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Literature Study GuidesEast Of EdenPart 1 Chapters 4 6 Summary

East of Eden | Study Guide

John Steinbeck

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East of Eden | Part 1, Chapters 4–6 | Summary



Part 1, Chapter 4

Charles disappears after learning Cyrus is after him with a shotgun for injuring Adam. After Adam recovers, he is put into the cavalry. Cyrus is excited for Adam, but Adam is repelled by the violence and tries to miss his targets when he shoots. He spends most of his time volunteering to bring in the wounded and work in the field hospitals, where he earns a confused respect for soldiers who have no desire to help once the bullets fly. While Adam is in the army, Charles writes letters to him, and Adam writes back frequently enough for the brothers to develop a better relationship on paper, at least. Charles opens up about his despair regarding Cyrus's love for Adam, recalling Cyrus and the birthday gift and making Adam nervous. Charles says Adam should have run the farm and he should have been out fighting.

Part 1, Chapter 5

Samuel Hamilton's sons are a mixed bunch. Will Hamilton's future always looks bright, and he makes money at everything he does, finally ending up as a Ford salesman and becoming rich. Tom, the third son, is inventive, bold, and joyful, not to be fenced in by anyone. He is a reader and borrows books from Samuel, who borrows them from their rich neighbors. But just as his joys are huge, so are his sorrows. George Hamilton is another business-oriented man. Joe, the baby of the family, is a rather lazy dreamer whose siblings end up doing his work. He is neither a farmer nor a blacksmith and is sent to college because he shows no aptitude for anything at home. The five girls are Lizzie, negative, bitter, ashamed of her family who marries early and leaves; Una, dark and brooding favorite who marries and leaves only to return dead soon after; Dessie, lively and fun to be around, loved by all; Olive, the narrator's handsome, strong, mother; and Mollie, the blond, violet-eyed beautiful youngest daughter. Samuel is proud of his family and their achievements.

Part 1, Chapter 5

Charles remains on the farm, timid with girls, despite his boasting. He visits Mr. Edwards's traveling prostitutes regularly as they stay at Mr. Hallam's inn for two-week stints. During his third year of living alone at the farm, he is injured in a fit of temper and left with a deep, dark brown scar. Anticipating Adam's return after five years, he has a woman clean the house, which he has neglected for years. When Adam does not return, Charles, now a successful farmer, becomes more surly, has periodic relationships with one or another "slovenly woman," and is alone and lonely.

Meanwhile Cyrus finds Adam after he is discharged and tells his son he can get him into West Point. Adam refuses and, against his father's wishes, re-enlists in his same regiment. He tells his father that Charles ought to be sent out, but Cyrus refuses. Adam realizes that despite Cyrus's high government position, elegant clothes, and prosthetic leg, he is as alone and lonely as Charles.


This section gives the reader a clear picture of Adam Trask: a sensitive man with an aversion to killing and an impulse toward kindness. The deep friendships he develops later in the novel are with people who have a similar personality but, fortunately for Adam, a clearer sense of who other people are and what they are willing to do. Adam is also beginning to get a better idea of who he is and how much he can separate himself from his family. His relationship with his father is put to the test by the offer to go to West Point, an offer that would have suited Charles much better, but which Cyrus would never extend to his younger son. Cyrus is determined to turn Adam into Charles, and vice versa, causing him to be even more emotionally abusive to his sons and causing continual strain for them.

Adam realizes he can't go home; oddly, he feels safer with his regiment. Although Charles has tried to rekindle the good in their relationship in his letters, which does bring them closer for a while, Adam is not about to risk his neck by going home. He has heard it all before from Charles, and when Charles loses a battle against his murderous rage, it is best to be far away. This decision erases any closeness the first five years' worth of letters generated.

The narrator reveals the range of personalities in Samuel Hamilton's family. The difference between the Hamiltons and the Trasks appears in stark relief here, as Samuel is proud of each of his children for what they have to offer the world. Even Tom, who seems destined for spectacular failure in the eyes of anyone else, is a success to Samuel because he has a loving, brave spirit, similar to Samuel's and valuable to every member of the family. Cyrus Trask, on the other hand, cannot accept either son for who he is and creates misery in his attempts to raise them in his own image of them rather than by who they are.

The difference in father-son relationships in the Hamilton and Trask families is also highlighted by Samuel Hamilton's decision—with Liza's stern and well-informed input—to send Joe Hamilton to college because he cannot succeed on the farm. This is shorthand for their deep conviction that he can succeed at something, but they do not know what. All they know is his life will be in the bigger world of educated people in businesses they do not necessarily understand; they remain convinced Joe will find his place, or even invent a place for himself. Joe does, in fact, invent a place for himself, becoming a pioneer in the new industry of advertising.

Cyrus Trask, however, cannot allow such freedom of choice, as he must be the one to choose paths for his sons. Cyrus's sons put their shoulders to the wheel to do what their father wants, and because both are able-bodied and conscientious, they succeed in their own way at what their father has forced them to do. However, in later life, both revert to what they were born to be; Adam becomes a farmer, and Charles continues a never-ending battle with himself.

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