Literature Study GuidesEast Of EdenPart 1 Chapters 7 9 Summary

East of Eden | Study Guide

John Steinbeck

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East of Eden | Part 1, Chapters 7–9 | Summary

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Summary

Part 1, Chapter 7

When Adam Trask finally gets out of the army, he tells Charles he is coming home but becomes a vagrant for another three years, ending up in jail. He escapes from a chain gang, robs a store to get clothes, and wires Charles to ask for money. When Adam finally wanders home, he discovers Cyrus Trask has died and left a fortune to Charles and him. Charles treats Adam hospitably, and the brothers talk, Adam now feeling unafraid of Charles. Charles tells Adam about the scar he got while clearing land. Adam confesses he never loved his father, whereas Charles loved him deeply, despite his lack of favor. Charles informs Adam of their father's preference for Adam and of a long-lasting cause of Charles's jealousy—Cyrus's preference for the puppy, which he took to Washington, over the knife, which remained in his bureau drawer. Also, Charles cannot believe their father acquired his money honestly and reveals the impossibility of Cyrus's war stories.

Adam, however, believes their father was indeed at the battles he claimed to fight and the money gained honestly, but Charles believes Cyrus's life was a total lie. Neither man understands the other's point of view, except that it is in opposition to the level of love each has for Cyrus. This revelation shows Adam that Charles has been fighting for Cyrus's love his whole life and makes Adam feel closer to his brother, knowing how Charles has suffered. Adam also realizes their home has never been a home to come back to and suggests they go to California.

Part 1, Chapter 8

In Chapter 8, young Cathy Ames begins a monstrous spate of crime, the narrator actually describing her as a monster. At the start of her life, she is a pretty, angelic little girl who attracts attention in quiet ways. She knows she is different; others are curious about her, and her difference attracts rather than repels. She discovers early she can manipulate people to do whatever she wants and is an accomplished liar. The manipulations worsen, but Cathy's parents have different perspectives on how much of Cathy's difficulties are her own doing. Cathy's mother is afraid of her as she gets older but insists Cathy's problems result from a so-called sexual assault when Cathy was 10. The problem with this theory is that Cathy actually tied herself up and exposed herself to the boys later accused of—and punished for—doing it to her.

Cathy continues her actions in high school. After James Grew, her young Latin teacher, becomes obsessed with her sexually and ends up killing himself, Cathy decides she will no longer go to school. Her father, who has never laid a hand on Cathy, decides he probably has to beat her to get her to do what he wants, but Cathy doesn't register she is hurt. She pretends to be sufficiently obedient to get the combination to her father's safe from which she steals money, then sets the house on fire, and places chicken blood and some trinkets in the carriage house, making it look as though she was murdered. Her parents die in the fire.

Part 1, Chapter 9

Cathy ends up at the door of the Boston whoremaster, Mr. Edwards, who rapidly falls in love with the young, blond, beautiful "Catherine." Cathy manipulates him into taking care of her by having sex with him and humiliating him, but one night when he gives her champagne, Cathy becomes a vicious, yet calm, attacker both verbally and physically. When Mr. Edwards finds out about the house fire through clippings sent by an agency he hires and realizes Cathy has lied to him about her background to get him to pity her, he takes Cathy into the countryside and beats her until she is nearly dead.

Analysis

The themes of inheritance and rejection intertwine in the reunion of Adam and Charles Trask after their father's death. The feeling of rejection surfaces in Charles's revelation that Cyrus never took with him to Washington the expensive knife he gave him, but the puppy that cost Adam nothing went with their father to his grave. The situational irony is that Adam actually hates his father, while Charles loves Cyrus with the passion of a rejected suitor. Charles tries everything to get his father's love and attention, but Cyrus is an impossibly stubborn man who persists in carrying lies so far they become his truths. To Cyrus, Adam will be the soldier, and Charles will be the farmer to whom he no longer has to pay attention. Additionally, when it comes to Cyrus's war stories and amassed fortune, the brothers' love, or lack of love, for their father is paradoxically linked with an opposing level of faith in his truthfulness.

The reader is also introduced to Cathy Ames and her depraved soul. From an early age, everything Cathy has done has been an effort to orchestrate the actions of men around her to benefit herself and to take perverse pleasure in destroying their spirits. Her claim of being violated signals the beginning of a life supplying violence and sex to men who will pay dearly for it. Her efforts to get her father to trust her show one of her methods of manipulation right away: that of earning trust while slowly, carefully building a way to take everything a person has and kill that person before leaving with the spoils of the crime. By the time the authorities find the bodies in the house fire and the blood and trinkets in the carriage house, Cathy is long gone. There is no battle of good and evil here because Cathy embodies pure evil beneath an attractive yet deceptive surface. She never considers good, nor does it surface to disturb her.

Cathy's next victim knows her as Catherine, a girl who needs to replenish her mother's coffers because her father has died, a version of a story Cathy gives later in the book to manipulate her victims. Cathy never has to turn a trick for Mr. Edwards because she has possessed him sexually, humiliating him into thinking he is insufficient, thereby making him give her more material things. The theme of rejection surfaces here as well because Cathy uses rejection to entice her victims into giving her everything, even if all they have (in the case of her teacher) is their lives. When she is ready to move on, she allows Mr. Edwards to make her drink champagne, whereupon she becomes graphically insulting and attacks him. Cathy is pleased by how her evil frightens people. She learns to fear consequences, however, only when Mr. Edwards figures out her lies and beats her nearly to death.

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