East of Eden | Study Guide

John Steinbeck

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East of Eden | Discussion Questions 31 - 40


In Chapter 25 of East of Eden, how does Cathy's (Kate's) interaction with Eva, a prostitute in the brothel, show how Cathy keeps employees who will perform sadistic acts?

Cathy (Kate) gives Eva, a prostitute, an envelope of powder to inject through a syringe and promises to give her the rest after Adam leaves. The girl is jittery before she takes it and calm and wet-eyed afterward, willing to do anything. This interaction reveals that Cathy (Kate) is running her brothel by using drugs to keep her prostitutes dependent on her. In this manner, as their dealer, she can make them do what she wants them to do, including perform in a circus and perform sadistic acts on customers, as well as have photos taken of them doing so. The women who enter Cathy's (Kate's) brothel start off looking young and attractive but end up devastated and scarred, physically and mentally, by drug use. Drug addiction is the reader's first view of the reason Cathy's (Kate's) establishment is considered the most debauched, evil brothel in Salinas.

When Adam finally leaves the brothel in Chapter 25 of East of Eden, how does Cathy's (Kate's) sense of desolation show a different side of her character?

Cathy (Kate) is desolate when Adam leaves because the one person she thought she could easily manipulate is no longer reachable emotionally. She tries being cruel, she tries showing him pictures of clients, she tries seducing him, she confesses she slept with Charles, and she says the twins are likely Charles's children. None of these revelations make Adam want to stay with her, and nothing makes him love her again. He tells her she is missing the part of people that makes them decent, and she can see only evil, although she knows there is something else in them she can't reach. She is desolate because she knows she is missing whatever it is that makes Adam able to walk away and stay in his new life with the boys rather than become involved with her again. She hates having lost her hold on the person she thought was easiest to hold on to. She also shows hatred toward Adam, which is a new emotion for her; before she had simply tolerated him to get what she wanted before leaving him. Hatred is a strong feeling, and she is furious with herself for having any kind of strong feeling especially toward Adam, because until now she has had no strong feelings about anyone, a state of nonemotion that allowed her to commit heinous crimes and never think twice about them.

In Chapter 26 of East of Eden, what aspect of Lee's life does Adam Trask finally understand, and how does he come to understand it?

When Adam Trask talks with Lee about having gone to see Cathy and feeling free of her now he has seen her, Lee then asks for his own freedom to do what he wants. Lee says it is too late for him to have a wife and children, and Adam realizes for the first time Lee may have wanted something for himself that being Adam's housekeeper and surrogate parent to his children has not given him. When Lee talks about opening a bookstore, he mentions discussions with customers as a way to alleviate his loneliness, and this is how he wants to live the rest of his life. Adam asks Lee to first help him reacquaint with the boys before he leaves, and Lee replies that this is the "worst bait of all to a lonely man," to be needed. Adam finally realizes how lonely Lee has been, treated as a servant rather than a full family member and unable to make his own choices.

In Chapter 27 of East of Eden, how is Cal's treatment of Aron similar to Charles's treatment of Adam, and how is it different?

Because of their jealousy, both Charles and Cal inflict cruelty on their brothers. Cal finds weaknesses in Aron and uses them to hurt Aron's feelings and manipulate him. Although Cal gets a certain satisfaction from tormenting his brother, he subsequently feels deep remorse about such actions and vows to stop behaving as he does. Because Aron speaks up about being hurt, Cal pulls back and softens. Because Aron is physically strong, Cal does not try to harm him by beating him. Charles, too, picks on Adam's weakness by harming him whenever he feels jealous of something Adam has done to get their father's attention or approval. However, Charles's physical attacks seem to be spontaneous reactions, whereas Cal's emotional attacks are calculated. Cal is closer to Aron than Charles is to Adam and more open about his love for his brother. Charles is portrayed as less conflicted, less complicated, and, although he too loves his brother, he and Adam cannot get along together.

How does the arrival of the Bacon family at the Trasks' ranch affect Adam in East of Eden?

Mr. and Mrs. Bacon ask Adam personal questions and annoy Adam so much that despite his kind nature, he ceases to pay attention to their interference in what is not their business. When they ask Adam about the boys' education, Adam begins to daydream about how he and Charles were educated by their father, Cyrus, who had them carry packs to develop their shoulders. Adam suffered greatly under the weight, while Charles was able to carry it all without trouble. Even though Charles would gleefully revel in Adam's suffering, when Adam pictures Charles's face, he wants to see him. Because Adam is thinking the Bacons have stayed too long and have been too intrusive, he figures mentioning he needs to write to his brother after 10 years might prompt them to leave. The ruse works, and the Bacons leave. Yet even the memory of Charles's hot temper makes Adam want to bring the boys to see him and go home to the farm, for Adam does love his brother, and the ruse serves a dual purpose.

In Chapter 30 of East of Eden, how does Aron tell Cal he knows about Cal's "sneaky tricks," and how does Cal feel when Aron reveals his knowledge?

