How does the novel relate to the biblical story of Cain and Abel?

The story of Cain and Abel functions as the backbone of the novel and reappears within each generation of Trask men. Cyrus’s sons, Charles and Adam, are the first pair of characters whose experiences mirror the biblical story. Like Cain, Charles endures the pain of paternal rejection and lashes out at his brother as a result. Adam acts as a parallel for Abel, arbitrarily earning Cyrus’s affection, before he and Cathy take on the roles of Adam and Eve in their adult lives. The next generation of Trasks follows a similar trajectory with Cal and Aron’s relationship paralleling that of Cain and Abel.

Why does Cathy commit suicide?

After Cal brings Aron to meet their mother, Cathy cannot stop ruminating on that fateful meeting with her sons. Images of Aron, horrified and irreparably broken, haunt her. Between this jarring event, her fear of Ethel revealing the truth about Faye’s death, and the intense physical pain she endures, Cathy believes that her life is under attack. She reflects on the comfort that the novel Alice in Wonderland brought to her as a child as it helped her feel hidden from the forces of antagonism she feared. This desire to escape overcomes Cathy, and, armed with a bottle of morphine, she kills herself.

What is timshel?

Lee first introduces the Hebrew word timshel in Chapter 24, Section 2 in order to explore the significance of the Cain and Abel story in the Bible. He explains that timshel means “thou mayest,” a phrase which ultimately introduces the element of choice into man’s relationship with sin. Understanding timshel resolves the conflict between the standard American translation of the Bible, which commands man to overcome sin, and the King James version, which implies that man will surely conquer sin. The notion that man has the power to choose whether or not he gives into evil becomes one of the novel’s key themes and offers an optimistic outlook in its final moments.