It’s a story we all know from the Bible. The brothers Cain and Abel try to please God, but when God shows his preference for Abel, Cain in a fit of jealousy kills his own brother. I think it’s a story that leaves an impression on everyone, because it’s a story about something that everyone goes through. The struggle for winning parental love makes us pity and relate to Cain, instead of judging him.
And East of Eden is a novel about this eternal struggle of the Cains of this world. But it also poses a question: Can Cain choose to do the right thing? Must he hurt Abel just because it’s in his nature or can he go against himself?
John Steinbeck repeats the Cain and Abel story twice: first between the brothers Adam and Charles and then with Adam’s sons, Cal and Aron. Charles and Adam’s father is a strict parent, who makes a fortune in a dishonest way. He makes his sons go through a strict regime, trying to make them soldiers, but eventually sends only Adam to the army. Adam is the son he prefers, even though Charles is the one who loves him. After their father dies Adams reunites with his brother, then leaves him again and gets married to Cathy, one of the most terrifying characters ever written. Cathy is a perfect example of a sociopath, and oh boy, the things she does.
Then Adam has two children, the twins Aron and Cal and the story of Cain and Abel is repeated all over again. That doesn’t mean that the repetition is something bad. The circumstances are different and the personalities of the people involved are different. The point of the repetition is to warn us that even though one Cain and Abel story may have a happy ending, it will still start all over again in the next generation and continue to do so forever.
Another family that’s also important in the book is the Hamilton family, based on the family of John Steinbeck’s mother. Sam Hamilton, the patriarch of this family is a wise man, an idealist who is too focused on his ideas, which often leaves the family hungry and penniless. Sam’s becomes very good friends with Adam’s Chinese servant Lee. Lee was definitely my favorite character. He’s one of the wisest characters ever written. Sam and Lee are the characters who bring up the word timshel which means thou mayest. They say that in the King James translation of the Bible it’s: “Thou shalt”, which promises that man will rule over sin. While according to the Hebrew meaning of the word timshel, a person may or may not rule over sin, because can make their own choices.
East of Eden slowly seduced me with it’s writing. It’s a big book, with complex ideas, but it’s written in such a simple and easy way, that it pushes you to read more until you completely fall in love with it.