East of Eden is one of my favourite books of all time, its an ambitious and inspirational novel written by John Steinbeck and is a novel that once read you will never truly forget. There are so many lessons to be learnt throughout the novel, it discusses the idea of good and evil and if we are inherently evil or not, it also dives into the perception of religion and how language translations can change the meanings of everything. The book is highly philosophical and introspective on its take on the world, and though it was published in 1952, it is still relevant in today’s world. Every summer I reread this book and each time I am given a different perspective on the true meaning behind East of Eden.
The story is predominately set in the rich farmland of California’s Salinas Valley and follows the Trask family through two generations. East of Eden mimics the story of Adam and Eve’s sons Cain and Abel, who both make a sacrifice to God, Abel sacrifices his best lamb, while Cain offers grain. God prefers Abel’s gift over Cain’s, this infuriates Cain, so he kills his brother in a jealous rage. The story starts with two brothers Adam and Charles Trask, they have the initials A and C just like Cain and Abel. On their father’s birthday, Adam gifts his father a puppy and Charles gifts his father an expensive knife. Their father prefers Adam’s gift which causes Charles to beat up his brother in a jealous rage, similar to Cain and Abel. Later on, in the book Adam gets married to a woman named Cathy/Kate, she is seen as a demonic like figure who uses people to get what she wants. She stays with Adam to have somewhere to stay, however, he gets her pregnant which means she cannot leave him, once she gives birth to Adam’s children, she runs away leaving Adam with the twins. Adam names the children Aron and Caleb, which again mimics the Cain and Abel story. A similar situation happens again as Adam favours Aron over Caleb, this is most seen when Caleb gifts his father a birthday present of $15,000 which he worked for by selling beans to farmers at a higher rate due to wartime. Adam berates him for taking advantage of the farmers, Caleb unable to contain his jealously takes Aron to their mother’s brothel, destroying Aron’s belief that his mother is dead. Aron is devasted and joins the army, resulting in his death in France. The ‘genesis’ tale thus plays true in the Trask family, as Caleb indirectly kills his brother.
However, this is not why the story is so important, Adam’s servant Lee, learns Hebrew to understand the true meaning behind the story of Cain and Abel, to understand if humans were born evil or if they had the choice. In the King James translation of the quote, it says “thou shalt rule over him” meaning man makes a promise to triumph over sin. In the American Standard translation, it says “do thou rule over him” which orders man to triumph over sin, whilst the Hebrew edition says “timshell” which means “thou mayest”, this means man has a choice to triumph over sin. Timshell means “thou mayest” but also “thou mayest not”, this makes East of Eden more than a novel about brothers on a farm, but an intake into the human condition and what it truly means to be good or bad. Once Caleb hears this story, he changes his ways, at the beginning he thought he was born evil, because of his mother and for the lack of affection from his father, but instead, he has the choice.
The book doesn’t just give us insight into good or bad but also gives us insight into the human condition “I know that sometimes a lie is used in kindness. I don’t believe it ever works kindly. The quick pain of truth can pass away, but the slow, eating agony of a lie is never lost. That’s a running sore”. Quotes like this help us all think and is a quote I keep on my phone because it is so true. We fear the truth will hurt but ignore that the lie causes more harm. East of Eden is an amazing story, but the deeper underlining of the book makes it even more special, the lessons that are learned are lessons I believe everyone should learn. Reading this book transformed the way I see the world and gave myself a better outlook, it made me aware that we are not just good or evil we are people, we have the choice to be either-or. It is an amazing book and if you haven’t read it, you sure as hell should.