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Aron, as the Abel figure of his generation, is goodhearted
and trusting like his father, Adam. Although Aron is likable and
kind, his innate moral sensitivity is extreme, and it makes him
fragile and easily susceptible to hurt. The sheltered Aron has a
great deal of trouble facing the reality of human evil in the world,
and Steinbeck builds a great deal of suspense in the second half
of East of Eden regarding whether or not Aron will
ever meet his mother, Cathy, and whether or not he will survive
such an encounter. Gradually, Aron retreats into the shelter of
the church, rejecting the love of Abra in favor of religious laws
of chastity and devotion. For a time, Aron also uses higher education
as an escape, as he flees to Stanford University but then returns
home a short time later, miserable. As the second half of the novel
progresses, Aron becomes less likable, as we sense that the shelters
he seeks are hollow and that his pursuits are driven neither by
true religious belief nor a desire for intellectual education. Ultimately,
Aron is destroyed by the revelation that Cathy is his mother. He
retreats into a final escape—enlistment in the army—and is killed
in World War I. Aron’s death is foreshadowed not only by his role
as an Abel figure, but also by Samuel Hamilton’s musing that Aron’s
namesake, the biblical Aaron, did not make it to the Promised Land