East of Eden

John Steinbeck

Important Quotations Explained

Quotes Important Quotations Explained

Quote 5

Adam asked, “Do you know where your brother is?”
“No, I don’t,” said Cal. . . .
“He hasn’t been home for two nights. Where is he?”
“How do I know?” said Cal. “Am I supposed to look after him?”

This exchange between Adam and Cal, which appears in Chapter 51, is a direct parallel with the exchange between God and Cain that appears in the book of Genesis in the Bible. After Cain murders Abel, God realizes that Abel is missing and asks Cain where Abel is. Cain retorts, “I know not; am I my brother’s keeper?” Adam and Cal’s reenactment of this conversation links them explicitly to the biblical story and cements Cal and Aron, respectively, as surrogates for Cain and Abel. There are differences between the two stories, however: whereas Cain murders Abel, Cal causes Aron’s death only indirectly. Likewise, whereas Cain is banished for his crime, Cal encounters forgiveness and redemption in his father’s blessing at the end of East of Eden. In this way, Cal, though a Cain figure, overturns the biblical story and, in the end, demonstrates that he has the power to choose good.