Cal turns away and runs to his room, full of anger and jealousy for Aron. Lee tells Cal to control his reaction, and Cal does finally recognize that it is within his power to control himself. He apologizes to his father and goes to see Aron, who is on his way back from Abra’s house. Still roiling with jealousy, Cal tells Aron that he has something to show him. He takes Aron to see Cathy at her brothel. The next morning, Aron signs up for the army, too sickened by the truth to want to live.

Summary: Chapter 50

The next day, Cathy is practically catatonic with the memory of Aron’s visit and his horror upon learning the truth about her. She sends a note to the sheriff advising him to check Joe Valery’s fingerprints and then writes a will in which she leaves all her worldly possessions to Aron. Cathy remembers her childhood, when she used to fantasize about forming a friendship with Alice of Alice in Wonderland. Cathy takes the morphine pill and imagines herself shrinking like Alice until she dies.

Joe Valery discovers Cathy’s body the next morning and finds the will she has written. He takes the keys to Cathy’s safe deposit box at the bank, as well as the photographs of the men she blackmails. However, just as Joe is about to leave the house, the sheriff’s deputy arrives and says that he has to bring Joe in to see the sheriff about something—the sheriff has read Cathy’s letter. Joe suddenly breaks away and tries to run, but the deputy guns him down as he flees.

Analysis: Chapters 46–50

On a biblical level, Adam’s rejection of Cal’s money parallels God’s rejection of Cain’s offering of grain—the act that prompts Cain to kill Abel out of jealousy. Furthermore, Adam’s rejection of Cal’s gift parallels Cyrus’s rejection of Charles’s gift earlier in the novel. In both cases, a father ignores the intentions of a loving son in order to focus on the son he has chosen to love better. In the early parts of the novel, Adam shows no love for Cyrus, while Charles loves Cyrus deeply; nonetheless, Cyrus idealizes Adam as the perfect son and prefers him to Charles. Similarly, Cal loves Adam more completely and selflessly than the anemic Aron, but Adam is so pleased with Aron’s matriculation at Stanford that he decides Aron can do no wrong. His strict sense of morality prevents Adam from accepting the money from Cal; he does not take the time to realize that Cal means well by giving him the money and that Cal merely has not thought about the moral complications of the way he earned it. Similarly, when Aron learns the truth about Cathy, his despair stems largely from the fact that his father lied to him so many years by claiming his mother was dead. Aron, who lives in a world of moral simplicity and extremity, is unable to understand that Adam lied to him in order to protect him and to shield his feelings.

When Cal takes Aron to Cathy’s brothel, he at least temporary loses his struggle with evil. In doing so, Cal fulfills his role in the Cain-Abel story, causing Aron to join the army and ship off to die in the war. Indeed, Cal brings Aron to their mother out of anger and a desire to inflict pain on his brother, not out of a desire to help Aron confront the ghosts of their family’s past. As expected, the revelation about Cathy shatters Aron: Cathy describes Aron’s horrible screaming when he sees her and Cal’s bitter laughter at the sight. However, although Cal has chosen evil once again, it is significant that East of Eden does not end with Aron’s disappearance: there is still time left for Cal to come to grips with his sin and make a decision about how he will direct his life. Cal must decide whether to choose goodness and strength or to give into the example of Cathy, whose spirit he feels inside him.

Cathy’s downfall, meanwhile, is precipitous. She becomes increasingly paranoid and suspicious until the point where she actually feels Charles Trask’s spirit inside her. Mirroring the emotional and psychological decay wrought by her life’s commitment to evil, her body degenerates as well. Her hands are ravaged by arthritis, she suffers from insomnia, and she fears exposure to light. The extraordinary pain she has inflicted on others simply for the sake of doing so now begins to come back to haunt her. As Cathy deteriorates, she relies upon increasingly desperate means to control those around her. As she realizes that she has no control over Cal, just as she has no control over Adam, she escapes in the only manner available—a morphine overdose. A vestige of her remains, however, in the form of the inheritance that she passes to Aron.