East of Eden

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Caleb “Cal” Trask Character Analysis

Cal Trask is the most obvious figure for the Biblical Cain in the novel: his father Adam loves his twin brother Aron best. Though his father hides Catherine’s identity from the boys, Cal eventually figures it out, and worries that her evil is reproduced in him. Over the course of the novel Cal struggles to learn that his fate—his decisions, his virtue, his goodness—is in his own hands. He succumbs to his more base impulses and reveals his mother’s identity to his brother. Aron (as Cal knew he would be) is distraught. Aron subsequently joins the army and is killed. At the same time, Cal falls in love with Abra, the girl Aron planned to marry, and she falls in love with Cal, believing her relationship with the “purely good” Aron is not at real as the one she shares with Cal. Cal is thus responsible for his brother’s death—but at the end of the novel, it is suggested that he is not beyond redemption. His father forgives him and blesses his marriage to Abra, and Cal knows he can choose to be good going forward.

Caleb “Cal” Trask Quotes in East of Eden

The East of Eden quotes below are all either spoken by Caleb “Cal” Trask or refer to Caleb “Cal” 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 30 Quotes

“Dear Lord...let me be like Aron. Don’t make me mean. I don’t want to be…I don’t want to be mean. I don’t want to be lonely.”

Related Characters: Caleb “Cal” Trask (speaker), Aron Trask
Page Number: 379
Explanation and Analysis:

In this scene, Cal struggles between his impulse towards evil and his desire to be good. Cal's own personal narrative (and his treatment by others) has led him to think that he is not a good person like Aron is--he is Cain, and Aron is Abel. While Cal does seem less naturally inclined towards virtue than Aron, this scene gives a window into Cal that allows us to empathize with his complexity. Despite Cal's natural inclinations towards being bad, this scene suggests that Cal has the same potential as Aron to be good; the choice is in his hands, and it's a choice he desperately wants to get right.

Something that clearly prevents him from consistently choosing good, though, is a story--the story he has formed about himself, and the story others have told him about himself, that he is bad and Aron is good. Steinbeck shows how self-defeating these narratives can be and how they can undermine our sacred capacity for free choice by narrowing our own visions of what we ourselves are capable of.

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Chapter 38 Quotes

Where Aron was received, Cal was rebuffed for doing or saying exactly the same thing.

Related Characters: John Steinbeck (speaker), Caleb “Cal” Trask, Aron Trask
Page Number: 444
Explanation and Analysis:

This quote comes in a series of paragraphs that explain the evolution of Cal's character, which was formed in reaction to the ease with which Aron has always won over others. Cal has felt implicitly rejected by the world's seeming preference for Aron over him, and, as a result, he has developed a darkness--a jealousy, secrecy, vengeance, and shyness that wasn't there naturally.

This echoes the Cain and Abel story. Like Cain and Abel, Cal and Aron made offerings (their personalities) and the world (like God) seemed to accept Aron's and reject Cal's. Because of that, Cal became bitter and it cast a pall over his choices, leading him towards vice. This is a compassionate and empathetic way of seeing Cal's personality, in that it describes how, through no fault of Cal's own, other peoples' reactions to Cal steered his personality towards being based in jealousy and vengeance. It also suggests that a powerful way to combat evil is through kindness and love. To make someone like Cal feel loved and accepted would be to negate the forces that push him towards sin. 

“Of course you may have that in you. Everybody has. But you’ve got the other too.”

Related Characters: Lee (speaker), Catherine Trask (Kate), Caleb “Cal” Trask
Page Number: 449
Explanation and Analysis:

After seeing his mother sinning at the brothel, Cal is deeply shaken by the implications he sees for his own character. He finds Lee and confesses what he has seen, admitting that he worries that he is evil like his mother. In this quote, Lee explains to him that he does have his mother's evil in him, but he also has his father's good--everyone is a mix of both. Lee takes this argument further by scolding Cal for the laziness of assuming that he is innately evil like his mother. Lee sees the ability to blame bad ancestry for bad choices as a scapegoat and a betrayal of the sanctity of choice. "Whatever you do, it will be you who do it—not your mother," Lee says.

This passage shows the liberating potential of seeing identity as not being wrapped up in a person's blood or background, but as comprised of a series of choices made freely. In some sense, this is the least reductive way possible to see another human being. 

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.

Chapter 53 Quotes

“He’s crammed full to the top with every good thing and every bad thing.”

Related Characters: Lee (speaker), Caleb “Cal” Trask, Abra Bacon
Page Number: 585
Explanation and Analysis:

The love between Cal and Abra is, in a sense, Steinbeck's promise of redemption. The most relentlessly virtuous characters in the book (Adam and Aron, for example) lack empathy and understanding in a way that actually closes them off to true human love. Both men experienced strong feelings for women, but those feelings weren't really love because the men could not recognize the bad parts of the women they cared for--they loved an idealized version of a woman, rather than a real human being.

Paradoxically, the fact that Cal has sinned almost unforgivably in his treatment of Aron is what makes him able to love Abra. Cal can see Abra for everything she is, rather than reducing her complexity by projecting a single characteristic onto her. The way Steinbeck presents Cal and Abra's love suggests that the way towards virtue involves acknowledging sin and evil as parts of all of us. Without seeing ourselves and each other as complex and conflicted, we are unable to grapple with the reality of the world. And without grappling with the reality of the world, we are unable to make the best choices, and we are unable to truly love ourselves and one another.

