East of Eden


John Steinbeck

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Themes and Colors
Good, Evil, and the Human Soul Theme Icon
Time Theme Icon
Family, Love, and Loneliness Theme Icon
Religion, Myth, and the Power of Stories Theme Icon
Identity Theme Icon
Money, Wealth, and the Value of Work Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in East of Eden, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.

Good, Evil, and the Human Soul

At the heart of East of Eden is the conflict between good and evil; evil people struggle against good people, kindness struggles against cruelty, a man’s good intentions are constantly at odds with his foul and depraved impulses. Steinbeck suggests that this struggle between good and evil is what makes us human—that, in fact, the triumph and redemption of the human soul consists of this struggle.

Catherine Trask is evil incarnate—she was born without any…

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East of Eden covers an immense stretch of time—from the American Civil War to World War I. Accordingly, the novel displays a profound interest in the passage of time, the progression of history, and the relentlessness of change. The book opens with, and repeatedly returns to, an almost laborious cataloguing of the differences between seasons. This preoccupation with seasonal transitions, year after year, is a facet of the novel’s investigation of the relentless and yet…

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Family, Love, and Loneliness

East of Eden is a novel about families—marriage, parenthood, succession, inheritance, and sibling rivalry make up the bulk of the book’s conflict. Underlying all of these conflicts is the repeated suggestion that there is no love without pain, rejection, and loneliness. Numerous subplots in the novel involve parental love—children seek love from their parents and parents seek it from their children. Charles is furious that his father loves his brother Adam more than him. Charles…

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Religion, Myth, and the Power of Stories

East of Eden takes its name and its general storyline from the Biblical story of Adam’s sons, Cain and Abel: Cain believes God loves his brother Abel better than him, because God accepts a sacrifice from Abel but not from Cain. Cain then kills Abel out of anger and jealousy, and God banishes Cain “east of Eden” as a result. The book repeatedly thinks about religion and myth as a kind of storytelling, and affirms…

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East of Eden features many crises of identity through which Steinbeck examines the meaning of various identities over the course of the book. Lee is one of the most interesting examples of complex identity in the book. He is Chinese, and though he was born in California and speaks perfect English, he chooses to speak pidgin English (a simplified version of English) with a thick Chinese accent for most of his life. He believes people…

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Money, Wealth, and the Value of Work

One of the central differences between the two families in the novel (the Trasks and the Hamiltons) concerns wealth: The Trasks are rich and have good land, the Hamiltons are poor and their land is barren. This basic opposition is a gateway into a complicated and enduring discussion of the meaning of money, what constitutes “wealth,” and the role that work plays in a meaningful life.

Inheritance—the willing of money to someone who hasn’t…

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