Recreating the stories of Genesis through two interweaving families, East of Eden has captured the hearts of its readers since its publication in 1952.
The first family, the Hamiltons, is led by the self-educated Irishman, Samuel Hamilton. Samuel and his wife, Liza, raise nine children in the Salinas Valley of California. Although never wealthy, the Hamiltons earn much respect in their community.
Later in the story, the Hamiltons befriend the Trasks. The latter is introduced as the false war hero, Cyrus Trask. Trask fathers two children, Adam and Charles; the two brothers are starkly different. Adam’s innocence and good heartedness contrasts Charles’s cynicism and violent behavior.
At one point, Adam falls in love with Cathy Ames, a woman he and his brother found beaten on the street. Unbeknownst to Adam, Cathy is a cruel & evil woman only looking out for herself; she only marries Adam for her own convenience. Cathy gives birth to twin boys, Caleb and Aron, before leaving her family.
As Caleb and Aron grow up, they begin to share similarities with Charles and Adam. Aron is kind and noble, whereas Caleb is manipulative and tempestuous. The second half of the novel mainly focuses on Caleb’s struggle to not walk a path similar to his mother’s.
The strongest aspect of East of Eden, is the development of its characters. Every individual is written in a complex, yet simple way that still allows for the reimagination of the Book of Genesis.
For instance, the relationships between the brothers of both Trask generations seamlessly retell the story of Cain and Abel. Although Cal and Charles are written in a more negative light [both represent Cain], they yearn to earn the love and respect of their fathers. Adam and Aron are portrayed as honorable men with good intentions, like Abel. However, their innocence and morality leads them to making impractical decisions that drastically impact the events in the novel.
John Steinbeck is one of America’s most famous novelists; he has written classics such as Of Mice and Men and Grapes of Wrath. These books are some of the greatest pieces of literature to ever be published. However, neither of them can upstage the epic-scope and seemingly effortless complex simplicity of East of Eden.