East of Eden

John Steinbeck
Characters

Cathy Ames

Characters Cathy Ames

The parasitic, manipulative Cathy is the embodiment of evil in the novel and the most static of the main characters. Her evil seems to be innate and all-consuming, as she displays murderous and sexually perverse tendencies from an early age. A figure of infertility and destruction who kills her parents and attempts to kill her own unborn children, Cathy is a debased version of the biblical Eve, whom the Christian tradition sees as the mother of all humankind. Like Eve, Cathy is associated with sin, but whereas Eve is deceived into committing sin, Cathy embraces it wholeheartedly and commits evil simply for its own sake. Cathy has an overwhelmingly pessimistic view of humankind: she believes that there is only evil in the world and therefore surrenders herself to it fully. All the while, she fails to understand the good in other characters and instead uses their trusting natures to achieve her own predatory ends. Notably, we never get any sense that Cathy is using her evil acts to reach any sort of ultimate goal or aim. For this reason, some critics have dismissed Cathy as an implausible character and a major weak link in Steinbeck’s novel. The narrator of East of Eden himself is somewhat confounded by Cathy, as he struggles to understand her and revises his opinion of her throughout the novel. In any case, Cathy is a symbol of the human evil that will always be present in the world, and her loss of power over Adam and Cal bolsters the novel’s message that individuals have the choice to reject evil in favor of good.