East of Eden


John Steinbeck

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Water Symbol Icon
Water governs the lives of almost every character in this book. It makes or break’s a man’s fortune, it determines the worth of land, it marks the passage of time. What is most notable about water in this book is its ability to bring both happiness and heartbreak. Sam Hamilton is better at finding water than anyone in Salinas, but in a bitter coincidence can find no water on his own land. Even more dramatically, water is capable of bringing both life and death. Water is invaluable to farmers who hope their crops will survive and thrive, but there are also multiple instances of drowning in East of Eden, both literal and metaphorical. Water comes to represent in the novel the dual capacity of the human soul for good and evil.
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Water Symbol Timeline in East of Eden

The timeline below shows where the symbol Water appears in East of Eden. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 1
Time Theme Icon
...of the Salinas valley in Northern California. The land is beautiful and expansive, but dry. Water comes in 30-year cycles, and the dry seasons inspire despair and the wet seasons hope... (full context)
Chapter 3
Family, Love, and Loneliness Theme Icon
Identity Theme Icon
...mother, a godly woman who seemed to crave unhappiness, vengefully drowned herself in the shallow water of a pond after contracting gonorrhea from his father when he returned home from the... (full context)
Chapter 5
Money, Wealth, and the Value of Work Theme Icon
...raised a good family—not rich, but not as poor as some. If there had been water they would have been relatively wealthy. But, though there was none, the family is well... (full context)
Chapter 13
Good, Evil, and the Human Soul Theme Icon
Money, Wealth, and the Value of Work Theme Icon
...and tells Adam the property is a fine one, and likely sitting on top of water. Just before Adam leaves, he remarks that Sam has made the Salinas valley sound like... (full context)
Chapter 15
Good, Evil, and the Human Soul Theme Icon
Family, Love, and Loneliness Theme Icon
Religion, Myth, and the Power of Stories Theme Icon
Sam and Adam wander around the property looking for water. Sam carries a stick with him that, like a magic wand, seems drawn to the... (full context)
Chapter 45
Good, Evil, and the Human Soul Theme Icon
...put the pieces together. When he discovers that Ethyl has been found drowned in the ocean a few towns over, he decides not to tell Kate—he thinks he can use Ethyl... (full context)