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East of Eden | Study Guide

John Steinbeck

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East of Eden | Discussion Questions 11 - 20


In Chapter 10 of East of Eden, how does the author use dialogue to show Adam Trask and Charles Trask both love and infuriate each other?

The dialogue between Adam and Charles Trask shows how they back away from arguments. Adam keeps saying to Charles he doesn't want to have a fight, although at times he can't stop himself from criticizing little things about Charles. Charles tells Adam he misses him terribly when he is gone and nearly calls him a nasty name but draws back and says it's not true. It is clear, however, that they can't live and farm together because Adam wants to go to California, while Charles is determined to stay in Connecticut and expand the farm. Adam picks at Charles's innocuous habits, like using coal to start a fire instead of lighting a match. Charles tells Adam he has to get up early to farm, and gets angry with him for talking about California and doing nothing about it. Adam tells Charles he's becoming old and cranky and will stay lonely; Charles is irritated by Adam, but not violent, because love for Adam has taken over. Charles tells Adam to leave, but it is clear he is doing it because he knows Adam doesn't want to be there, and it's better for Adam to leave and be happy than stay and be miserable. Although Adam does leave several times, he keeps returning. While he is gone, he writes letters inviting Charles to join him. The conversations show the delicate balance between aggravation and love that connects the brothers.

In Chapter 11 of East of Eden, what clues indicate how Cathy intends to use Adam Trask?

Cathy's private thoughts, connected with the overheard dialogue between Adam and the sheriff, indicate Cathy has found "the clue to her method." The sheriff insists Adam find a pencil and paper with which to question Cathy. Adam's attempt to keep her from having to talk tells Cathy that Adam has fallen hard for her and wants to keep people from questioning her. Adam asks how Cathy could be expected to remember anything since her skull is cracked, so Cathy pretends she has amnesia and doesn't know her name. She writes "Help" in one of the answers she scribbles to the sheriff and makes Adam even more protective of her. She also notices Charles is surly with Adam, so she knows Charles may be dangerous for her; if she wants to be taken care of until she is well, she realizes she needs to be careful around Charles. She makes her face look "tragic" as she is answering and, when she can speak, tells Adam she is alone and scared, making him pity her and feel responsible for her well-being. When Charles tells her he doesn't trust her and he overheard her talking in her sleep, she knows she is in some trouble and will have to win him over, but Adam is the key to her successful campaign to get out of trouble. Even before Adam asks, she knows she will marry him to be protected. She also knows if she admits to Adam she has her memory but tells him the nature of her attack is secret, he will respect her silence. She feels "a kinship to Charles," who sees what kind of person she is right away and warns Adam about her. She smiles at Charles when he compares her future scar to his and acknowledges they are alike. By sleeping with Charles before Adam takes her to California, she ensures his silence. Her careful and accurate observations, combined with her patient plotting, serve her purposes once again as she uses and manipulates others.

In Chapter 13 of East of Eden, how does Samuel Hamilton's feeling about the land foreshadow the evil Cathy brings to the Salinas Valley?

Samuel Hamilton talks about a "blackness on this valley" that is in the people, but it is "secret as hidden sorrow," meaning he cannot put his finger on why he feels this way. He sees a time when people will live happily in the valley, but the subtext of his spoken thoughts is that right now the valley is in danger of becoming an extremely unhappy place. It has already begun to feel that way to Samuel, and Steinbeck's placement of Adam's "shiver" right after this thought, along with the sentence about Cathy's having a baby, tells the reader Cathy and the baby may become part of the sadness. The reader senses Cathy's thoroughly malign presence there will cause sorrow as it brings nothing but sorrow everywhere she goes.

Why does Steinbeck use an entire chapter of East of Eden to describe Olive Hamilton, the narrator's mother?

Steinbeck uses Chapter 14 to describe Olive Hamilton because he has much to say about his mother. Furthermore, Olive is such an obvious mix of her father and her mother, and examining the values and character traits they have passed on to Olive helps readers understand four of the novel's characters: the narrator (John Steinbeck), Olive, Liza Hamilton, and Samuel Hamilton. Olive's personality is part of the theme of inheritance—her emotional inheritance from her parents. Steinbeck says she has her mother's determination and courage, along with the facial expressions that tell her children not to go against her wishes. However, she also has her father's love of learning, which is why she becomes a schoolteacher, going past eighth grade to attend secondary school, an uncommon accomplishment in that area during her time. The social life of the entire area is her realm and responsibility to report on, similar to Samuel's knowledge of everyone's stories in the valley. Steinbeck also shows how the Hamiltons' financial status has affected Samuel and Liza's daughters, all of them rejecting the life of a ranch wife and moving to the city. Olive in particular is terrified of owing money to anyone. Olive pushes through every challenge she encounters, right down to quietly suffering through a plane ride complete with aerial tricks. Her mother, who performed miracles with almost no money in raising all of her children, passed on her stoic nature to Olive.

In Chapter 15 of East of Eden, how does Steinbeck use his friend Edward Ricketts's concept of seeing "what is" in the conversation between Samuel Hamilton and Lee?

