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East of Eden

John Steinbeck
  • Study Guide

Part Four, Chapters 41–44

Summary Part Four, Chapters 41–44

One day, Abra tells Cal that Aron said he does not want to marry her, for he wants to be in the clergy. Cal says that Aron might still change his mind. Abra asks Cal if he visits prostitutes, and Cal confesses that he does. Abra tells Cal that she is sinful too, but Cal is skeptical. He tells Abra that life with Aron will force her to be moral.

Analysis: Chapters 41–44

These transitional chapters continue to undermine our original assumption that Aron is destined for good and Cal for evil. Instead, both boys exercise the free will implied by the concept of timshel, although they do so to different ends: Aron chooses a life of security and illusion, while Cal struggles to be moral amid the realities and evils of the world.

Cal encounters several important moral decision points in these chapters, and we see that he does not always choose well, despite his good motivations. Cal’s desperation to make back his father’s lost fortune leads him to go along with Will Hamilton’s morally dubious scheme to make money on the bean market in the wartime economy. The scheme, though legal, amounts to war profiteering, as it involves buying beans at cheap prices from California farmers who have no buyers and reselling the beans at high prices to English consumers whose wartime rations are running short. In addition to his questionable business dealings, Cal also admits that he frequents prostitutes. However, Cal’s decision to go along with Will’s scheme is grounded in love for Adam, and his decision to visit prostitutes illustrates that Cal, unlike Aron, lives in the real world and does the best he can with temptation. The celibate, indulgently idealistic Aron simply cuts himself off from temptation by withdrawing from the world, which comes across as a somewhat of an escape.

Adam, meanwhile, continues to place all his stock in Aron, despite the fact that Cal is the one who has the courage to struggle with and face the problems of the real world. Just as his own father, Cyrus, arbitrarily favored Adam over Charles, Adam himself now idealizes Aron and fails to see the promise in Cal. Adam mistakes Aron’s flight to Stanford as ambition, failing to realize that it is just another form of escape. He lavishes expensive graduation presents on Aron while lamenting the fact that Cal does not share Aron’s seeming drive and ambition. Lee, however, sees the potential in Cal and tells Adam, rightly, that Cal may surprise him one day.