Plot summary (from the publisher): In his journal, Nobel Prize winner John Steinbeck called East of Eden “the first book,” and indeed it has the primordial power and simplicity of myth. Set in the rich farmland of California’s Salinas Valley, this sprawling and often brutal novel follows the intertwined destinies of two families—the Trasks and the Hamiltons—whose generations helplessly reenact the fall of Adam and Eve and the poisonous rivalry of Cain and Abel.
The masterpiece of Steinbeck’s later years, East of Eden is a work in which Steinbeck created his most mesmerizing characters and explored his most enduring themes: the mystery of identity, the inexplicability of love, and the murderous consequences of love’s absence.
Warning: Spoilers below!
- I first tread this book in junior high school and remembered loving it back then. I wondered if I would feel the same way viewing the characters and events through adult eyes, and I did! East of Eden was every bit as engaging and emotionally charged as I had hoped.
- I really enjoyed the relationship between Adam and Lee. Although Lee was supposed to be a servant, they treated each other with equal regard and respect, and ended up having a very deep friendship. Lee saved Adam’s life (literally) more than once, and Adam provided Lee with the home and family that he needed.
- There were some really wonderful confrontation scenes in this book: Adam and Charles; Samuel and Adam about the twins; Adam and Cathy at the whorehouse; Caleb and Cathy; Adam and Caleb at the end. All of these scenes were powerful because of the circumstances and because the characters were so well drawn.
- Cathy Ames is one of the most memorable literary characters I have ever come across. She was so purely evil–and unapologetically so–that she was simply fascinating to read about. In fact, I wanted to learn more about her and would gladly have sacrificed a lot of the Hamilton stuff (or even the Aron/Abra stuff for more about Cathy.
- The Cain and Abel theme was a little too overt for my tastes, beginning with the obvious “Charles” and “Adam” and culminating with “Caleb” and “Aron.” I don’t mind symbolism in a book, but the author should at least make the reader work to get it.
- This book is often referred to as begin about the Trasks AND the Hamiltons. However, I think this is a bit misleading, as the Hamiltons (aside from Samuel, perhaps) play such a relatively minor role throughout.
East of Eden by John Steinbeck is by no means a perfect work. It has some problems, but its strengths outweigh those problems by such a staggering degree that I still fee comfortable giving this one 5 stars out of 5.