Lee speaks broken English to Samuel Hamilton on their ride to Adam Trask's ranch, but Samuel doesn't believe Lee cannot speak English fluently. Samuel had to learn English after speaking Gaelic, and Lee was born, raised, and educated in the United States, so there is no reason, according to Samuel, Lee cannot speak standard English. Lee tells Samuel he is correct and begins to speak English fluently, but Samuel doesn't even notice the change. He takes Lee as he is, no matter what language he is speaking. Lee explains he has to speak "pidgin" English because otherwise English speakers don't understand him, or simply don't listen. He fulfills what is expected. Lee says Samuel is a rare person. Like Ed Ricketts, Samuel sees "what is" rather than a preconception of what "should be." Steinbeck thus uses Samuel's powers of observation to exemplify this concept of seeing what is really there rather than what one wants or expects. This type of vision and related behavior allows Samuel and Lee to develop a father-son relationship and friendship.

In Chapter 15 of East of Eden, how does the symbol of water relate to Samuel Hamilton's feelings about Cathy?

Water represents not only prosperity for farm owners but also the feeling Samuel gets when using a water wand to search for water. Samuel feels "strange and strained" just before the wand moves down to let him know he has found water; the feeling is an intuition, just as his feelings about Cathy are intuitive. He sees Adam's happiness when he looks at Cathy, but Cathy's face is dead, with no expression in her eyes and no movement from her mouth, except to eat in a way that unnerves Samuel. When he comments on her silence, saying "sometimes a silence tells the most," she startles a bit, enough to make him think something is strange and eerie about her. Samuel's tenseness around Cathy when she flinches at his words is the same tense feeling he gets when he is about to find water, and her distant, cold face and attitude unnerve him. The sensation is similar to the sensation he feels when finding water, but its cause is opposite: a strong negative rather than a positive.

In Chapter 16 of East of Eden, what does Welshrats refer to, and how does Samuel Hamilton connect his last experience with it to meeting Cathy?

Welshrats is an anglicized version of the German Weltschmerz, a cosmic sadness that spreads through a person for no apparent reason. Samuel Hamilton tries to explain to himself why he has this feeling about Cathy when he meets her and finally remembers a day when he saw eyes like hers. As a boy, Samuel saw a man about to be hanged for terrible acts his father refused to describe; the condemned man's eyes were like Cathy's, inhuman and lacking depth. Samuel knows this man was "a bad man," and that he feels this way around Cathy makes him feel guilty. He decides to help Adam Trask as much as possible on his land to make things better and to atone for these thoughts, but the thoughts don't go away with that resolution. He accurately picks up on Cathy's depravity, and despite this resolution, his strong intuition tells him Adam is destined for misery with Cathy.

In Chapter 17 of East of Eden, how do Cathy's actions and emotions reveal the feelings Samuel and Lee have after the twins' birth?

Steinbeck uses Cathy's tone and dialogue to reveal her coldness. Her refusal to look at her babies has deeply affected Samuel, and the entire birth experience has similarly affected Lee. Samuel notices that the tone of Cathy's voice reveals "no sickness, no weariness, no softness" in it, so her refusal to look at the infants is not because she is exhausted from giving birth. The look of hatred on her face earlier is now a look of indifference and lack of connection, and at the same time her scar is getting darker; all of these changes make Samuel feel as though something dark has come over the house. Samuel inadvertently says, "I don't like you," before he can stop himself, and Cathy displays no reaction at all. Lee helps Samuel with the bite on his hand that Cathy inflicted, and inadvertently says, "I never went willingly to a slaughter house," as his reason for wanting to leave Adam and Cathy. Lee and Samuel are both saddened and afraid. These images of violence, blood, and slaughter reinforce their emotions.

In Chapter 17 of East of Eden, how does Cathy's shooting Adam reflect both her nature and Lee's?

As always, Cathy is a careful planner and has waited out her pregnancy. Unable to wait longer, and having no maternal instinct, she is ready to execute her plan to leave. At the beginning, it seems straightforward. Cathy tells Lee to go to King City to get a bottle to nurse the babies, but she also tells him to take a day off, meaning he won't return to the ranch until Monday. His absence leaves Adam and the babies alone. Cathy expects to be able to walk away, but Adam, desperate not to lose her, locks her in the bedroom. Not a person to be blocked in a plan when there is an immediate way out, she moves on to more drastic action. Cathy gets the gun from the drawer, convinces Adam she is sorry about wanting to leave, gets him to open the locked door, and shoots him. This is Cathy's character. When Cathy tells Lee to take the day off, she thinks Adam will be alone with the infants. However, Lee, equally perceptive but with no malice in him, only kindness and affection for his employer, sees "dark lines appear between her eyes" when he says he might come back late, and he knows right away Adam and the babies are in danger, and he knows not to stay away too long. He is as good as she is evil.

In Chapter 19 of East of Eden, how is the description of Faye and her brothel a clue that Cathy will take advantage of her?

The narrator describes Faye as not very bright, nice, and easily shocked. Her brothel tends to be a place where men go because it seems more like a real home than a house of ill repute. The girls she picks are not typical because they look and behave more like ordinary girls rather than prostitutes, and the atmosphere is one in which lying and cheating don't happen. The girls don't swear or say unkind things about each other, and they all mirror Faye's kind of gentility. Faye takes good care of her employees and their medical needs as well. Cathy's method of inserting herself into a situation and using it to her advantage seems perfect for this place because she quickly becomes everyone's best friend; has regular customers, who are attracted to her innocent good looks; and works hard to keep the house looking neat and operating well. Steinbeck has said Cathy is the perfect criminal because she has patience and never tells anyone her plans. Cathy uses these qualities and her good-girl-with-a-secret ruse to get close to the trusting and kind-hearted Faye, who has no idea what lurks in Cathy, and eventually take over via inheritance. Cathy's victims are exactly like Faye. Someone more intelligent or perceptive than she or someone equal in malice frightens her. Faye is her ideal target.

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