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East Of Eden Character Analysis Essay

“We have only one story. All novels, all poetry, are built on the never-ending contest in ourselves of good and evil” (Steinbeck 11) and East of Eden is one of the stories, surrounded by good and evil. East of Eden is filled with religious references, and deeply tied to old testament stories, specifically the garden of Eden, and Cain and Abel. These stories shape the characters in the novel, adding depth to their actions and characteristics, and furthering the plot of the novel, by the multiple generations and continuance of each biblical story.

The theme of good and evil in East of Eden is in every aspect of the novel, but primarily in characterization. Many of these characters also carry a religious significance, specifically to Old Testament stories, and are paralleled to create depth, and further the theme. Cal and Aron, Adam and Charles, are all ties to the Cain and Abel myth through names, and characteristics. Cal and Aron, more directly represent the story, as they are born of Cathy and Adam, who are symbolic of Adam and Eve. Lastly, there are two quasi God figures in East of Eden, Samuel and Cyrus.

While Cyrus is more of an old testament God, of rules, favoritism, and infallible in the eyes of his children. Samuel both symbolizes a prophet and a God figure, in his advice, visions of the future, figuring out human character, but also in his actions, bring children into the world, his carpentry and his poverty. All of this balances the good and evil, with one character on either side, the theme of good and evil, and how it drives characters, and relates to each one uniquely shapes East of Eden into a novel with perspective from multiple sides.

Steinbeck’s novel East of Eden is filled with religious allusions that drive the story, though there are no direct parallels, the characters are often associated with biblical characters. The allusion to Cain and Abel runs through the whole novel, in both Charles and Adam, and Cal and Aron but the boys exemplify the traits of Cain and Abel more than their father and his brother. Cal exhibits traits of Cain including his anger and jealousy, which is largely directed at Aron. This is most exemplified, when Cal tries to give Adam his gift, which Adam denies.

Telling Cal to have “pride in the thing he’s doing” (Steinbeck 541), telling him, in short, to be like Aron. This pushes Cal to take Aron to see their mother, taking his anger out, not on his father, but on his brother and leading to Aron’s inevitable death. This parallels the story of Cain and Abel, as Cain’s (Cal’s) gift was denied by the father (Adam or God). Through this Adam’s favoritism of Aron, is also shown, much the way it was said that God favored Abel’s, which is why he denied the gift of Cain. In both stories, it leads to a death caused by jealousy.

While Cain’s attack of Abel was physical, Cal goes and show Aron their mother, and Cathy describes Cal as “smiling with cruelty” (Steinbeck 550) and he shows Aron, who their mom is. When Aron dies in war, thus Cal indirectly caused his death. This shows Cal’s evil side in the worst way and the parallel to Cain is strongest in this section of the novel, when Cal makes his worst choice. “Am I supposed to look after him? ” (Steinbeck 562), Cal asks this to his father, Cain asks if he is his brother’s keeper, and thus this allows Cal to parallel Cain more, but also shows that he may just not know the correct choice.

On the other side of the story, Aron shares traits that are associated with Abel, including his trusting personality, consistently good and moral choices, and his innocence in the face of evil. That innocence is why seeing mother running a brothel, crushed him, knowing his good came from such evil. Cathy’s place as an Eve figure becomes important at this time, as she is then the creator of mortal sin, and passing her evil along to Cal, leads to the death of her own son.

These two boys are a prime example of the dichotomy of good and evil in the novel, yet Cal is also an example of the ability to choose, while he makes many wrong choices, he is in many cases aware that they are wrong, and Adam’s forgiving him at the end of the novel, saying “timshel” means that Cal still has a choice. “He couldn’t help it, Cal. That’s his nature. It was the only way he knew. He didn’t have any choice. But you have. Don’t you hear me? You have a choice. ” (Steinbeck 76), Lee tells him about this choice, that his father and mother do not have, but he does.

Thus, why Cal does not possess the mark of Cain. Coming from Cathy, who is portraved as born of evil, and show with no ability to choose differently, this makes Cal, and opposition to her as well, as he has a future in which he can do good. Thus, the boys become symbols of good and evil, through the Cain and Abel myth, but also open doors into choice, and how actions affect others. Cathy, is the one character that is not shown with choice, but affects others in only negative ways.

So then another example of that good and evil dichotomy is with Cathy and Adam, who allude strongly to the myth of Adam and Eve, and the garden of Eden, with Cathy being both Eve and the serpent. With descriptions that compare her to a snake, and her devious and temping nature, she very much embodies the serpent from Eden. Cathy is a monster, with no empathy, but Steinbeck reminds us that “a monster is only a variation, and that to a monster the norm is monstrous. ” (Steinbeck 71), and Cathy is unknowing of what it is like to feel good, to have choice.

