East of Eden

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Adam is the son of Cyrus Trask and the brother of Charles Trask. Adam was forced into the army by his father, whom he respected but did not love. After getting out of the army, he meets and marries Catherine and with her conceives twin sons (Cal and Aron) after he moves to the Salinas Valley in California. He is a peaceful man who hates violence, and when he meets Catherine, he falls for her and cannot see that she is evil. He makes her into an ideal, and is thrown into a deep depression when she leaves him (and shoots him in the shoulder) just after she gives birth to the twins. His character’s redemption is one of the central story arcs in the novel. He learns to take refuge in the love of his sons, and absorbs the wisdom of men like Sam Hamilton and Lee. At the end of the novel, his act of forgiveness (he forgives his son Cal for driving his other son Aron into the army, where he dies) evidences the redemption and resilience of his spirit.

Adam Trask Quotes in East of Eden

The East of Eden quotes below are all either spoken by Adam Trask or refer to Adam Trask. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Good, Evil, and the Human Soul Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Penguin Classics edition of East of Eden published in 1952.
Chapter 3 Quotes

“You’re trying to take him away! I don’t know how you’re going about it. What do you think you’re doing?”

Related Characters: Charles Trask (speaker), Adam Trask, Cyrus Trask
Page Number: 29
Explanation and Analysis:

This quote comes during an argument between Charles and Adam Trask that boils down to Charles' jealousy of Adam's relationship with their father. Charles, like his father, is a complex person, full of rage, violence, and also the desire to be virtuous and loved. Adam is naturally peaceful and generous, and their father seems to prefer him to Charles. In this passage, the boys' father has taken Adam for a walk and told him he is to join the army to learn to overcome his fears, but Charles worries that Adam is trying to manipulate their father away from Charles himself.

Obviously, knowing the two boys' personalities, this is an outrageous assertion, but Charles projects his own personality onto Adam, assuming that Adam is doing what Charles would have done. Charles is so blinded by his own fear and jealousy that he cannot control himself, and he winds up hurting Adam, even though he loves him. This scene showcases the complexity of Charles' character and motives; he is experiencing constant inner turmoil between his fears and impulses and his desire to be good. It's significant, too, that his family brings out the most extreme emotions in him. East of Eden seems to posit that family is a uniquely powerful entity that can both soothe our worse impulses and stoke our most harmful behavior. 

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Chapter 7 Quotes

“The proofs that God does not exist are very strong, but in lots of people they are not as strong as the feeling that He does.”

Related Characters: Adam Trask (speaker), Charles Trask, Cyrus Trask
Page Number: 70
Explanation and Analysis:

At this point, Adam has just returned from his vagabond days, and he and Charles are trying to sort out their father's inheritance, which seems to have been ill-gotten. Charles has also learned from Cyrus's army papers that his war stories were likely untrue. Charles, who loved and admired his father, is distraught by this evidence of his poor character, but Adam is unfazed. He claims that this is because he doesn't believe the new information about his father.

This quote, which Adam offers to Charles as justification, shows the lengths to which Adam will go to deceive himself about others. His peaceful and generous nature is not presented here as a virtue; because Adam idealizes people and does not care to know them on a level more complex than that, Adam lives in a fantasy world constructed by his own stories. This is not familial love, but rather a selfish and isolating delusion--similar to believing in God based purely on emotion, even if one's reason says otherwise. It's interesting that, even though Charles seems to be the less virtuous brother, his insistence on taking his father's moral credibility seriously is seen as an act of love, not defamation, and Adam's indifference is painted as callous or naive. 

Chapter 15 Quotes

Then a breeze would move her bright hair, or she would raise her eyes, and Adam would swell out in his stomach with a pressure of ecstasy that was close kin to grief.

