East of Eden
Study Questions & Essay Topics
1. What symbolic roles do wealth and inheritance play in the novel? How is Adam able to sidestep the moral taint of Cyrus’s fortune? How is Cal able to do so?
2. What role does the story of Cain and Abel play in East of Eden? What is the significance of the novel’s title?
3. What role does Lee play in the novel? How would you characterize Steinbeck’s portrayal of him?
Suggested Essay Topics
1. Although Steinbeck portrays Cathy as a near-inhuman creature of seemingly inherent evil, the idea of timshel implies that she has the power to choose her own path. Is Cathy born a moral monster, or does she become one of her own accord? What elements of Cathy’s character or episodes from the novel lead you to your conclusion?
2. What symbolic values do characters’ names hold in East of Eden? Discuss specifically the role of biblical names and the importance of the letters A and C.
3. What role do the Hamiltons play in the novel, given that the Steinbeck explores most of his moral concerns through his portrayal of the Trask family? What is the significance of the fact that the narrator is descended from the Hamiltons?
4. Is there any difference between the narrator of East of Eden and Steinbeck himself, or is the narrative voice essentially Steinbeck’s own? How does this affect your reading of the novel?
5. There are several secondary echoes of the Cain and Abel story apart from the obvious parallels with Charles and Adam, Cal and Aron. What are some of these echoes, and what is their role in the novel? (Think about, for example, Dessie Hamilton’s death and Abra’s reaction to her father’s corruption.)
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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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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