East of Eden


John Steinbeck

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East of Eden: Chapter 37 Summary & Analysis

As time passes, Adam becomes enamored of various new technologies. He buys a Victor Victrola (a new music player) and subscribes to various scientific journals. Eventually he becomes obsessed with the idea od refrigeration. He studies it and begins to daydream about the possibilities. One day he invites Will Hamilton over—he wants to discuss something with him. He reveals to Will his plan: he will buy the Salinas ice plant, and use refrigeration techniques to ship fresh lettuce clear across the country on a train for the first time ever. Will becomes angry—he chastises Adam for not thinking things through, for not giving any consideration to sound business practice. Will says that war is brewing in Europe, and that beans and other imperishables are going to be far more in demand than fresh lettuce in the winter. He calms himself down and is proud when he leaves that he gave Adam such sound advice.
The disagreement between Will and Adam is another example of the novel’s stance against materialism. Adam wants to create because he is interested, he is enthusiastic, and he is excited by the prospect of solving problems. Will cannot understand such enterprise—he is a businessman, and the only justification he understands is profit. He suggests Adam look for ways to profit off the impending war instead of filling his head with wild ideas about invention and innovation. He genuinely believes he is doing Adam a favor; but in reality he is discouraging curiosity and engagement in favor of the pursuit of profit.
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Later that year Adam executes his great plan. Many major businessmen are excited about the venture, but no one wants to invest until they see that it works. Adam packs his lettuce in ice and the train sets off—and an almost impossibly unlucky series of events come to pass. The train is delayed over and over again, and the trip is several days longer than it should be. The result is six full carloads of rotted, soggy lettuce. Now, in hindsight, Everyone dismisses Adam’s idea as stupid and foolish. Even so, and despite the fact that he has squandered most of his fortune on his failed plan, Adam remains in good spirits, deciding to keep the ice factory.
Adam’s experiment is a failure, but not because of any fault on his own part. His ideas were sound, and that’s all that matters to Adam. Though he has lost his fortune, he is not concerned with such things. Like Sam Hamilton, Adam can live a fulfilled, meaningful, happy life without becoming particularly wealthy. He is happy to do work so long as it is interesting and meaningful, even if it doesn’t make him rich.
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Aron takes the failure much harder than his father. He is ridiculed in school and feels ashamed that he is no longer wealthy. Aron feels as though he cannot hold his head up in school, and tells Abra that he hates his father. Abra chides him for saying such things, and Aron says he wants to escape Salinas. 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 engaged by his coursework. He grows tall and restless, and a darkness can be seen in his face.
Aron does not take kindly to the idea that his father is fallible. He dreams of escaping Salinas—Aron is, like Adam once was, an escapist. He would rather look away from the harsh realities of life than experience them, endure them, and overcome them. Cal, on the other hand, seems to inhabit this kind of darkness perpetually. Their reenactment of the Cain and Abel story continues.
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