Related Characters: John Steinbeck (speaker), Adam Trask, Catherine Trask (Kate)
Page Number: 159
Explanation and Analysis:

This passage describes Adam's feelings of love when he sees Cathy, who is pregnant with their child. Cathy has already been shown to be an amoral and even evil character She is using Adam's feelings to manipulate him and has even tried to have an illegal abortion without his knowledge. However, Adam's natural inclination towards goodness and non-confrontation does not allow him to see people as they truly are, even his own wife with whom he supposedly shares a life.

This passage shows his delusion, and also the tragedy of this delusion; Adam is vulnerable because of his inability to recognize Cathy's evil, and he is also mistaking something manipulative for love, which denies him one of the most powerful and good human experiences. It's telling that his "love" is described as an ecstasy that borders on grief. Steinbeck suggests that real love should not be only ecstatic, since it must acknowledge flaws and be tempered by complexity. Adam's naive and ecstatic feelings are volatile, and the grief that lurks in his feelings suggests the loneliness that is at the heart of his empty relationship.

Chapter 22 Quotes

It seemed to Samuel that Adam might be pleasuring himself with sadness.

Related Characters: John Steinbeck (speaker), Adam Trask, Sam Hamilton
Page Number: 253
Explanation and Analysis:

By this point in the book, Cathy has left Adam with the twins and Adam is out of his mind with grief. When Sam learns that Adam has not yet bothered to even name the twins, Sam feels the need to intervene. However, this passage reveals that Sam does not simply feel compassion for Adam's grief; he feels an anger, too, born from suspicion. While Sam values hard work and overcoming obstacles, Adam (and his family in general) comes from a wealthier background and has had more idle time in his life, which Sam does not feel is morally good. Sam wonders if Adam is able to indulge his grief so fully because of his privilege, and if, furthermore, Adam is somehow luxuriating in it. If this is the case, then that grief is certainly immoral, since it is harming his children. This passage is another example of the complexity of love and the ways in which love can morph from something pure into something toxic.

“We are descended from this. This is our father. Some of our guilt is absorbed in our ancestry. What chance did we have? We are the children of our father. It means we aren’t the first.”

Related Characters: Adam Trask (speaker), Lee, Sam Hamilton
Page Number: 269
Explanation and Analysis:

In this moment, Sam, Adam, and Lee are discussing the story of Cain and Abel, the very story on which the novel is based. Because of this connection, this passage is key to the book overall. Here, Adam is excited because he realizes something from the story of Cain and Abel; all humans are the descendants of Cain, the bad brother, not Abel, the good one. (Although Judeo-Christian tradition has most people descended from Seth, Adam and Eve's third son.)

Adam, who has been consumed by virtue his whole life, thinks that this, in a sense, absolves humanity of our guilt. He sees that sin is not something that we invent as individuals, but rather something that was passed down to us by our nature. This passage shows clearly the ways in which stories are just as important as reality in terms of how our lives are structured. Believing that sin is natural (though to be avoided if possible) leads to a different lived reality (and different choices) than believing that sin is an evil that indicates personal failure. These characters are choosing the former story, which has a concrete effect on them. Ironically, this claiming of sin as part of our nature frees sin from being something that defines a person's character. Steinbeck suggests that what defines us is not our inclination to sin (which is universal), but rather our choices in the face of that reality.

“A great and lasting story is about everyone or it will not last.”

Related Characters: Lee (speaker), Adam Trask, Sam Hamilton
Page Number: 270
Explanation and Analysis:

Here, Lee is trying to account for the power of the Cain and Abel story. He suggests that a part of human nature is the inability to truly connect with anything that isn't deeply personal. "If a story is not about the hearer, he will not listen," Lee says. Cain and Abel, Lee argues, is a lasting story because rejection, guilt, and revenge are common to all people, so Cain's story still strikes a nerve even after thousands of years.

