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East of Eden | Study Guide

John Steinbeck

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East of Eden | Discussion Questions 41 - 50


How does Abra's secret in East of Eden affect Aron Trask and his relationship with his father?

Abra tells Aron she has heard his mother is not dead, a revelation that throws into question Aron's perception of both Lee and his father. Aron is hit hard by this information because if it is true, it means his father has lied to him and Lee has perpetuated the lie. Aron thus feels lost and unsure of everything his father has told him. In addition, knowing his mother is alive makes Aron think about why his father would lie to him about her and why he doesn't see her. Aron feels rejected by his father and Lee as well as by his mother, as is evident in his "silent cry and wordless longing" when other mothers come to school events for their children, and he doesn't know where to turn. He can't believe Abra is lying because he loves her too much, and the only way he can convince himself to continue trusting his father is to believe that Abra heard a rumor, which can't be true. Abra isn't lying, according to Aron, because she is telling him only what she has heard. Despite reassuring himself, though, Aron is still hesitant around his father after hearing this secret.

In Chapter 37 of East of Eden, in what ways does Adam Trask behave as if he were one of Samuel Hamilton's sons?

Taking his cues from Samuel Hamilton's energy and ideas, Adam decides he wants to do something interesting with his money and his time. The refrigeration idea is not outlandish and, in fact, is based on sound reasoning. But it takes more preparation and thought than Adam actually has devoted to the project, which is behavior similar to Tom Hamilton's daring attempts to enact his wild ideas. Samuel Hamilton is the inspiration behind Adam's taking the big risk with his project, and he even asks Will Hamilton for advice. Using his sound business sense, which Samuel lacks, Will thinks Adam will fail and provides reasons for his opinion, but Adam doesn't listen. This reaction is also typical of other Hamilton brothers and sisters when Will gives advice. When Adam fails, he is disappointed but not crushed emotionally, a reaction that is a hallmark of the Hamilton spirit of adventure, and he decides to keep the ice company he has bought and rethink his idea for a future attempt. This time, water, in the form of ice, doesn't represent prosperity, but Adam is still determined to give it another try. Samuel Hamilton has passed down to Adam his desire to invent and solve problems, regardless of how many times he might fail in the process.

In Chapter 38 of East of Eden, how do Cal's thoughts and actions reflect the theme of rejection?

The narrator describes how Cal grows up rebuffed for the same things that Aron is accepted for because Aron's innocent looks make him believable and attract others to him. Adam doesn't notice Cal much and pays more attention to Aron, making Cal feel rejected, although Adam is most likely unaware of his behavior. Cal thinks the only way to get affection from Adam is to sneak up and sit at his feet without Adam noticing. This puppylike action echoes the situation between Adam and Charles, as Cyrus doted on the puppy Adam gave him. The theme of rejection is evident in the way Cal is perceived. Perhaps because of Adam's rejection, he is more of a loner than his brother. His peers accept him and his authority, but he has no close friends, and his personality often makes others uncomfortable and suspicious. Eventually Cal's discontent leads him to wandering at night, unable to sleep, and he begins to think about where his mother might be. The revelation that his mother is a prostitute with a disreputable brothel and Lee's description of how different Adam is from Cathy increases Cal's perceived rejection by his father. His belief that he is carrying Cathy's evil inside him fuels this perception as his powerful love for his father.

In Chapter 38 of East of Eden, how does Lee use the concept of timshel to tell Cal that he cannot use Cathy to excuse his behavior?

Lee does not specifically mention timshel when he tells Cal he has both Cathy and Adam in him. Cal tells Lee he hates Cathy because he knows why she left and acknowledges he has the same personality in him, an inheritance from Cathy. Although Cal doesn't want to be like his mother, he believes it is his destiny. As a father figure trying to guide his son onto the right path, Lee argues it is Cal's own choice to act as his conscience dictates. Lee says, "It's too easy to excuse yourself because of your ancestry," and calls such excuses the "lazy way." Cal doesn't believe what he hears, but as a stern and righteous father figure in the early 20th century, Lee cautions Cal by saying if he decides not to believe it, Lee will "break every bone" in his body. Lee is protective of Cal in his insistence that Cal become a responsible human being who makes his own choices. If the word itself is not present, the concept of choosing good over evil is.

How does Cal's newly established connection with his father lead him to trail Cathy (Kate) and eventually meet her in Chapter 39 of East of Eden?

After Cal is caught at a gambling establishment and Adam confesses he has failed both Aron and Cal as a father, Cal slips up and says he doesn't hate anyone, not even his mother. In revealing he knows about his mother, Cal and Adam have to talk about how to keep the secret from Aron, who would be devastated if he learned about her. Cal also realizes Cathy could easily try to hurt Adam again if she wanted to. Cal's new intimacy with his father, both of them speaking about being in jail and about mistakes they have made, inspires Cal to want to be even more protective of Adam. Therefore, he follows Cathy ( Kate) to know his "enemy." Cal also decides he needs to see her to know if he is like her and protect his father from having to live with that likeness.

