East of Eden

John Steinbeck
Characters

Cal Trask

Characters Cal Trask

Cal is perhaps the most complex character in East of Eden and the one who embodies the concept of timshel most directly. Whereas Adam is the protagonist of the early parts of novel,the focus shifts to Cal in the later chapters. At first, it appears that Cal has inherited the evil tendencies of his mother, Cathy, and that he is destined to fulfill the role of Cain in his generation. Indeed, Cal does display the characteristics of a Cain figure: he becomes fiercely jealous of Aron because of Adam’s obvious preference for him, and ultimately sets in motion the events that lead to Aron’s death, even uttering a parallel of the biblical Cain’s retort to God about being his “brother’s keeper.” Although Cal is seemingly “born” into an evil path, he struggles against what he sees as his inherited evil—the evil of his mother, Cathy—and prays to God to put him on the path toward good. Although Cal does make several poor moral choices as he is growing up, he ultimately takes Lee’s advice and recognizes the validity of timshel, the idea that each individual has the power to choose between good and evil in life. Thus, while Cal is indeed a Cain figure, he demonstrates the ability to break out of inherited sin and act for good instead.