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Literature Study GuidesEast Of EdenPart 2 Chapters 15 17 Summary

East of Eden | Study Guide

John Steinbeck

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East of Eden | Part 2, Chapters 15–17 | Summary



Part 2, Chapter 15

The construction of an Eden begins, with Adam Trask's hiring Samuel Hamilton to search for places to dig wells on his property so he can start a "garden," his own farm. Adam also has hired Lee as a cook and housekeeper. When Lee goes to bring Samuel to the Trask property, Samuel asks on the ride about his broken English and says he doesn't believe Lee can't speak fluent English. Samuel is correct, and he and Lee have a conversation about how others expect certain sounds and behaviors from Chinese people, so it seems easiest to give them what they want.

As Adam and Samuel walk around the property, Adam tells Samuel about his angelic wife, and Samuel, not yet having met Cathy, tells him he has a gift. Adam confides that before Cathy, his life was "a gray life." Adam finds himself talking to Samuel about things he has never shared with anyone, and they become close friends quickly. Samuel stays for dinner and in meeting Cathy becomes uncomfortable almost immediately. Samuel notices her eyes communicate nothing, and he senses something terribly wrong about her but he can't place it. As Adam describes how beautiful the place will be, Cathy shows no reaction.

Part 2, Chapter 16

Samuel decides to get home as fast as he can, and when he mentions his feeling to Lee, Lee asks if he needs a cook. Meanwhile Cathy gives Adam a chance to get out of their situation relatively unscathed by telling him she will leave when the baby is born. He doesn't believe her.

Part 2, Chapter 17

Samuel and his sons Tom and Joe begin digging on the Trask property and think they have found a meteorite. Suddenly Lee arrives in a panic, asking Samuel to come to the house to help deliver Cathy's baby. Adam is a mess, and Lee doesn't want to help because he sees this birth as a "deadly combat" that terrifies him. Samuel attends to Cathy, who bites his arm badly, making him very ill. He muddles through, delivering twins; when he offers to bring them to Cathy, she refuses and tells him to take them away. Samuel tells Lee he feels "wings over this house. I feel a dreadfulness coming." He asks Lee to get Liza, so she can assess the situation. Liza sends Samuel to the hospital, where he nearly loses his life, and she tends to the babies and Cathy. When Liza goes home, Cathy takes only another week to recover before she shows up at her bedroom door dressed and packed to go. Adam tries to lock her in the bedroom to keep her from leaving, but she fools him into opening the door. Cathy shoots Adam in the shoulder, steps over him, and leaves.


Steinbeck uses this opportunity to explain the status of Chinese immigrants at the turn of the 20th century as they to try to succeed in the United States. Lee, who is not an immigrant and in fact college educated, becomes a servant and discovers it is actually a much better job than anticipated because he knows what he has to do, he is secure, and he is taken care of. He has money, he has his books, and he is happy. The only thing casting a shadow on his life right now is Cathy, whose evil presence unsettles the usually positive-minded Lee. Although he never states his premonitions directly, his request to work for Samuel is a code for wanting to get away from Cathy. It is also the start of a very close friendship between the two men, based on their love of literature and learning. Steinbeck reveals much of Lee's personality through the dialogue between Lee and Samuel.

Steinbeck uses figurative language to describe the chills Samuel gets when he looks at Cathy: "a goose flying over your grave." The longer he stays at the Trask house near Cathy, the more he feels ill at ease, so he packs up early and leaves. Cathy's mouth and expressionless eyes paint her as an evil character hiding behind a blank look.

The father-son relationship appears in this section as Samuel's assessing what is wrong at the Trask home. He is supposed to tell Adam that his love for Cathy is exaggerated, but he does not and instead tells Adam to seize the glory. However, the feeling he gets around Cathy challenges his fatherly acceptance of Adam's choice. The hidden evil is lurking, but Samuel isn't quite ready to inform Adam directly. Telling Lee instead is the best he can do to protect Adam.

The birth scene is like an explosion of evil. Seeing Cathy at war with her baby, Lee is unwilling to go near her, though he has attended births before. When Cathy bites Samuel, her mouth and teeth, described as signs of evil, do severe damage, as human bites can. In fact it nearly kills Samuel, but not before he delivers her twins whom she refuses to see. Steinbeck brings in the character of Liza, whose sensible efficiency not only saves Samuel's life but gives the babies a chance, because neither Cathy nor Adam is taking care of them. In assigning Lee the job instead, Liza's choice reveals Lee's parental instincts. The father-son relationship begins for these twins and Lee soon after their birth. In addition, similar to the unease Cathy felt around Charles, who shares some of her evil spirit, she is wary of Lee, for she thinks, correctly, he can see her for what she really is.

Adam's worst nightmare comes true—Cathy does leave; he thinks he can stop her, but no one can stop Cathy. She tells him he is a fool and she can do anything to him, this statement being the principle of evil and manipulation she uses with every man she encounters. She easily shoots him, though she doesn't care to kill him.

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