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…(read full theme analysis)
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…(read full theme analysis)
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…(read full theme analysis)
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…(read full theme analysis)
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…(read full theme analysis)