV Chapter 38-41 Analysis
Cast as Cain, Cal often falters but struggles to be good. He loves his family, and standing up to Kate helps him realize he is not inherently evil. He displays considerable intuition in recognizing the fear that lies behind Cathy’s facade. Indeed, he understands both good and evil. Later in the novel, Abra is the first character to recognize this struggling aspect of Cal’s personality and it causes her to fall in love with him. Abra, mature from childhood, will state later on that Aron remained a child by continuing to live in a story.
East of Eden Summary – Part IV Chapter 42-45
The narrator states that although the town knew World War I was going on, it didn’t seem like a real war to Salinas “until the dreadful telegrams began to sneak sorrowfully in.”
In addition to the war deaths, Samuel Hamilton’s wife Liza dies, the last of a generation.
Adam tells Lee how proud he feels about Aron’s academic success. Aron passes his college entrance examinations a year early and does not tell his father who has a gold watch waiting for the announcement. When Lee confronts him, Aron wails he just wants to get away from Salinas.
After Adam goes to Stanford, Abra moves closer to the Trasks. She becomes particularly close to Lee. Lee acknowledges to her the rumors about Kate. Cal pays back Lee’s $5,000. Cal plans to inform his father of his business success on Thanksgiving and give him a gift of $15,000 to make up for his financial losses.
Abra worries that Aron has put her on a pedestal and thinks of her as far too pure. Meanwhile, Kate’s bodyguard, the escaped convict Joe Valery, finds out that the old prostitute Ethel has drowned but tells Kate instead that she has returned to Salinas. Ethel hopes to control her and earn more money. Afraid, Kate locks herself in her gray room.
Part IV Chapter 42-45 Analysis
Although earlier the narrator intimated that Aron was destined to do good, and Cal to do evil, it is not so clear now that both are on the brink of adulthood. After all, both have free will implied by the concept of timshel. Aron remains a child while Cal struggles to be a moral man. Aron continues to feel shame over his father’s financial loss, runs away and allows his family to support him. Cal, on the other hand, faces the loss and attempts to make back the money, but the youth fails to realize the moral at issue: making a fortune on much-needed food during wartime.
East of Eden Summary – Part IV Chapter 46-49
Salinas is caught up in the hysteria of heightened patriotism. Adam is appointed chairman of the draft board and suffers excruciating guilt. The family looks forward to Aron’s return at Thanksgiving, and Aron, who hates college, now longs for home.
Joe Valery continues to torture Kate but she becomes suspicious. As her pain increases in intensity, she contemplates suicide.
Aron arrives home and Cal nervously gift wraps his father’s surprise but feels jealous over the fuss being made about Aron. However, he realizes his gift is an attempt to buy his father’s love and that his father loves Aron more because he physically resembles his mother. When Adam opens the gold certificates, he is dismayed and sharply orders Cal to return the money. All Cal wanted was to gain his father’s approval and all he got was anger. As ever, Lee councils Cal to control his anger and look to the power of free will to made good choices. Cal, however, in a fit of jealousy induces Aron him to follow him to Castroville Street, where he finally meets his mother. Adam runs away and joins the army.
Part IV Chapter 46-49 Analysis
Adam’s rejection of Cal’s hard-earned gift parallels God the father’s rejection of Cain’s gift of grain in favor of Abel’s gift of his fattest lamb, and Cain’s subsequent jealousy and the vengeful murder of his brother. Similarly, Adam’s rejection of his son’s gift parallels his own father Cyrus’ rejection of his brother Charles’ gift at the beginning of the novel. Simply, God the father and Cyrus favor other sons. Cyrus favored Adam over Charles and overlooked his gift of a valuable knife in favor of the stray puppy from Adam, yet Charles loved his father more. Similarly, Cal adores Adam and loves him wholeheartedly while Aron only feels shame. Adam’s high moral standards forbid him accepting his son’s ill-gained money, yet he fails to see the love behind the gesture. Yet, to add a note of hypocrisy here, Adam has lived his whole life on money stolen by his own father.
Cal loses the battle between good and evil that rages within him when he selfishly takes his brother to his mother’s brothel and in effect causes Aron to join the army where he is sure to die. However, Cal must now find it within himself to not let guilt ruin his life by casting him into a pit of despair.
