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East of Eden

John Steinbeck

Key Facts

Important Quotations Explained

Study Questions & Essay Topics

full title ·  East of Eden

author · John Steinbeck

type of work · Novel

genre · Allegorical novel; epic

language · English

time and place written · January–November 1951; New York City, Nantucket

date of first publication ·  1952

publisher · Viking

narrator · The story is told by a third-person narrator who is not omniscient and who greatly resembles John Steinbeck himself. In this sense, the narrator may or may not be a direct mouthpiece for the author. In addition to conveying the events of the novel, the narrator provides commentary and interrupts the story frequently to discuss human history and the human condition more broadly.

point of view · The narrator speaks in the third person and shifts viewpoints among various characters, including Adam Trask, Cal Trask, Samuel Hamilton, Cathy Ames, Joe Valery, and others. The narrator’s authorial intrusions into the story often include musings in the first person.

tone · Philosophical; foreboding; nostalgic; hopeful

tense · Past

setting (time) ·  18621918

setting (place) · The Salinas Valley in northern California, with several episodes in Connecticut and Massachusetts

protagonists · Adam Trask; Cal Trask

major conflict · Aware of the legacy of evil that he has inherited from his mother, Cal Trask struggles with the question of whether he is destined to be evil himself or whether he can overcome this evil by free choice.

rising action · While his sons are still boys, Cyrus Trask works as an army administrator and amasses a fortune, probably through embezzlement. Cathy Ames arrives on the Trasks’ doorstep, and Adam falls in love with her and marries her. Adam and Cathy then move to the California, where Adam meets Samuel Hamilton and Cathy unsuccessfully attempts to abort her unborn children. Cathy gives birth to Aron and Cal and promptly deserts the family. The crushed Adam does not know Cathy’s fate until Samuel reveals one day that Cathy is working at a nearby brothel. Although the revelation hurts Adam, he eventually confronts Cathy, recognizes her evil, and rejects her. Later, Cal too finds out about his mother’s profession. He struggles with this knowledge but keeps it from the fragile Aron. When Cathy confronts Cal one day, he stands up to her attempts at intimidation. The increasingly withdrawn Aron, meanwhile, retreats into the shelter of the church.

climax · Cal, enraged and jealous when his father rejects Cal’s gift of $15,000, takes out his anger on Aron by telling him about their mother’s life as a prostitute. Cal then takes Aron to see Cathy at her brothel, fully aware that the revelation will destroy Aron.

falling action · Shocked by the revelation about his mother, Aron enlists in the army, while Cal gradually wins the love of Abra Bacon. Aron is killed in World War I, and Adam, on his deathbed, finally gives his blessing to Cal.

themes · The perpetual contest between good and evil; the freedom to overcome evil; the pain of paternal rejection

motifs · The story of Cain and Abel; fortunes and inheritances

symbols · The Salinas Valley; Charles’s scar

foreshadowing · The names of characters foreshadow the roles they play in reenacting the biblical story of Cain and Abel; the narrator’s introduction of Cathy as a “monster” foreshadows her numerous evil deeds; the narrator’s musings on the importance of the individual in shaping human history foreshadow the idea of timshel and the ultimately hopeful message of the novel; Samuel’s mention that the biblical Aaron did not make it to the Promised Land foreshadows Aron’s death.

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Narrator

by Clarinetmast, September 06, 2012

The narrator is actually John Hamilton, the grandson of Samuel Hamilton and the son of Olive Hamilton.

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15 out of 83 people found this helpful

Narrator

by readereaterheater, November 19, 2012

Actually, the narrator is John Steinbeck. Olive Hamilton is married to a Steinbeck and the novel often mentions the "Steinbeck House" and her husband and children. It's supposed to be an ironic little pun he puts in there.

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8 out of 10 people found this helpful

Narrator

by Captain_Saucy, December 19, 2012

Come on people, John Steinbeck is the narrator and Olive Hamilton is his mother. Samuel is his grandfather.

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2 out of 4 people found this helpful

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