East of Eden

East of Eden

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Dessie Hamilton Character Analysis

Dessie is the unmarried daughter of Sam and Liza, who runs a successful dressmaking business in town. She is deeply funny and entertaining, and her dress shop is a haven for women. Around Dessie, women can act human, and do not have to be feminine, ladylike, or dainty. Dessie has her heart broken by a mysterious man, and is never the same afterwards. She is accidentally killed by Tom when he gives her the wrong medication for her stomachache.

Dessie Hamilton Quotes in East of Eden

The East of Eden quotes below are all either spoken by Dessie Hamilton or refer to Dessie Hamilton. 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 23 Quotes

The door was closed to men. It was a sanctuary where women could be themselves—smelly, wanton, mystic, conceited, truthful, and interested…At Dessie’s they were women who went to the toilet and overate and scratched and farted. And from this freedom came laughter, roars of laughter.

Related Characters: John Steinbeck (speaker), Dessie Hamilton
Page Number: 283
Explanation and Analysis:

Much as Steinbeck's elaboration of Lee's character provides insight into the effects of racism, Steinbeck's description of Dessie's shop illuminates the effects of sexism on women. Steinbeck recognizes that women do not, by nature, necessarily conform to norms of "femininity." While those norms are often seen as simply reflecting feminine nature, this passage points out that, in fact, gender norms often prevent women from being their true selves. Because men are not allowed in Dessie's shop, women are able to relax and stop their relentless performances of femininity. The ability to be who they truly are in Dessie's shop gives them joy and freedom. This passage points out that sexism reduces women to something less than they truly are, and it shows the joy that women experience when they are in a place that acknowledges that women share a complexity common to all human beings. Steinbeck suggests, too, that to engage this complexity is a moral obligation for us all, since thinking in stereotypes harms others. 

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Dessie Hamilton Character Timeline in East of Eden

The timeline below shows where the character Dessie Hamilton appears in East of Eden. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 5
Good, Evil, and the Human Soul Theme Icon
Time Theme Icon
Family, Love, and Loneliness Theme Icon
Money, Wealth, and the Value of Work Theme Icon
...everyone in the family. In addition to the boys there are five girls: Una, Lizzie, Dessie (a joker), Olive (who is the narrator’s mother) and Mollie, an adorable youngster. (full context)
Chapter 23
Identity Theme Icon
...without making something of a mess in his mind. Of all his family, Tom loves Dessie best, for she is so lighthearted that she balances out his seriousness. The dress shop... (full context)
Family, Love, and Loneliness Theme Icon
One day, however, Dessie falls in love. The narrator only knows that the affair is gray and terrible, and... (full context)
Chapter 31
Religion, Myth, and the Power of Stories Theme Icon
...hears that Adam is thinking of moving to Salinas, she tells him to go see Dessie, who is thinking of selling her house and moving to the ranch to be with... (full context)
Family, Love, and Loneliness Theme Icon
Adam goes straight from the Steinbeck’s house to Dessie’s house. He goes to a little place across the street from Dessie’s to eat dinner,... (full context)
Chapter 32
Family, Love, and Loneliness Theme Icon
Money, Wealth, and the Value of Work Theme Icon
Dessie, like all of the Hamiltons, is capable of great versatility except when it comes to... (full context)
Family, Love, and Loneliness Theme Icon
When Dessie moves back to the ranch, Tom meets her at the train station; he is clearly... (full context)
Time Theme Icon
Family, Love, and Loneliness Theme Icon
Dessie has been bothered by stomach pains for quite some time, but hides them from Tom.... (full context)
Chapter 33
Good, Evil, and the Human Soul Theme Icon
Time Theme Icon
Family, Love, and Loneliness Theme Icon
Tom grows happier and happier, and Dessie is glad to see him improving, but becomes even more convinced that she cannot confide... (full context)
Good, Evil, and the Human Soul Theme Icon
Family, Love, and Loneliness Theme Icon
...and Will shoots him down. Tom leaves feeling dejected. When he arrives home he sees Dessie curled up in pain. He fixes her some salts and makes her drink them. She... (full context)
Good, Evil, and the Human Soul Theme Icon
Family, Love, and Loneliness Theme Icon
A week after Dessie’s funeral, Tom returns to the ranch. His sins announce themselves in his head over and... (full context)