This quote is especially relevant because of the metafictional nature of the novel's narration. Steinbeck repeatedly draws attention to the book itself as a story that is being told, not allowing it to masquerade as a reality that we, as readers, are experiencing. Because of this, Steinbeck's meditations on the purpose and power of stories are also statements about his own art. This quote comes almost 300 pages into the book--if the reader hadn't been sucked in by the story by now, he or she probably would have already put the book down. In light of this, Steinbeck is implicating readers and asking them to examine why they are captivated by the book. If they are fascinated by Steinbeck's own reworking of the Cain and Abel story, it's probably because they, too, have struggles in common with Cain.

Chapter 24 Quotes

“But the Hebrew word, the word timshel—‘Thou mayest’—that gives a choice. It might be the most important word in the world. That says the way is open. That throws it right back on a man…why, that makes a man great, that gives him stature with the gods, for in his weakness and his filth and his murder of his brother he has still the great choice. He can choose his course and fight it through and win.”

Related Characters: Lee (speaker), Adam Trask, Sam Hamilton
Page Number: 303
Explanation and Analysis:

This complex passage is a meditation on human choice, a question that lies at the heart of the book. Steinbeck has already established that humanity is descended from Cain; we have sin in our blood and cannot escape that part of our nature. However, Steinbeck does not intend this to be a dark pronouncement. Here, he locates human goodness and hope not in the naive belief that people are naturally good and that sin is therefore unnatural, but rather in the notion that humans have a unique capacity to choose their own destiny and therefore we have the ability to overcome the sin that is in our own nature. Goodness would not be a virtue if it were innate (as it is in Adam); it only becomes a virtue when it is complicated by the knowledge of evil that makes true love possible. Lee suggests that our highest calling is to act out of love and choose goodness over evil. 

It's important to note that this passage (which contains some of the most nuanced thoughts in the entire book) is spoken by Lee, a Chinese American character who is seen by his community as being simple based on his race. This passage challenges that stereotype.

Chapter 25 Quotes

“That’s what I hate, the liars, and they’re all liars…I love to rub their noses in their own nastiness.”

Related Characters: Catherine Trask (Kate) (speaker), Adam Trask
Page Number: 322
Explanation and Analysis:

In this scene, Adam has come to see Kate at the brothel, and she is incensed to realize that she no longer has a hold on him. In this passage, Kate has been drinking and, as usual, alcohol is bringing out her cruelty. She is trying to account for her hatred of the world, and she claims here that she is cruel because everyone else is a liar and a hypocrite. She frames her behavior as almost moral in that it "rubs their noses in their own nastiness."

This scene is yet another illustration, though, of the importance of acknowledging human complexity. Kate embodies evil, and, as a result, she sees that same evil everywhere. She projects herself onto the world instead of receiving and interpreting what is actually there. Were she more receptive to others, she would understand that everyone is not fundamentally a liar. While everyone is sometimes prone to telling lies, people struggle between their good and bad impulses and thus cannot be defined by one quality or another. Kate is reducing people to caricatures in much the same way that Steinbeck shows racism and sexism as functioning.

Chapter 49 Quotes

“I send boys out…I sign my name and they go out. And some will die and some will lie helpless without arms and legs. Not one will come back untorn. Son, do you think I could take a profit on that?...I don’t want the money, Cal. And the lettuce—I don’t think I did that for a profit.”

Related Characters: Adam Trask (speaker), Caleb “Cal” Trask
Page Number: 543
Explanation and Analysis:

This is a pivotal moment of the book, an analog to the moment in the Cain and Abel story when God rejects Cain's sacrifice and accepts Abel's. Here, Cal has saved up to give his father enough money to replace the fortune he lost through the refrigeration business. However, since Cal made the money profiting off of demands created by war, Adam states that he cannot accept the money. This moment is so fraught because both Cal's and Adam's perspectives make sense. Cal worked hard to do something nice for his father, hoping to earn his approval and love, and Adam is taking a moral stand against profiting off of an event that seems to him to be wholly evil.

