2“I believe there is only 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.”
3“I am choosing to write this book to my sons “I am choosing to write this book to my sons. I will tell them one of the greatest, perhaps the greatest story of all—the story of good and evil, of strength and weakness, of love and hate, of beauty and ugliness. I shall try to demonstrate to them how these doubles are inseparable—how neither can exist without the other and how out of their grouping creativeness is born.”
4During the productive postwar years, Steinbeck expressed enthusiasm for a work that he believed would be his best. Steinbeck began to compose a family saga for his two sons. Originally this was a story of his mother’s people, the Hamiltons, who had left Ireland in the 1860s, lived briefly in Connecticut, and then settled in California. During the early writing, another family (fictional) appeared, the Trasks in Connecticut, who became so dominant that, in the final 1951 version, the Hamilton story is reduced and most of the first-person passages addressed to Steinbeck’s sons have been eliminated.
5“I think everything else I have written has been, in a sense, practice for this… If East of Eden isn’t good, then I’ve been wasting my time.”Five years of researching, writing, and rewriting went into the work.
6East of Eden was published for the first time in September, 1952—ten years before Steinbeck was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature—and it has never been out of print since. By November, 1952, EofE was number one on the fiction best-seller list and the third-best-seller for the entire year.
7Steinbeck speaks in his own voice in ten inter-chapters and injects himself into events, often in the role of an interested bystander unaware of the outcome of events.
8The Long Valley is the general locale for East of Eden. Referred to in many of Steinbeck’s stories and novels, Salinas is the setting for a part of the novel.
10King City, CA, where Steinbeck’s parents were married in 1892, is another source of materials for the novel. Steinbeck’s grandparents, the Hamiltons, homesteaded a sprawling 1750-acre ranch east of King City. If the fictional account is reliable, the family had a difficult time growing crops and raising cattle on this land, which had little water and well holes that often dried up in the summer heat.
11The topics are wide-ranging, dealing with aspects of 19th-century life, Civil War battles, Indian wars, settlement of the West, power politics in Washington, and town and country life in Connecticut. In the broad, searching treatment, the Salinas area becomes both a historical region and a symbolic landscape, a possible American Eden, to which people travel great distances:
12the Hamiltons from Ireland, the Trasks from Connecticut the Hamiltons from Ireland, the Trasks from Connecticut. In this country, the journey becomes at times a quest, as in Adam’s flight to the great West and Sam’s search for ideals.
13The time-span of the novel extends from 1860 to 1918 The time-span of the novel extends from 1860 to Most of the action occurs in the Salinas Valley in California. The difference between East and West, or more generally the impact of the knowledge of good and evil in Eden, define the frame of reference. Eden and West are identical terms.
14ThemesOne of the overarching themes of the novel is the relationship between fathers and sons.How each character in EofE deals with the ability to choose between good and evil is also a driving force in the book.
15No topic is taboo in EofE No topic is taboo in EofE. Sex, murder, sibling rivalry, infidelity, betrayal, love, and greed are just some of the events that shape the characters’ lives.
16Steinbeck often opens books and stories with a description of the land, of place. These descriptions are not merely a backdrop of the action. They are rich with thematic associations.In EofE, for example, the land is described as a place of sharp contrasts.
17These oppositions underlie the central clash in the novel, between what we see as good and as evil. The oppositions suggested in the opening chapter establish the complex mood of the valley: the land is both inviting and unfriendly; light and dark; safe and dangerous.
18Other oppositions are night and day; birth and death; love and dread. The river of life, in which the struggle between good and evil takes place, runs between these opposing forces.
19Note that, in moving to Salinas, the characters—the Hamiltons and Adam Trask—have traveled west, which, in American literature, is generally associated with the search for a new Eden.But here, the “west” is both full of promise and described as ominous. The characters’ idealism is bound to meet with trouble.
20ACSymbolsThe fictional Trask family hails from Connecticut and dramatizes the story of Cain and Abel.Steinbeck referred to the Trasks as his “symbol people”; it is no accident that members of the family have names beginning with “C” or “A.”
21However, no member of the Trask family is simply a version of Cain or Abel; they share certain traits or circumstances and the reader must decide whom they resemble the most.
22Genesis CHAPTER 41 And Adam knew Eve his wife; and she conceived, and bare Cain, and said, I have gotten a man from the Lord. 2 And she again bare his brother Abel. And Abel was a keeper of sheep, but Cain was a tiller of the ground. 3 And in process of time it came to pass, that Cain brought of the fruit of the ground an offering unto the Lord. 4 And Abel, he also brought of the firstlings of his flock and of the fat thereof. And the Lord had respect unto Abel and to his offering:
235 But unto Cain and to his offering he had not respect 5 But unto Cain and to his offering he had not respect. And Cain was very wroth, and his countenance fell. 6 And the Lord said unto Cain, Why art thou wroth? and why is thy countenance fallen? 7 If thou doest well, shalt thou not be accepted and if thou doest not well, sin lieth at the door. And unto thee shall be his desire, and thou shalt rule over him.8 And Cain talked with Abel his brother: and it came to pass, when they were in the field, that Cain rose up against Abel his brother, and slew him. 9 And the Lord said unto Cain, Where is Abel thy brother? And he said, I know not: Am I my brother's keeper? 10 And he said, What hast thou done? the voice of thy brother's blood crieth unto me from the ground. 11 And now art thou cursed from the earth, which hath opened her mouth to receive thy brother's blood from thy hand;
2412 When thou tillest the ground, it shall not henceforth yield unto thee her strength; a fugitive and a vagabond shalt thou be in the earth. 13 And Cain said unto the Lord, My punishment is greater than I can bear. 14 Behold, thou hast driven me out this day from the face of the earth; and from thy face shall I be hid; and I shall be a fugitive and a vagabond in the earth; and it shall come to pass, that every one that findeth me shall slay me. 15 And the Lord said unto him, Therefore whosoever slayeth Cain, vengeance shall be taken on him sevenfold. And the Lord set a mark upon Cain, lest any finding him should kill him. 16 And Cain went out from the presence of the Lord, and dwelt in the land of Nod, on the east of Eden.
2512 When thou tillest the ground, it shall not henceforth yield unto thee her strength; a fugitive and a vagabond shalt thou be in the earth. 13 And Cain said unto the Lord, My punishment is greater than I can bear. 14 Behold, thou hast driven me out this day from the face of the earth; and from thy face shall I be hid; and I shall be a fugitive and a vagabond in the earth; and it shall come to pass, that every one that findeth me shall slay me. 15 And the Lord said unto him, Therefore whosoever slayeth Cain, vengeance shall be taken on him sevenfold. And the Lord set a mark upon Cain, lest any finding him should kill him. 16 And Cain went out from the presence of the Lord, and dwelt in the land of Nod, on the east of Eden.
26East of Eden is an epic saga about fathers and sons, the search for love, the virus of hatred, the restoring power of forgiveness, and the mystery of personality as a battleground for good and evil. Although it is set in the past, its observations on human nature are still relevant today. East of Eden is a “massive parable.”