When Cal and Aron sneak off to sit in the new car, and Cal says he's going to listen in on their father and Lee talking about the letter Adam received, Aron threatens to tell their father. Cal then says he will tell their father about the knife Aron stole—though Aron has not stolen the knife—and Aron understands the implications of his brother's counter threat. Cal feels powerful, and when he feels powerful, he feels protective and loving toward Aron. When Aron asks him why he does these things, Cal is taken aback, and even more surprised when Aron says he knows about Cal's trick to make Abra not take the rabbit. Although at first he is pleased with himself about besting Aron, Cal soon feels uncomfortable about his manipulative behavior. When Aron says he doesn't want to know how, but why, Cal did it and why Cal wants to hurt him, Cal feels as though something "pierced his heart." He begins to feel "mean and dirty," and regrets what he's been doing to Aron. Cal wants to feel loved by Aron, not hated, and he realizes he is not helping himself by hurting Aron. He feels lost without Aron's love.

In Chapter 31 of East of Eden, how does Adam Trask fulfill Lee's expectation about what Adam will do about Cathy and the inheritance?

Adam Trask, from his sense of right and wrong, weighs the possibilities of not giving Cathy her part of the inheritance. Lee dismisses Adam's considerations and says he knows Adam will act in accordance with his own honesty and the law, which would mean giving Cathy a great deal of money. Of course Adam deeply disapproves of what Cathy does and how she would use the money. However, despite Adam's saying he would challenge Cathy for the money, and despite the opportunity he has to avoid giving it to her, Lee is convinced he will give her the inheritance. Lee is correct. Adam is too honest and upright, even though he fears the money may be used for purposes he despises. When Adam does confront Cathy to give her the money, he realizes her perception that he is tricking her shows her depravity, as she cannot see the good in anyone, particularly in a person so obviously good. Lee's prediction is correct and in addition reinforces his feelings about Adam's relationship with Cathy.

In Chapter 32 of East of Eden, why does Will Hamilton want to control what Dessie does with her business and her residence, and why does she reject him?

Will wants to control what Dessie does because he is a successful businessman and does not want Dessie to lose her shop. But he is unaware that it has been failing and of the problems in her marriage. He also worries that Tom is doing strange things at the ranch and has not recovered from their father's death. Will considers writing poetry the strange thing, but Dessie tells him she too writes poetry and informs Will she will make her own decisions. Dessie intends to sell the business and move in with Tom because both are lonely and will be less so if they live together. Tom and Dessie are the closest siblings who best understand each other. In addition, Will and the other brothers and sisters are worried Dessie may be ill, but she has been hiding the extent and frequency of her pain. Dessie's decision to move back home with Tom is based on her wanting to regain what she has lost in her marriage. She wants to feel cared for and wants the emotional security Tom can give her. Will has good intentions and wants to protect his sister, but Dessie is not about to relinquish independence and be guided when she doesn't want to be.

Why does Tom Hamilton conduct a conversation with his dead father before he commits suicide in East of Eden?

Tom is struggling to fight the urge to kill himself because he knows such action will deeply hurt his mother, who considers suicide a mortal sin. In his life Tom has asked for his father's advice on nearly everything because his father understood him. After Tom considers his faults and the sins he believes he has committed, all of which prevent him from leading a satisfying life, he consults his father. Tom needs to know how to leave the world without devastating his mother, and Samuel's voice tells him to look in the table drawer and use his head. Tom finds stationery in the drawer and writes a letter to his mother telling her he bought a horse that throws its riders and writes a second letter to Will, asking him not to reveal Tom's suicide to Liza and tell her instead that Tom was thrown from the new horse. Samuel has told Tom to have patience, but the advice does not do Tom much good, for he has never had his father's patience, and his action is not something of which Samuel would approve. Tom cannot wait. Before firing the gun, he asks Samuel if it is all right, but Steinbeck does not provide Samuel's answer. Tom, as usual, does what his intense emotions tell him to do.

In Chapter 35 of East of Eden, what does Lee discover about himself when he leaves the Trask family, and what does he do about his situation?

Lee leaves the Trasks to start a bookstore in San Francisco, a dream he has had for many years and for which he has saved his money. He believes this venture will alleviate the loneliness he has felt for years, not being able to have a wife and children and not being a true part of the Trask family. However, as Aron correctly bets, Lee comes back six days later and the first thing he says to Adam is to soak the burnt food off a pan. It is clear to Lee that Adam is not functioning well without him, and it is equally clear to Lee he can't live anywhere else but with the Trasks. He discovers he is far lonelier alone than he perceived himself to be with the Trask family. Referring to the ranch as "home," Lee is "incomparably, incredibly, overwhelmingly glad" to be there. Lee discovers that without Adam, who he now realizes is a true friend and not merely an employer, he is completely alone. Lee and Adam have been with each other for so long that it makes no sense for them to be apart. They both have seen Samuel Hamilton as their father figure, and this connection makes them brothers of the closest kind, the kind of brothers who share with each other to be of help rather than to do harm.

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