Charles is so timid around women he could not stomach the thought of dating. Instead he took to visiting prostitutes. Cyrus has moved to DC for work, and so Charles is alone on the farm without Adam, who is away in the army. He longs for his brother’s return, and fills up his days with the duties of the farm. One day while trying to move a rock he hits his head and gives himself a horrible scar on his face, extending from his brow line to the top of his forehead.
Charles becomes plagued by loneliness—a kind of misery the Steinbeck focuses on throughout the novel. Charles seeks out the comfort of brothels because they provide him, sadly, with some of his only human contact. He finds refuge in work: though it’s hard and unforgiving, it provides him a certain kind of relief from sadness.
When Adam is discharged, he doesn’t know how to cope with his new freedom. He has become accustomed to order and obedience, and is uncomfortable being free in the world. He decides he cannot go home and re-enlists.
Adam has also become absorbed by work—in fact he doesn’t know how to live a life outside of the army. He cannot make decisions for himself, an ominous foreshadowing of his inability to make sound moral judgments later in the novel.
Adam receives an order to appear in DC. Cyrus is responsible for this, and meets Adam when he arrives in DC. He is clearly a wealthy man now, well-dressed and with a new high-tech false leg. He wants to know why Adam has reenlisted and suggests that Adam try to move his career ahead and get a job in politics. Cyrus is an influential man and can help Adam succeed. Adam rejects this offer, and Cyrus laments that his son has learned the “dumb resistance” of a soldier.
Cyrus has changed his tune when it comes to the “life of a soldier”—instead of learning courage, Adam has learned the opposite: thoughtless, dumb resistance. Cyrus is angry that Adam is not interested in advancement. Cyrus has become a materialist, and cannot understand the desire to do work that doesn’t lend itself to wealth and status.
Charles has looked forward to Adam’s return for five years. He readies the farm in every way possible. He hires a woman to come clean the house until it is immaculate. He sleeps in the barn so as not to undo any of her work. He waits for Adam, but of course Adam does not come. Adam was perhaps too ashamed to write him. After a year passes, Adam writes him many apologetic and anxious letters. Charles eventually responds and tells Adam that he has expanded the farm and has been having modest success.
Remember that Charles is a symbol for Cain—the heartbreaking account of his tender but ultimately unnecessary preparation for Adam’s homecoming once again humanizes him. We know he is in some ways evil and violent, but in moments like this Charles is also undeniably, pathetically, and deeply human. In this version of Cain and Abel, we can see that Abel is also capable of hurting Cain.