‘East of Eden’ by John Steinbeck

Of all the books I have ever read, ‘East of Eden’ is probably one of the most interesting. The book made me think at almost every page and made me wonder why things were happening the way they were and why people were acting the way were. ‘East of Eden’ is the story of the family Trask mixed with the family history of John Steinbeck (the Hamiltons).

 I’m not sure which elements of the story are true and which elements are just made up, but it’s about Adam Trask, who meets Samuel Hamilton when he moves to the Salinas Valley in California with his pregnant wife Cathy. Adam and his brother Charles have just inherited a lot of money from their father. Unfortunately Cathy turns out to be ‘evil’, when she leaves Adam and her sons (Aron and Caleb). The rest of the book is about how Adam, Sam Hamilton (John Steinbeck’s grandfather) and Lee (Adam’s Chinese helper) become friends and share their wisdom and knowledge of the world with each other. It’s also about how Aron and Caleb grow up.

‘East of Eden’ is one of John Steinbeck’s greatest works. He originally wanted to write the book for his sons, to describe the place where he was born. But the book became much more than that.

‘’It has everything in it I have been able to learn about my craft or profession in all these years. And I think everything else I have written has been, in a sense, practice for this.” – John Steinbeck

In 1962 John Steinbeck received the Nobel Prize for Literature.

When I started reading the novel I had no idea what it was about and I didn’t know who the narrator was, so the first few hundred pages I kept wondering who he was and how he could be related to the characters in the book. When I found out the narrator was, in fact, John Steinbeck himself, I felt surprized and a little stupid, because when the narrator is not really active in a story it is often so that it’s just the writer writing a story from his point of view.

It is often said that a part of ‘East of Eden’ is the modern version of the story of Cain and Abel, because of the conflicts between brothers: brothers Charles and Adam and brothers Caleb and Aron. But Steinbeck did not make the story as simple as: one brother is good and the other one is bad. There is good and bad in both brothers.

‘East of Eden’ is a lot of the time about good and evil. Of all of the characters the one that stands out the most as ‘evil’ is Cathy, of whom everything she does seems to be bad and to profit herself. (She is based on John Steinbeck’s ex-wife, Gwyn.) But I believe that even she is not just evil.

“I believe that there is one story in the world, and only one. . . . Humans are caught—in their lives, in their thoughts, in their hungers and ambitions, in their avarice and cruelty, and in their kindness and generosity too—in a net of good and evil. . . . There is no other story. A man, after he has brushed off the dust and chips of his life, will have left only the hard, clean questions: Was it good or was it evil? Have I done well—or ill?”
― John Steinbeck, East of Eden

An important symbol in the book is the word ‘Timshel’, the Hebrew word for ‘thou mayest’ and it means that you don’t have to be good or evil, but you have the power to choose. Adam says ‘Timshel’ to Caleb as he gives him his blessing at the end of the book.

When I had read the whole book I concluded that it was also a story about life in general and I think everyone will find parts of ‘East of Eden’ that he/she can relate to. John Steinbeck put his wisdom in those parts and made a great book out of it.

“I have a new love for that glittering instrument, the human soul. It is a lovely and unique thing in the universe. It is always attacked and never destroyed – because ‘Thou mayest.”
― John Steinbeck, East of Eden


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