In Chapter 40 of East of Eden, what chain of events is set off by Cal's accusation that Cathy (Kate) is afraid, and how does her fear develop?

Cathy (Kate) keeps thinking about Cal's accusation that she is afraid, and she realizes he sees through her in the same way Charles Trask and Samuel Hamilton did, which is why she hated and, not acknowledging the fact to others, feared them. She knows the sensation of fear, having felt it and overcome it, but now she is much older and in poor physical condition. When Ethel arrives and threatens to blackmail her, Cathy (Kate) begins to worry seriously. After giving Ethel money and Ethel's subsequent disappearance, Cathy realizes she doesn't know where Ethel is, and Ethel has more reason to accuse her of foul play with Faye. With a loss of control, Cathy is in danger of being caught for her crimes. It is unlikely Ethel can really do anything, but Cathy worries that the mere act of having buried the medicine bottles is highly suspicious. As a result, Cathy becomes so fearful she stops going outside. The outward change in behavior leads ultimately to Cathy's death.

In Chapter 41 of East of Eden, how does the kinship between Will Hamilton and Cal reflect the theme of rejection?

Cal approaches Will about a business opportunity to make back the money Adam lost in his lettuce venture. Cal learns that Will advised his father not to ship the lettuce because of all the things that could go wrong, and when Will finds out Cal wants to get Adam back his inheritance money, he asks Cal if he is fond of his father. Cal says he is, and the dialogue sets off a chain of thought in Will's mind about how his brothers and sisters have special talents that go beyond Will's careful, reasonable business acumen. He thinks his siblings despise him for being the one who can handle money, make it, and keep it. Although he has tried all his life to use this talent to help his family, he nonetheless feels they are "ashamed of him" and demean the talent for making money, so unlike Samuel's ability. When Will talks with Cal, he sees the same determination to get recognition in his family and fight the rejection he feels. When he questions Cal and Cal admits fully to trying to buy his father's love, Will agrees to help him because Cal's feeling is so close to what he has felt in his own family.

In Chapter 44 of East of Eden, how is Abra's description of the way Aron thinks of her similar to the way Adam Trask thought of Cathy?

Abra tells Lee that Aron has created in his mind a pure, completely perfect, totally good person and put Abra's skin on that person. She tells Lee that Aron doesn't like her as a person because he doesn't actually know her, and she is not perfect. She wants to be liked for herself, both good and bad, rather than for the unrealistic image Aron is projecting on her. Aron's vision of Abra's character is similar to the character Adam ascribed to Cathy without knowing or caring to know who she was. He was fooled by her innocent looks and ability to deceive. Aron has inherited Adam's naive way of falling in love. Adam was so blindly in love with his creation of Cathy rather than with Cathy herself, that when Cathy said she was leaving, Adam refused to believe her. In his mind she was to perfect to do such a thing to him. Aron is in his own head with his thoughts about the ideal woman, and this is the person to whom he writes letters, not to the real Abra.

In East of Eden how is Joe Valery's assessment of Cathy (Kate) as a "soup carrier" accurate, and how does he use this information?

In Chapter 48 Joe Valery remembers his father's warning to beware of the "soup carrier," a woman who is always carrying soup to people, because that woman wants something and may have put something in the soup to ensure she gets what she wants. Joe begins to think Cathy (Kate) poisoned Faye because Alf Nichelson tells him he wouldn't eat anything Cathy (Kate) gave him. Joe is wary of Cathy's (Kate's) ability to harm people, including him, but thinks she has smarter ways of doing away with people. However, the rumors point to Cathy (Kate) as a poisoner. Joe tries to use this knowledge to blackmail her, but he is unsuccessful; he is no match for her.

In Chapter 51 of East of Eden, how does Cal's response to Adam's question and the eventual blessing he requires reflect the Cain and Abel motif?

Cal knows Aron has run off because he showed Aron Cathy's brothel. However, despite his feelings of guilt, Cal is still full of rage. When Aron has been gone for two days, Adam asks Cal twice where Aron is. Cal's response "Am I supposed to look after him?" echoes Cain's "Am I my brother's keeper?" In addition, when it is revealed that Aron has enlisted in the army and died in battle, Cal feels responsible for Aron's death and does, in fact, feel as though he is his brother's keeper and has done a poor job of protecting him. Cal knows he failed his father as well by not protecting Aron when Aron found out about Cathy. Adam had said Aron would not be able to handle the information and would need Cal's help, which Cal promised to provide, but Cal left Aron to suffer and laughed at him instead. The blessing Cal needs from his father, which Lee requests because Cal is "marked by guilt," is similar to the mark of Cain and the blessing God gives Cain to protect him. On his deathbed Adam, barely able to speak, gives Cal this blessing, the blessing of timshel from the Hebrew version of the Cain and Abel story, that Cal can do better if he chooses.

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