Literature Study GuidesEast Of EdenPart 2 Chapters 21 22 Summary

East of Eden | Study Guide

John Steinbeck

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East of Eden | Part 2, Chapters 21–22 | Summary



Part 2, Chapter 21

The prostitutes who work at the brothel have learned Kate will inherit the business; with her inheritance in place and taking more control over daily operations, Kate puts her plan into high gear and starts poisoning Faye slowly. She rewards the prostitutes for good behavior and treats Faye with kindness and concern, even making plans for the future. Ostensibly to save money on food, Kate suggests growing a vegetable garden and makes the idea seem to come from Alex, the cook. She continues to care for the weakening Faye, finally giving herself and Faye food poisoning from the garden green beans to make Faye weak enough to kill and to provide a cover for herself. In Faye's weakened condition, Kate kills her with medicines she has stolen from Faye's doctor. She buries the evidence and is wild with grief when informed of Faye's death. No one suspects murder.

Part 2, Chapter 22

Samuel wants to visit the Trask place to check on Adam, who, according to information from Lee, has not yet named his children. Adam is deeply depressed, doing nothing at all, while Lee handles everything. Liza tells Samuel he isn't strong enough to do what is necessary to snap Adam out of his gloom, but Samuel disagrees. Samuel finds Adam in his usual, almost catatonic state, and yells at him, finally punching him twice, a jolt that shocks Adam into waking up and realizing he has to care for his children, starting by giving them names. In discussing names Samuel brings up the story of Cain and Abel, but Samuel, Lee, and Adam decide Cain and Abel aren't good choices for names despite their being boys and the first children of Adam. When the name Caleb is mentioned, one infant begins to cry, so Adam names him Caleb. Adam rejects the name Joshua because Joshua was a warrior and chooses Aron instead, as the second infant cries when he hears the word.


In Cathy, Steinbeck has created a character so evil she poisons herself to cover part of her murderous plan. None of the other prostitutes suspect her because of the shared illness and because she is so distraught by Faye's death that she remains morose for a long time and "forgets" about the will. But this is how Cathy, now Kate, works to get what she wants, and her calculating behavior emphasizes the depth of the depravity that constitutes her nature. In fact, some critics point to her characterization as a flaw in the novel, for her continual and unchanging rottenness is difficult to believe.

The theme of inheritance is exemplified by the will Faye leaves, signed shortly before her death. This isn't the first time a character in literature has killed a parent to speed up an inheritance. This time, though, the plan takes so long it doesn't look like murder to anyone, not even the police. Readers, however, observe workings of the plan, especially evident in Kate's body language. Steinbeck uses her facial expressions and movements to show she is play-acting to enact her plan. Kate's disposition of the medicine bottles, however, is not as thorough as it should have been to keep her from getting caught. This tiny clue will come back to haunt her.

Devastated by Cathy's betrayal, Adam acts as if the babies aren't really there, but Lee steps in and not for the last time. Steinbeck puts both Lee and Samuel in the position of fathering Adam, and Lee becomes the father figure for the boys. Adam's need for a true father figure who knows him well is fulfilled in Samuel and Lee. The names they choose begin with the same letters as Cain and Abel, ensuring this motif will carry through the rest of the novel. Interestingly, as Samuel, Lee, and Adam discuss names for the boys, Adam recalls being disturbed by the story of Cain and Abel and angry with God for favoring Abel. In this example of situational irony, Adam, as the favored son, does not see himself as such and will later perpetuate a similar father-son relationship as he favors Aron.

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