Rating: 4 out of 5
Here in California, you’re pretty much obligated to respect John Steinbeck. King of Salinas, most high school students take a trip to visit his museum in the city (a trip I highly recommend, by the way). Many of those students have also been spending their summer vacations reading his hefty novel East of Eden, and now that school’s back in session, they’ll be gearing up for plenty of essays and assignments on the tale.
Published in 1952, East of Eden follows two families: the Trasks and the Hamiltons. While I won’t divulge into the multiple generations of these intricate family trees, I will give some summary on the major characters. Brothers Charles and Adam Trask are the novel’s first versions of the biblical Cain and Abel.
Adam marries the devious Cathy Ames, and they become the parents of Caleb and Aron, which if their names are any indicator, also are Cain and Abel incarnate. Growing up believing their mother to be dead, they’re shocked to learn that she’s actually a prostitute who goes by the name “Kate.” The novel’s ending deals with the aftermath of the boys’ emotional trauma and their attempts to mend their relationships with their father.
Depending on your version, East of Eden easily clocks in at 500-600 pages, which is why teachers make it required reading during the summer. My teacher also instructed us to research a list of biblical allusions, given that Steinbeck includes tons of them in the novel, such the mark of Cain, the prodigal son, and my brother’s keeper.
Steinbeck has been quoted saying that he believes East of Eden is his best work, and although I have only read one other novel of his, Of Mice and Men, I would have to agree. His descriptions of the Salinas Valley are unbeatable, and his characters have rich arcs of development. Yes, it’s a long read, but it’s worth the challenge.
After you finish reading the novel, you can treat yourself to the 1955 film adaption, directed by Elia Kazan and starring James Dean as “Cal” (Caleb). It’s an excellent movie, which won at the Academy Awards, Golden Globes, and Cannes Film Festival. And did I mention that James Dean is in it?
So whether you’ve read East of Eden, watched the movie, or have an opinion on Steinbeck in general, be sure to share your thoughts in the comment section! Swooning over James Dean also perfectly acceptable!
Favorite Quote: “And this I believe: that the free, exploring mind of the individual human is the most valuable thing in the world. And this I would fight for: the freedom of the mind to take any direction it wishes, undirected. And this I must fight against: any idea, religion, or government which limits or destroys the individual. This is what I am and what I am about.”