Adam Trask has drawn into himself; Cathy’s departure has caused a great sickness in his mind. For a while Lee and Sam did their best to help him, but eventually gave up, for Adam could not be reached. One day Sam sprains his back while working, which deeply disturbs him, for he has always been able to lift heavy bales of hay without any trouble. He goes to see the doctor, then afterwards visits his son Will, who now runs a successful store. At the store, Sam runs into Lee, and they go to have a drink together. Lee tells Sam that Adam has still not named his twins—he just calls them “they.” Sam becomes quite angry, and promises Lee he will come to the Trask home and beat some sense into Adam. Lee says he will prepare a chicken to eat.
Adam Trask is one of the many characters in this novel to fall ill, only his is a disease of the mind brought on by despair at having lost Catherine. By failing to name his sons he has failed to acknowledge their existence, their humanity. Sam, a figure for human resilience, is predictably outraged by this failure, and vows to correct it. Though this is an impressive show of life and determination, this scene also shows the slow deterioration of Sam’s body—his back has given out for the first time in his life. Evil can be overcome, but the effects of time cannot be.
Sam has to first convince Liza to let him visit Adam—she believes Adam is a bad influence and doesn’t want her husband to associate with such a man. But when Liza hears that Adam has not given his sons any names, she tells Sam that he must not fail to get through to Adam. She lends him a bible so that he and Adam may go through it to find suitable names. Sam is surprised by his wife, and is filled with wonder and love for her.
Liza surprises her husband by not only allowing him to go see Adam but encouraging him. Liza has the same appreciation for human life and human triumph and redemption that Sam does—and Sam feels an overwhelming sense of love for her. Though she is not his great love, she is still deeply important to him. Their relationship is a testament to human strength.
Sam arrives at Adam’s door, but Adam tells Sam he is unwelcome. Sam begins to shout at Adam, building up his anger, condemning him for failing to treat his boys like people. Sam even goes so far as to grab Adam by the throat, throwing him to the ground. Adam seems to come to his senses, and actually thanks Sam for abusing him. Sam cheerfully asks Adam if his performance was convincing—for Sam is not truly a violent man.
Sam must put on a great performance when he sees Adam. He is not a violent man but he is willing to make a show of violence for the greater good. It is possible that this is a commentary on violence and war more generally—how might we make sense of war if we believe human nature is ultimately good? Perhaps violence for a good cause is possible.
Sam and Adam go to look at the boys—Adam has never really looked into their faces before. Adam says he feels like he is waking up from a deep sleep. Sam says Adam has built Cathy up in his mind, but he’s never really seen her for what she is. Sam then tells Adam he is getting well—some men refuse to get well because they believe their sickness has a kind of glory in it. But, he says, time will heal Adam if Adam will let it.
Sam, once again seeming to speak from experience, tells Adam that if he will let time heal him then it will—though time is destroying Sam’s body, it will ultimately repair Adam’s mind (assuming he allows it to). Sam also astutely points out that Adam loved an idealized version of Cathy and never knew the real Cathy.
Adam, Lee and Sam sit down with dinner and begin to consult the Bible for names. Sam suggests that Adam name his sons after the original sons of Adam: Cain and Abel. They turn to the story of Cain and Abel and discuss it at length. Cain feels rejected by God when God accepts Abel’s sacrifice but not his, and in anger and jealousy he kills his brother, and is banished by God and sent east of Eden. Lee, Sam, and Adam all agree that the story contains truths about the nature of the human spirit. For Cain lived and bore children—Abel did not. Men are, in the end, descended from Cain. Lee says that any great and lasting story will feel deeply personal and familiar: Cain and Abel is one of these stories.
This is one if the most important passages in the novel. The three men delve into the Biblical story on which the entire novel is based. The story of Cain and Abel is important because it teaches us something universal about human nature—otherwise, as Lee says, we would not continue to tell this story. A story will only last if it is personal and familiar—which prompts the reader to evaluate the story he or she is currently reading: how does Steinbeck meet his own standards? What is deeply personal and familiar about East of Eden itself?
Eventually, though, Sam and Adam agree that the names Cain and Abel carry too much darkness in them, and. settle instead settle on Caleb and Aron. As Sam prepares to leave, Adam tell him his dream to build a garden has gone out of him. Sam says that this dream won’t die until Adam dies—he commands Adam not to let it die. He mounts his horse, named Doxology, and rides away.
Though Adam’s sons are not named after Cain and Abel they nevertheless bear their initials—just as Adam and Charles, and Adam and Cathy do. “Doxology” is a word that means a short hymn or verse in praise of God. This scene makes it clear that to praise God is to work tirelessly to understand the stories in the bible.