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Caleb “Cal” Trask Character Timeline in East of Eden

The timeline below shows where the character Caleb “Cal” Trask appears in East of Eden. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 17
Good, Evil, and the Human Soul Theme Icon
Family, Love, and Loneliness Theme Icon
Religion, Myth, and the Power of Stories Theme Icon
...spell on Adam—that he can’t leave her side, and has barely given a thought to the twins . (full context)
Chapter 22
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...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... (full context)
Chapter 24
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...he helped to name them. Aron has dropped the second A from his name and Caleb prefers to go by Cal. Aron raises rabbits, and Cal has taken to gardening—this makes... (full context)
Chapter 27
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...boys creep through the Trask’s yard with bows and arrows, hunting wild rabbits. They kill one—Cal offers to let Aron tell everyone he shot the rabbit, though Cal’s arrow is clearly... (full context)
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Cal tells Aron he heard some men saying that their mother didn’t die—that she is still... (full context)
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...girl. Aron is struck by the girl and is almost too shy to introduce himself. Cal snickers at Aron’s awkwardness. The young girl’s name is Abra. The two boys and girl... (full context)
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...they get outside. Abra clearly wants control, and gains it quickly, bossing the twins around. Cal can tell immediately that Abra likes Aron—he can see the beginnings of love forming in... (full context)
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...Abra the rabbit they shot as a gift—when he goes inside to wrap it up, Cal tells Abra that there will be something vicious in the box—that Aron is putting in... (full context)
Chapter 28
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...go to better schools. Aron likes the idea, because he knows Abra lives in Salinas. Cal wonders what would happen to their ranch. Adam tells them to think about it and... (full context)
Chapter 30
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The boys pretend to drive the parked car as Lee prepares dinner. Aron asks Cal why Cal insists on doing sneaky, tricky things. He knows Cal said something to Abra... (full context)
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Cal sneaks away from the door of the room where Adam and Lee have been talking—he’s... (full context)
Chapter 35
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...has time to remind Lee to write before Lee is out the door. Aron and Cal make a bet about Lee’s departure; Cal believes Lee is gone forever, and Aron is... (full context)
Chapter 36
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In Salinas, Cal and Aron begin their 7th grade education at their new school Cal is respected by... (full context)
Chapter 37
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...He buries himself in his studies and begins to perform well in school. As for Cal, knowledge has always come so easily to him that he finds it hard to be... (full context)
Chapter 38
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Cal craves affection, but it seems Aron is always better loved than he is. He does... (full context)
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Following this incident Cal approaches Lee and boldly tells him he knows where his mother is. Lee answers all... (full context)
Chapter 39
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One night Cal is caught gambling and put in jail overnight. His father comes to pick him up... (full context)
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This affection and acceptance from his father puts Cal in such a bright mood that Lee thinks Cal has a girlfriend. Cal takes to... (full context)
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When they are settled in Kate’s office, Kate asks Cal what he wants. He says he doesn’t want anything. He tells her that Aron, his... (full context)
Chapter 40
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...He agrees, and secretly wonders why an old whore is so important to Kate. When Cal begins to follow Kate she is wracked with fear, but now that she knows who... (full context)
Chapter 41
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...religion, and in the process become solitary and introverted. Aron’s detachment from the world angers Cal, who has to fight the urge to reveal his mother’s identity to Aron simply to... (full context)
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Cal is determined to help Aron go to college and to earn back his father’s fortune... (full context)
Chapter 43
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...to give him as a reward. But Adam hears about Aron passing the exams from Cal, who is shocked to hear that Aron kept this information from his father. Lee hears... (full context)
Chapter 44
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...of courage, asks Lee if Mrs. Trask is still alive. Lee says yes. Just then Cal enters the kitchen. He is elated, and says he has a great present for his... (full context)
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The next day, Abra asks Cal to walk with her after school, and confides in him that Aron’s letter have been... (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 to see... (full context)
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Cal plans out every detail regarding the present, which is 15 thousand dollars in gold certificates,... (full context)
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Finally, it is time for Thanksgiving dinner, and Cal proudly gives the box to his father, who opens it and does not react as... (full context)
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When Lee sees Cal later he begs him to stop it—Cal looks innocently confused, as if he doesn’t understand... (full context)
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Cal goes out for a walk that night. After a while Aron catches up with him.... (full context)
Chapter 51
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...for Aron to come home. When they don’t see him for a while they ask Cal if he knows where he brother is. Cal says “am I supposed to look after... (full context)
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Lee finds Cal, and tells him that his mother committed suicide. Lee explains softly that people, especially Americans,... (full context)
Chapter 52
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...His eyes begin to fail him, and he has tingling in one of his hands. Cal worries for his father’s health, and asks Lee after a couple of months if they... (full context)
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Cal catches up with Abra the next day. They have not talked in a while, and... (full context)
Chapter 53
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After school the next day, Abra asks Cal to carry her books home. She looks into his eyes with a strange kind of... (full context)
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...about Abra—she seems more grown up to him. Lee then asks Abra if she likes Cal. She tells him she does, and Lee responds by observing that Cal is “crammed full... (full context)
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Cal walks Abra home and they agree to see the azaleas rain or shine as soon... (full context)
Chapter 54
Good, Evil, and the Human Soul Theme Icon
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...is beginning to improve slowly. Finally at the end of May, the azaleas bloom, and Cal and Abra jubilantly skip school to go have their picnic. During their picnic, Abra confides... (full context)
Chapter 55
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When Cal and Abra return home, Lee is there to give them some terrible news. Aron is... (full context)
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Abra, Lee and Cal sit in the kitchen. Abra begs Lee to help Cal understand. Lee takes Cal upstairs... (full context)