Yet, especially when Cathy displays curiosity, though usually perverse in some manner, connecting her Eve characteristics with her snake-like entity, and makes her seem more human, and shows her lack of choice, though curious, she cannot figure out good. Both allusions are associated with sin, and in the novel, Cathy is an embodiment of sin, and the symbol of it throughout the novel, and is shown to have no ability to be morally upright. Adam’s naturally caring and trusting personality made him a prime target for Cathy, but also aligns him with Adam.

While Cathy and Adam don’t create mortal sin, Adam’s fondness for Cathy, gets him shot, when he chooses to not listen to her, lost in what he sees her as, thus choosing to trust her, and leaving the boys without a mother. Cathy, also acknowledges her own beauty in many instances. Even at a young age “Cathy knew something of the power of sex impulse” (Steinbeck 74), knowing her looks could be used for control. So much like Eve she is vain, and uses this beauty and her knowledge of it for manipulation, of Adam, of Mr. Edwards and of the men that go to the brothel.

Cathy being representative of both Eve and the snake, makes for an interesting contrast in herself, as well as the Alice in Wonderland imagery sprinkled into the novel, the innocent curiosity of Eve, mixed with the snake’s devious charms. Cathy’s deeply curious, and mischievous nature intertwines with everything she does, including her childhood exploits, which are surrounded by her manipulation of men. Again this highlights her association with Eve, by encouraging Adam to eat the apple of knowledge, she manipulates him into sin.

The garden of Eden and apples follow the two closely, from Adam’s desire for his own garden of Eden upon moving, and his later refusal to plants apples, and getting laughed at by Samuel, who asks “what does Eve have to say to that? ” (Steinbeck 167). alluding to Cathy as Eve, and her desire for sin. Cathy and Adam being symbolic of Adam and Eve, and being parents to the representative Cain and Abel, they fit both into the good and evil dichotomy, and the religious symbolism with many similarities, making their actions hard to ignore.

Even the two God figures in East of Eden represent the good and evil dichotomy, which shows no one is free of worldly evils. Samuel is the truly good character in the novel, who takes a position as the prophet Samuel, but also an all-knowing God figure, with a few Christ like attributes. Samuel’s place as a lower class carpenter, who helps women give birth, sets him up as a Christ figure, while his knowledge of the future and advice, allows him to represent God or the prophet Samuel, who was known for his visions.

Except for hurting Adam, one time, Samuel is never seen doing anything that could even be seen as misdirected. Samuel wanting to name the boys Cain and Abel, yet not following this choice, because “that would be tempting whatever fate there is. ” (Steinbeck 264). This is foreshadowing for the brothers and a large indicator of his prophet like abilities, as well as his ability to see who Cathy is upon first glance, she “gave him a shivering” (Steinbeck 190) and he noticed “the hatred look out of her eyes” (Steinbeck 191).

Samuels’ godly goodness, is contrasted by Cyrus, who is an Old Testament God figure in East of Eden, showing obvious preferences, having a house full of rules, with a cold demeanor. Cyrus’ position as a God figure, sets up the first Cain and Abel reference, in Charles and Adam, by him being the one choosing which gift to accept. Another way Steinbeck differentiates the good and the evil, is through venereal diseases, while Cyrus contract syphilis, Samuel and his family, “must have been either lucky or moral for the sections on gonorrhea and syphilis were never opened. (Steinbeck 12).

Having an imperfect God figure, makes Steinbeck’s description of Cyrus have a lot of depth, and giving a variety of reasoning for his actions. Cyrus being infallible to Charles, also sets him up as a God figure, because children see their parents often, as having no ability to do wrong, which is why Charles pushes his anger on to Adam. The dichotomy, even here, let the reader know that no one is impossible of doing wrong, or of hurting people, driving the novel to imperfect conclusions, much like the ones in actual biblical stories.

Steinbeck’s East of Eden represents these biblical stories, in modern lights, with variation that allows for various readings of characters, despite their obvious good or evil. By, using choice as an almost, uncertain variable, that characters do not always possess, he brings into question, if being good or evil is always a choice. Making even the evil characters, have possible redemption, except Cathy, Steinbeck makes it so that no one is entirely good or evil. While Cathy stands in a position where she is either unknowing or does not have choice, it makes her a character without redemptions, much like the serpent from

Eden, who does the wrong thing, just because it is a bringer of sin. A whole scale of good and evil is represented in the novel, from Cathy to Samuel, and this scale is used to show the variation in real life, as well as, how much can be said for choice in the lives of the characters. This all brings light to Steinbeck’s theme, that good is not pure, and evil is not entirely evil, unless devoid of choice. The complete evil, only coming of lack of empathy, which is a basic human trait.

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