East of Eden


John Steinbeck

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East of Eden Study Guide

Welcome to the LitCharts study guide on John Steinbeck's East of Eden. Created by the original team behind SparkNotes, LitCharts are the world's best literature guides.

Brief Biography of John Steinbeck

Steinbeck grew up in a rural town, and spent his youth working on ranches alongside migrant laborers. In 1920, he began attending Stanford University, but never graduated, choosing instead to move to New York and try his hand at a career in writing. He had trouble getting his work published, however, and returned to California to work a series of manual jobs, writing all the while. In 1935, Steinbeck first found literary success with Tortilla Flat, which follows the exploits of a group of Mexican-Americans in Monterey, California. In the following years, Steinbeck wrote several novels that focused on farming life and its discontents. The most famous of these is 1937’s Of Mice and Men. In 1939, Steinbeck published the Grapes of Wrath, which garnered him significant critical acclaim, including a Pulitzer Prize and a National Book Award. Following his success with The Grapes of Wrath, Steinbeck went on to publish other notable works, including the 1952 novel, East of Eden. In 1962, Steinbeck was awarded the Nobel Prize for literature. Steinbeck, a lifelong smoker, died in New York City in 1968, at age 66.
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Historical Context of East of Eden

Steinbeck wrote this book in the years following World War II. The violence and scale of the war, along with the horrifying atrocities committed by Hitler and Stalin and the staggering death toll following the atomic attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, raised questions about human capacity for evil and violence. In many ways, East of Eden, Steinbeck’s mythic magnum opus, is an answer to these questions. Ultimately the book serves as an affirmation of human goodness and virtue in a time when worries about human evil and depravity were more potent than ever.

Other Books Related to East of Eden

The book takes its title and much of its plot from the story of Cain and Abel. In the Bible, Cain and Abel are the sons of Adam, and Cain learns to farm the fruit of the land while Abel learns to herd livestock. One day they each make a sacrifice to God; Able offers the fat of a lamb, and Cain offers the fruit of his harvest. God loves Abel’s gift but not Cain’s. He tells Cain not to be angry, and to overcome sin. Cain, however, cannot control his anger and kills his brother out of jealousy. God banishes Cain “East of Eden” as punishment.
Key Facts about East of Eden
  • Full Title: East of Eden
  • When Written: Late 1940s, early 1950s
  • Where Written: USA
  • When Published: 1952
  • Literary Period: Postwar
  • Genre: Autobiographical fiction; Postwar fiction; Biblical allegory
  • Setting: Salinas, California
  • Climax: Cal gives his father a gift of 15 thousand dollars and his father rejects it, inspiring a dangerous kind of anger in his son.
  • Antagonist: Catherine Trask
  • Point of View: John Steinbeck narrates in 1st person; but parts of the novel are told in 3rd person omniscient.

Extra Credit for East of Eden

Visitors Welcome. Steinbeck’s childhood home in Salinas has been preserved and is open to tourists and visitors.