Since both parties are acting in good faith, the fallout--Cal's heartbreak--is even more complex and wrenching. Lee's reaction to this situation is crucial, because it shows the importance of empathy. In a sense, Adam is the one who has failed here because his overly-virtuous personality has blinded him to Cal's own kindness. This lack of empathy wounds Cal deeply, but Lee insists that it is not an excuse for Cal to behave badly. In a sense, Adam did not have a choice in how he reacted because he could not see more than one side of the issue. Cal, who is a more complex person, can foresee both the virtuous and the harmful reactions he can have; Lee insists that he choose the right thing.

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Adam Trask Character Timeline in East of Eden

The timeline below shows where the character Adam Trask appears in East of Eden. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 2
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...and they bought good land, and were able to plant wheat and build beautiful houses. Adam Trask is one of these men. (full context)
Chapter 3
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Adam Trask was born in a rural area in Connecticut. His mother, a godly woman who... (full context)
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...and all-powerful. But eventually, for every child, this illusion falls apart, and this happens to Adam quite early on. One day he simply realizes that his father is not a great... (full context)
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Adam is a peaceful and obedient child, but his half brother Charles is assertive like his... (full context)
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One day Adam, who is typically unsuccessful in athletic competitions, repeatedly beats Charles at a game called “peewee”... (full context)
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After supper that night Adam says he is going on a walk and Charles joins him. Charles demands to know... (full context)
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When Adam returns home, beaten, Alice and Cyrus are shocked. Cyrus demands that Adam explain why Charles... (full context)
Chapter 4
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...in town for a few weeks, and when he returns his father has calmed down. Adam is enlisted in the army as a private; the narrator remarks that it is strange... (full context)
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Charles writes Adam long, sentimental letters while he is away. It is as though Charles is able to... (full context)
Chapter 6
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...has moved to DC for work, and so Charles is alone on the farm without Adam, who is away in the army. He longs for his brother’s return, and fills up... (full context)
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When Adam is discharged, he doesn’t know how to cope with his new freedom. He has become... (full context)
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Adam receives an order to appear in DC. Cyrus is responsible for this, and meets Adam... (full context)
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Charles has looked forward to Adam’s return for five years. He readies the farm in every way possible. He hires a... (full context)
Chapter 7
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Adam’s next five years fly by, for they are uneventful and unmemorable. He writes to tell... (full context)
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...this—where did his father get this money? Soon after this he gets a telegram from Adam, asking for 100 dollars, and saying he is on his way home. (full context)
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Adam finally arrives home, and his reunion with his brother is somewhat awkward. Charles is clearly... (full context)
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Charles asks Adam if there are any women in his life. Adam says he stayed with a Native... (full context)
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...have inherited from their father was stolen or otherwise ill-gotten. He demands to know why Adam does not look upset, and asks if Adam even loved Cyrus. Adam says he did... (full context)
Chapter 10
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Charles and Adam bicker constantly, and Adam periodically leaves only to come crawling back after a few months.... (full context)
Chapter 11
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...will look if two brothers are discovered with a bloodied woman in their house, but Adam insists that Charles call the doctor and carries the woman (who the reader can assume... (full context)
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...get better, Charles begins to mistrust her more and more. In a private conversation when Adam is out of the room, he tells her there is something off about her; Charles... (full context)
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She tells Adam she is afraid of Charles, and knows that Charles wants her to leave. Adam insists... (full context)
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When Adam tells Cathy they are leaving, she says she doesn’t want to go, but he doesn’t... (full context)
Chapter 13
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Cathy brings “glory” into the life of Adam Trask. He imagines her as a perfect woman; he doesn’t see her hatred and pain,... (full context)
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Adam, delighted to hear that Catherine is pregnant, becomes interested in a large piece of property... (full context)
Chapter 15
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Adam begins turning his grand plans into a reality. He starts building up a grand house.... (full context)
