Young Adam Trask joins his Army regiment around the same time that Cyrus moves to Washington to become a Secretary of the Army. Charles takes over the job of running the Trask farm in Connecticut, living alone and visiting prostitutes twice a month. One day, Charles cuts his forehead badly while moving a large boulder from his yard. Ultimately, he develops an ugly, dark scar on his face. Ashamed of his disfigurement, Charles visits the town even less often and longs for Adam’s return.
Adam is discharged from the Army in 1885 but soon realizes that he misses life in the Army and decides to enlist again. He is sent to Washington, where he encounters Cyrus, now dressed in fine clothing and fitted with a fancy prosthetic leg. Cyrus tells Adam that he could get Adam into the military academy at West Point, but Adam insists that he just wants to go back to his old regiment. Charles is crushed when Adam does not return to the farm. After a year and several letters, Adam succeeds in reestablishing contact with his brother. The two never have much in common, however, which makes their relationship difficult.
After five years fighting in campaigns against Native Americans in the west, Adam again is discharged from the Army. As he slowly makes his way across the country back to the farm in Connecticut, he slips into a life as a drifter and is eventually arrested for vagrancy and placed on a chain gang. In February 1894, Cyrus dies and leaves a large fortune—more than $100,000—to his sons, who are to split it evenly. Charles is shocked to learn that Cyrus had so much money and wonders how Cyrus could have made it honestly.
Some time later, Charles receives a telegram from Adam asking for $100 to pay for his trip home to Connecticut. Charles sends the money via a telegraph officer, who asks Charles for a specific question he can ask Adam in order to verify Adam’s identity. Charles tells the telegraph officer to ask Adam what present he gave his father before enlisting in the Army. If Adam answers “a puppy,” then it is definitely Adam, and the money can be transferred.
When Adam arrives at home, he is somewhat surprised to find that he no longer feels intimidated by Charles. The brothers discuss their father and their inheritance. Charles informs Adam that he has figured out that all of Cyrus’s war stories were lies, for Cyrus’s Army papers were sent along with his will, and the dates on them clearly indicate that Cyrus could not have fought in the noteworthy battles in which he claimed to have fought. Furthermore, Charles suspects that Cyrus’s fortune may have been stolen, but Adam denies it. Adam says that he and Charles should travel to California with the money, but only after building a memorial to their father.
I believe there are monsters born in the world to human parents. . . . The face and body may be perfect, but if a twisted gene or a malformed egg can produce physical monsters, may not the same process produce a malformed soul?
Despite her innocent, childlike appearance, Cathy Ames is morally reprehensible from her earliest years. She is manipulative and selfish and learns to use her sexuality to hurt others. While still a schoolgirl, she sets up a group of local boys for punishment by luring them with her body; the boys receive a thrashing after Cathy’s mother finds Cathy tied up in a barn with her skirt pulled up. Later, Cathy has a mysterious involvement with her Latin teacher that leads to his suicide.
Cathy hates her concerned parents and tries to run away to Boston. Her father catches her and beats her, which makes her more respectful and helpful around the house. One night, however, Cathy steals all the money from her father’s safe, sets a fire in the house, pours chicken blood all over the floor, and locks the house from the outside on her way out. The house burns down, killing her parents, who are trapped inside. When the townspeople find the chicken blood, they believe that Cathy has been murdered.
Cathy, now using the pseudonym Catherine Amesbury, appears before Mr. Edwards, a man who runs a ring of prostitutes at inns throughout New England. The usually cold and cynical Mr. Edwards is surprised to feel a powerful sexual attraction to Cathy. Unbeknownst to his wife, he decides to keep Cathy for himself and puts her up in a small house. Cathy begins to steal from Mr. Edwards and manipulates him into fearing her.
After some time, the miserable Mr. Edwards learns something of Cathy’s background. One night, he gets her drunk, and she becomes violent and threatens him with a broken wineglass. He forces her to come with him to a remote area and then beats her severely. Shocked at himself, Mr. Edwards returns home to his wife, leaving Cathy bloodied in a field that happens to be near the Trask farm in Connecticut. Cathy crawls away and eventually arrives on the Trasks’ doorstep.
In the time just before Cathy’s sudden arrival, Charles and Adam struggle to get along on the farm. They bicker constantly, as Adam hates Charles’s insistence on waking at 4:30 every morning to work the farm (even though the inheritance from Cyrus has made them very rich), while Charles cannot stand Adam’s criticism and laziness. Adam tries to talk Charles into going to California, but Charles has no interest in leaving the farm. Adam begins to leave on trips for longer and longer periods of time, traveling first to Boston and then to South America. When Adam returns from Buenos Aires, he sees that Charles has bought more land. He tells Charles the story of his months on the chain gang after the war.
Cathy crawls up to the Trasks’ doorstep, covered in blood and dirt. Charles does not want to keep her in the house because he fears that it will ruin his reputation. Adam, however, says that Cathy is too weak to be sent away, so he cares for her tenderly. The sheriff questions Cathy about her beating, but she writes—she cannot speak because her jaw is broken—that she does not remember anything.
