John Steinbeck’s East of Eden was a masterpiece of literature. Simple prose, beautiful story, love of nature, deep meaning and rich themes.
The character’s lives in the novel mirror the story of brothers Cain and Abel, from the book of Genesis. Cain offers some produce from his land to God, while Abel offers his best sheep (or some other animal). Abel’s gift is praised, while Cain’s gift is shunned. In a rage of jealousy and rejection, Cain kills Abel. Cain is then destined to walk the earth alone, accompanied only with his evil thoughts.
East of Eden chronicles the lives of two families: the Hamiltons and the Trasks. Sam Hamilton has lived his entire life with high values, earning only enough to survive on barren land during the pre-World War I era in Salinas Valley, California. Adam Trask moves to Salinas and buys the best land available, with the inheritance he received from his father, who was a prominent government official.
Adam’s wife Kate, births two sons – Caleb and Aron. Caleb is highly intelligent, but also possesses wickedness and evil intentions. He continually punishes himself for outbursts, and Steinbeck does a great job to show his internal struggle to reconcile his belief in doing good with his evil actions. Aron is the naïve brother, beautiful and innocent. The two characters parallel the lives of Cain and Abel, with interesting results. In the end, Caleb is offered a choice based on a revised translation of a line in the book of Genesis. As readers, we can only hope he chose the correct path.
Some of the themes include good vs. evil, rejection, self-preservation, importance of family and choice. One of my personal favourite discussions revolves around the concept that there are no longer any great men in society, only specialized men – a theme that becomes more true in North America, day by day.
There is way too much to chronicle here, in this short synopsis. John Steinbeck has definitely created an Epic, in every sense of the word. The novel is long, but nearly all the content is relevant to fabricating the tale. Steinbeck creates a landscape and community that you feel you belong to, characters that you fall in love with and cry when they feel pain and a story that somehow is able to inspire hope in your ability to choose your own path.
The story is still as relevant today as it was in 1952, and its magic will stick with you well after it is read. If you haven’t yet had the pleasure, I would encourage you to give this novel some attention.