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One day Adam sends Lee to the Hamilton house to fetch Sam. Lee obliges and as he and... (full context)
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Sam and Adam wander around the property looking for water. Sam carries a stick with him that, like... (full context)
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Adam invites Sam to dinner. Sam agrees, but finds dinner to be excruciatingly awkward. He sees... (full context)
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Adam and Cathy sit under a tree as the sun sets. Adam describes to her all... (full context)
Chapter 16
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...like that. He feels guilty thinking such evil things about her, and vows to help Adam as much as he can with the land. (full context)
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The next day at breakfast Sam tells Liza about Adam Trask hiring him to dig three wells, as well as build some windmills. She is... (full context)
Chapter 17
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...running outside and insists that Sam come inside to help—Cathy has gone into labor and Adam is losing his mind with excitement, fear, and worry. Sam tells Lee to calm down,... (full context)
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...baby is ready to be delivered. It is a boy—Sam swaddles the baby and tells Adam, who looks queasy. Sam asks for Lee, who comes in to help him clean up.... (full context)
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...hours later and stays for a week, cleaning the house, washing the children and helping Adam adjust. When she returns, Sam asks her how it went. Liza remarks that, though she... (full context)
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Cathy rests for a week, until one day Adam enters her room to find her holding a suitcase and wearing traveling clothes. She announces... (full context)
Chapter 18
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The Salinas county sheriff investigates the shooting. At first he is suspicious of Adam, who won’t tell him anything and who seems mentally disturbed. But eventually the sheriff hears... (full context)
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Sam comes to visit Adam, who sits alone on his porch with his arm and shoulder in a bandage. Adam... (full context)
Chapter 22
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Adam Trask has drawn into himself; Cathy’s departure has caused a great sickness in his mind.... (full context)
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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... (full context)
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Sam arrives at Adam’s door, but Adam tells Sam he is unwelcome. Sam begins to shout at Adam, building... (full context)
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Sam and Adam go to look at the boys—Adam has never really looked into their faces before. Adam... (full context)
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Adam, Lee and Sam sit down with dinner and begin to consult the Bible for names.... (full context)
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Eventually, though, Sam and Adam agree that the names Cain and Abel carry too much darkness in them, and. settle... (full context)
Chapter 24
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...of the landscape. He saves his visit to the Trask place for last. Lee and Adam ask Sam to stay for dinner and he agrees. Sam looks at Adam’s unplanted land... (full context)
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As Sam is leaving, he tells Adam he has a medicine that might cure him and might kill him. Adam says he... (full context)
Chapter 25
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...The funeral is in Salinas and it is somber. Though he hadn’t wanted to come, Adam feels compelled to attend, for he cannot believe Sam is dead. He leaves the burial... (full context)
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Adam arrives at Kate’s in the evening. The woman at the door tells Adam that Kate... (full context)
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Adam cannot stop smiling. He asks Kate why she has so much hate in her. Kate... (full context)
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Kate changes gears and tries to seduce Adam. Adam is not susceptible to her charm anymore. He notes that Kate has not asked... (full context)
Chapter 26
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Adam should have been sad and bitter after Sam’s death and his conversation with Kate, but... (full context)
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When Adam returns home Lee notices a change in him. Adam tells Lee he wants to get... (full context)
Chapter 27
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...vows to one day bring her home. Aron is deeply upset by the thought of his father and Lee lying to him, but Cal shows no emotion. (full context)
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...house and notice a strange carriage in their drive—they have visitors. When they go in Adam explains to the boys that their visitors got lost in the storm and have taken... (full context)
Chapter 28
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...dinner the boys tell their father about Abra, and ask where their mother’s grave is. Adam tells them it is in the east, and that some people like to be buried... (full context)
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Lee and Adam discuss the risks of moving to Salinas—the boys would be closer to their mother, and... (full context)