Cathy remains at the farm for some time, all the while against Charles’s wishes. One day, Charles confronts her while Adam is away on an errand, telling her that he does not believe that she has really lost her memory. Charles convinces Cathy that she already told him about her past during a bout of delirium brought about by her injuries. Cathy falls for the trick, and Charles sneers at her gullibility.
Cathy believes Charles to be a great deal like her and fears him because of it. She is relieved to find that Adam, on the other hand, is easy to manipulate. When Adam suddenly asks Cathy to marry him, she considers the safe harbor that marriage would provide her and accepts his proposal, although she asks Adam not to tell Charles. Charles grows more suspicious of Cathy when a neighbor discovers a suitcase full of money and clothing near the site of her beating. But as soon as Charles leaves the house, Adam takes Cathy into town and marries her.
Charles becomes furious when he discovers that Adam and Cathy are married. Cathy is dismayed to learn that Adam intends to move her to California. That night, Cathy tells Adam that she is still too badly injured to sleep with him. She drugs Adam with a sleeping medication and then goes to Charles, who takes her into his bed.
When Cyrus Trask dies, he leaves a suspicious inheritance that threatens to taint his family for generations afterward—a symbolic parallel to the biblical idea of original sin. According to the Christian tradition, Adam and Eve are created as sinless beings and sent to live in the earthly paradise of Eden. However, they fall into sin after Satan, in the form of a serpent, tempts them into eating the fruit from the tree of knowledge of good and evil, which God has forbidden them to eat. In punishment, God curses Eve to suffer painful childbirth and to submit to her husband’s authority; he curses Adam to toil and work the ground for food. Then, God banishes Adam and Eve from Eden. Adam and Eve pass this original sin on to all their descendants, who are born as already sinful beings. In East of Eden, Cyrus’s dishonestly won fortune, which he either steals or gains from a career built on lies about his supposed Civil War experience, is a symbol for this original sin. The result of Cyrus’s sin—the inheritance of $100,000—literally is passed on to his sons.
After Cyrus’s death, Adam and Charles live together on the farm as equals, but the vast differences in their characters and attitudes drive them apart. Charles is cynical and pragmatic, obsessed with work, money, and gain. Adam, meanwhile, is idealistic, uninterested in the financial aspects of life, and longs to travel and see the world. Furthermore, we see that Charles still resents the incident of Cyrus’s birthday gifts, as he uses his memory of the event as the basis for the password that Adam must use to collect money from the telegraph official. Charles and Adam also are deeply divided in their attitudes toward their inheritance from Cyrus: Charles believes that Cyrus stole his fortune, but Adam disagrees, refusing to believe the possibility that their father could ever be dishonest. The narrator explains this disagreement as a result of the fact that Charles loved Cyrus, whereas Adam did not; he says that people are always suspicious and skeptical about those whom they love.
Steinbeck counters this argument about love, however, with his portrayal of Adam’s blind, naïve devotion to the treacherous Cathy Ames. Cathy appears in this section as the novel’s definitive embodiment of evil. Driven by self-hatred, desperation, and a love of pain, she destroys lives without remorse. She uses sex as a weapon, causing her lust-crazed teacher to commit suicide; in fact, later in the novel, she reveals that his depression and desperation over her rejection of him kept her up at night laughing. Cathy murders her parents and becomes a prostitute—apparently out of an insatiable need to be evil—and seems pleased with her decision, as though life as Mr. Edwards’s whore is an improvement over life with her loving parents. As an embodiment of pure evil, Cathy is a perverse caricature of the biblical Eve, who first introduced sin into the world by eating the forbidden fruit. Similarly, Cathy—married, like Eve, to Adam—brings evil into Adam’s world and later gives birth to Cal and Aron, two more characters who directly mirror the biblical Cain and Abel.
Charles, in contrast to Adam, is suspicious of Cathy from the start, perhaps because at some level Charles and Cathy seem to be cut from the same cloth. Thus far, Charles is the only character able to out-manipulate Cathy, and he does so to the point that she becomes frightened of him. The fact that Cathy gives herself sexually to Charles on the night of her marriage to Adam highlights her strange connection to Charles as well as the strange connection between the brothers. By the same token, the fact that Charles allows his brother’s wife into his bed shows the extent of his cynicism, hypocrisy, and immorality. Charles would risk killing Cathy to get her out of his house, as keeping a woman could damage his reputation; at the same time, however, when Charles learns that Adam has been drugged and will therefore not discover Charles’s treacherous adultery, he is more than willing to sleep with Cathy on his brother’s wedding night. Although Charles is aware of Cathy’s manipulative nature, he nonetheless gives into temptation and follows the impulse toward evil rather than good.
The narrator is actually John Hamilton, the grandson of Samuel Hamilton and the son of Olive Hamilton.
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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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Come on people, John Steinbeck is the narrator and Olive Hamilton is his mother. Samuel is his grandfather.
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