Literature Study GuidesEast Of EdenPart 2 Chapters 12 14 Summary

East of Eden | Study Guide

John Steinbeck

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East of Eden | Part 2, Chapters 12–14 | Summary



Part 2, Chapter 12

The narrator summarizes 19th-century history, land acquisitions the United States made at the expense of the people who lived there already, and the excesses of wealth that pushed the poor down even further.

Part 2, Chapter 13

Cathy releases in Adam the glory that is the freedom of thought, but he is actually shackled to his idea of her. He takes her to California even though she doesn't want to go because he believes "his Cathy" wants to be there, believing her protestations as reflecting silliness or fear of the unknown. On the day they leave, Charles gets drunk and impotent when he visits a prostitute. When Cathy discovers she is pregnant, all Adam knows is she is sick. When she gets sicker, he calls Dr. Tilson, who discovers Cathy has tried unsuccessfully to abort her pregnancy with a knitting needle. Cathy gives the doctor a sob story about epilepsy in her family after he threatens to expose her. Even though his anger dissipates, Cathy does not want to spend time in jail and treats the rest of the pregnancy as an illness to endure.

Adam decides to buy a piece of land but wants to know if there is water on it first, so he is introduced by Louis Lippo to Samuel Hamilton, who has a talent for finding water on everyone's land but his own. Adam and Samuel get along well, but Samuel shows he is also a perceptive man by sensing the evil that lurks in the valley. Adam, shivering at this thought, nevertheless buys the Sanchez property.

Part 2, Chapter 14

The narrator then describes Olive Hamilton, his mother, a beautiful, intelligent woman with many men fighting for her hand. She becomes a teacher and eventually accepts the proposal of Ernest Steinbeck, a man who has opened a flour mill and can give her the bigger world of the city. The narrator describes Olive as a woman with a "terrible eye" that could get him to do anything, including get up after months of being sick to learn to walk, despite the pain. Olive is also courageous and passionate, selling war bonds to avenge the death of Martin Hopps, a shy boy killed in World War I. Her prize is an unwanted airplane ride; through a verbal misunderstanding, the pilot does stunts in the air with her in the plane. She is sick with fear but rallies and impresses everyone around her.


The battle between good and evil is evident in this section in the triumph of evil over Adam Trask and his land and the good he finds in Samuel Hamilton, who becomes a lifelong friend. Adam discovers the men around Samuel are all good people who respect Samuel and his family. However, Adam is chained to Cathy and his idea of her, the beautiful wife carrying their first child. Adam can't tell the difference between good and evil, or if he can he blinds himself to evil intentionally because it feels comfortable.

Cathy's abortion attempt makes her ill, but she is able to take her illness in stride and keep going until her pregnancy is over because she is a patient criminal. Since she has the thinking murderer's ability to wait silently, trust no one, and seize on the perfect moment, she fools everyone. If she had been successful with the abortion, she would have left Adam soon after, but now she waits, her evil nature festering and growing. Steinbeck uses the description of Cathy to further enhance her demonic image, with her tiny pointed teeth and pointed tongue that make her look like an animal waiting to pounce on its prey.

Samuel Hamilton's perception of a darkness on the valley foreshadows the events of the next few chapters, where the evil in the valley not only will visit the Trask house but will find a new home for others who gravitate toward depraved behavior, including some of the most upstanding citizens in the Salinas Valley. Not surprisingly, Cathy will hold the keys to this new establishment.

Steinbeck's description of his mother is loving and amusing, showing Samuel Hamilton's sense of humor and love of strong women has passed down to the next generation. Olive Hamilton has the stern courage of her mother, Liza, but the ability to have fun while persisting in even the most unpleasant of tasks comes directly from Samuel. She blows past impossibilities and rages at them when she cannot obliterate them. Her personality and the effects she has on her children and community are perfect examples of what happens when one fully submits to one's emotional inheritance.

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