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That night Adam writes a letter to Charles—the first one in roughly ten years. He asks Charles to... (full context)
Chapter 29
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A few days later, the Ford that Adam wanted to buy arrives. A mechanic comes along to try and teach Adam how to... (full context)
Chapter 30
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A week after the driving lesson, Adam, Lee and the boys are driving the car around, and stop by the post office.... (full context)
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After the boys go to bed Adam and Lee talk about Charles’s letter. They realize that because Adam and Cathy have never... (full context)
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Cal sneaks away from the door of the room where Adam and Lee have been talking—he’s heard the whole thing. He quietly sneaks back to the... (full context)
Chapter 31
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The next day, Adam goes to see Kate about the inheritance. He tells her she is entitled to half... (full context)
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On his way back from the house, Adam stops at the Steinbeck’s house. Little Mary and John peek out through the door at... (full context)
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Adam goes straight from the Steinbeck’s house to Dessie’s house. He goes to a little place... (full context)
Chapter 35
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Lee helps Adam make the move to Salinas, and afterwards says his goodbyes. As per his previous agreement... (full context)
Chapter 36
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...simply heard some incorrect information. He pushes the thoughts from his mind. That night, as Adam reads in his chair, Aron puts his hand on his father’s shoulder gently, and sweetly... (full context)
Chapter 37
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As time passes, Adam becomes enamored of various new technologies. He buys a Victor Victrola (a new music player)... (full context)
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Later that year Adam executes his great plan. Many major businessmen are excited about the venture, but no one... (full context)
Chapter 38
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...and Lee tells him she is missing something: kindness or conscience perhaps. But, Lee continues, Adam has almost too much kindness and conscience in him, and when Cathy left, something died... (full context)
Chapter 39
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...overnight. His father comes to pick him up in the morning. Instead of getting angry, Adam seems apologetic. He tells Cal they should get to know each other better; Adam resolves... (full context)
Chapter 43
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...hard to get ahead in school, and he is set to graduate a year early. Adam could not be prouder of him. He glowingly boasts to Lee about Aron’s accomplishments. Meanwhile,... (full context)
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Adam assumes Aron will tell him as soon as his exams are finished, and Adam buys... (full context)
Chapter 47
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Adam is appointed to a spot on the army draft board. The responsibility weighs heavy on... (full context)
Chapter 49
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At Thanksgiving time, Adam, Lee, Cal, and Abra go to the train station to greet Aron. Adam is anxious... (full context)
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...react as planned. He is silent. Cal quickly explains how he made the money, and Adam grows disgusted. He states that he does not want this money stolen from poor farmers,... (full context)
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...if he doesn’t understand Lee, and Lee tells him to remember he has a choice. His father couldn’t help but reject the money, but Cal has a choice in how he reacts.... (full context)
Chapter 51
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...his pocket and resolves to destroy them. The next day the sheriff goes to see Adam Trask and informs him that his wife has killed herself, and left her fortune to... (full context)
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Adam and Lee wait for Aron to come home. When they don’t see him for a... (full context)
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...explains everyone is descended of barbarism. Lee leaves when he sees Cal understand, and finds Adam in the hall, slumped against the wall clutching a note in his hands. It is... (full context)
Chapter 52
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Adam Trask is deeply confused by his son’s sudden departure. His eyes begin to fail him,... (full context)
Chapter 53
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Adam takes to sleeping in short bursts throughout the day and night. Lee sees that Adam’s... (full context)
Chapter 54
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Adam’s health is beginning to improve slowly. Finally at the end of May, the azaleas bloom,... (full context)
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...open, he tells himself not to be a coward, and to have courage. He hears Adam opening the door. (full context)
Chapter 55
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...return home, Lee is there to give them some terrible news. Aron is dead, and Adam has had a stroke. He cannot move or speak, and he may live for as... (full context)
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...help Cal understand. Lee takes Cal upstairs to his father’s room. Lee loudly explains to Adam that his brain is injured, but he must strive to listen. He commands Adam to... (full context)