East of Eden Summary – Part IV Chapter 50-53
Joe feels uncomfortable over Kate’s ongoing brooding silence. She hasn’t slept or eaten for days and while he believes she is hatching up destructive plots, she is actually dismayed over the events of the previous evening when Charles brought Aron to meet her for the first time. By asking Joe a tricky series of questions, she discovers that he has been lying to her about Ethel and turns him in to the sheriff. She scrawls her will leaving all her money to Aron then takes a fatal does of medication while she relives a childhood fantasy of Alice in Wonderland. Joe, rifling through her papers the next morning, discovers the incriminating blackmail photos, the safe deposit key and her will. However, a deputy arrives and Joe runs for it only to be shot dead.
Sheriff Horace Quinn informs Adam of Kate’s death and that Aron has inherited $100,000 from his mother. Shattered, Adam cries out, “Oh, my poor darling.” Despite Adam’s request not to tell Aron of his mother’s will, the sheriff insists. But, Cal is not to be found. When he is finally questioned, he sarcastically replies: “Am I supposed to look after him?”
Cal, drunk for the first time in an attempt to quell his shame and guilt, offers a sacrifice by burning the $15,000. Lee saves him from the pit of despair by helping him understand that he is a normal human being imbued with both good and bad traits. Adam receives a card from Aron stating he has joined the army.
Adam’s health begins to decline. Abra confides in Cal that she no longer loves Aron but loves Cal instead. She confesses to him that her own father is a thief, burns Aron’s letters and feels exhilarated.
Adam tells Lee about the fortune left by Cyrus who sees the hypocrisy involved in the unquestionably honest Adam Trask building a life of leisure on an ill-gained fortune, and the possibility of the deeply religious Aron living his life on the wages of prostitution.
Abra’s visit cheers Lee. He says he wishes she was his daughter and she wishes that he was her father. He presents her with his mother’s jade ornament and she kisses him tenderly for the first time ever in his life. Abra and Cal continue to develop a loving relationship and he decides to take flowers to his mother’s grave.
Part IV Chapter 50-53 Analysis
Through increased mental anguish and physical pain, Kate is punished for her past. She increasingly lives in her gray room, realizes she can’t control anyone anymore and ultimately takes her life. The unclean inheritance motif continues in the form of Kate’s will of $100,000 to her son, Aron. Cyrus left the same amount to Adam and Charles and Charles left $100,000 also to Adam and Kate. Thus, the original sin has played out through three generations. In the biblical sense, the sins of the fathers have been visited upon the sons. In this vein, Cal is redeemed. He burns the money he made by less than moral means and was left out of his mother’s will. There could be a turnaround on this, however, if we read beyond the end of the novel. Cal will stand to inherit Aron and Adam’s wealth.
East of Eden Summary – Part IV Chapter 54-55
Although Adam suffered a mild stroke, he regains his health. Abra eases Cal’s guilt concerning Aron.
As Lee plans his summertime garden, a telegram announces Aron’s death in the war. Lee feels anger toward Aron for running away, refers to him as a “coward,” then tells Adam the bad news.
Adam responds by having a stroke and lies near death when Cal returns. Lee helps Cal deal with his inevitable guilt and afer breaking the news to him about his brother and father, tells him to go to Abra who brings him back home. Lee passionately assures both of them that they have free choice, they are in control of their lives and they are not doomed to be like their errant parents. The three send the indignant nurse packing and stand before the dying Adam. Lee adamantly tells Adam that Cal should not have brought Aron to see his mother but that he did so because he believed Adam did not love him and asks Adam to bless Cal before he dies. Adam does so and utters the word timshel.
Part IV Chapter 54-55 Analysis
The repetitive Cain and Abel motif is complete when Aron dies. Cain (Cal) has, in effect, once again killed his brother Abel (Aron). The highly moralistic, albeit cowardly, Aron runs away from travail by enlisting in the Army while the recalcitrant Cal stands his ground, finds love, and learns to live a normal life in all its various shadings. Although it seemed at the beginning that the Trask family was doomed to repeat their dysfunctional family dynamics instigated by Cyrus’ original sin, Lee’s introduction of the concept oftimshel into the family assures Cal that he doesn’t have to repeat history and that choice is an option.