There is no other story. A man, after he has brushed off the dust and chips of his life, will have left only the hard, clean questions: was it good or was it evil? Have I done well – or ill? -From East of Eden, page 413-
I have yet to be disappointed by anything John Steinbeck writes … and East of Eden is no exception.
Set in the heart of the Salinas Valley, the novel spans three generations of two families whose lives overlap – the Trasks and the Hamiltons. Samuel Hamilton, an Irish immigrant and dreamer who believes in the goodness of mankind, raises his family without financial wealth but rich with love and family unity.
Adam Trask descends from wealth, and the conflict of sibling rivalry and moral weakness.
Narrated in the philosophical voice of Samuel’s grandson (who flavors this all-American classic with his thoughts and observations of the politics and economics of life in America at the turn of the century), Steinbeck uses the timeless story of Cain and Abel to draw his characters – and with this adds a greater depth to a novel rich with symbolism.
As in all of Steinbeck’s novels, the characters drive the story. Lee, a Chinese servant, surprises and delights the reader with his wisdom and gentle nature. Cathy (later Kate) surpasses the stereotypical evil character, allowing reader empathy to exist side by side with revulsion and demonstrating no one is all good or all bad. The overriding message of East of Eden seems to be that man (or woman) are free to choose their path regardless of inheritance or circumstances – in fact, perhaps in spite of them.
Steinbeck’s fine sense of place resonates throughout the novel. It is easy to see why East of Eden is considered his greatest work.
A classic which is a must read, this novel is highly recommended.