East of Eden


John Steinbeck

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East of Eden: Chapter 16 Summary & Analysis

As Sam rides back from the Trask property he tries to understand why he is feeling so uneasy. Cathy’s eyes had reminded him of something—it comes suddenly to him in a flash: as a young boy, he had witnessed an execution. The man in the noose’s eyes were “not like the eyes of a man.” Cathy has eyes like that. He feels guilty thinking such evil things about her, and vows to help Adam as much as he can with the land.
Sam remembers seeing the same look in Cathy’s eyes when he was a child—she has the same eyes as a condemned criminal whose execution Sam witnessed. Sam recognizes there is something inhuman in her eyes. But he feels guilty for thinking such a thing, and resolves to help Adam as a kind of penance.
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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 skeptical, and doesn’t like the idea that Sam is associating with a rich man, for richness begets idleness. She relents eventually, and Sam brings Tom and Joe with him when he returns to Adam’s property two days later.
Liza is wary of wealth because she thinks it encourages a man to be idle. This plays into a larger discussion in this book about the relationship between wealth and happiness. In addition to Liza, many other characters will encounter this issue throughout the novel.
Money, Wealth, and the Value of Work Theme Icon