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Literature Study GuidesEast Of EdenPart 3 Chapters 32 33 Summary

East of Eden | Study Guide

John Steinbeck

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East of Eden | Part 3, Chapters 32–33 | Summary



Part 3, Chapter 32

When Dessie's marriage falls apart, so does her ability to spark happiness in everyone who visits her dress shop. Her customers stop coming because what they really want is for Dessie to make them feel happy, and she can no longer do that. When Samuel dies, she is distraught and decides to sell her business. She moves in with Tom, who is living at the family ranch. She and Tom adore each other, and Dessie's arrival eases Tom's loneliness and general sense of sorrow and failure. Dessie ends up talking to Tom about his lack of a wife; when she asks whether he has ever been in love, he says he hasn't, and Tom doesn't want to talk about it. Going to prostitutes does him no good, he says. Dessie sees in him the same greatness Samuel saw and realizes Tom thinks his small flaws are the reason no one seems to want him. She becomes determined to spark him back to life and convince him he is destined for greatness, with his big heart and his enthusiasm for joy.

Part 3, Chapter 33

Dessie suggests they travel the world together, and he agrees to try to formulate a plan to earn the money to do it. They come up with the idea to raise pigs and propose an Acorn Contest for children to gather acorns for feed. When Will Hamilton dismisses their idea as a business disaster, Dessie and Tom both feel demoralized. Dessie begins to complain of severe stomach pains, which she has been having for years but has not mentioned, though her family has worried when seeing her in pain. Tom gives her some salts to help her feel better, but his treatment turns out the opposite of what he should have done. The doctor calls him a fool, and by the time the doctor arrives, Dessie is dead. Devastated, Tom blames himself. After the funeral he writes to his mother, indicating all is well and he is breaking in a new horse. In a second letter to Will, Tom begs him to lie to Liza and say he fell off the horse and was kicked in the head. Tom loads his gun and shoots himself dead.


Tom Hamilton is an explosion of light, joy, and creativity, according to his late father and according to Dessie, but he is unable to see it. The father-son relationship is replicated in the relationship between Tom and Dessie in some ways, because Dessie feels responsible for getting Tom to believe he is worth loving. Tom gives to everyone, but Steinbeck gives the impression Tom believes he is somehow defective. Steinbeck portrays the poetic Tom as a person who fiercely defends the people in his family but can't defend himself or his ideas to anyone. He has creative bursts and then retreats, feeling as though he hasn't changed his circumstances in any way, especially with women.

The loss of Samuel, coupled with Dessie's heartbreak and resulting depression, completely demoralizes Tom. The two people who kept Tom from imploding are either gone, in Samuel's case, or emotionally gone, in Dessie's. The father-son relationship that sustained Tom through difficult times is no longer there, and when Dessie dies, Tom sees no reason to go on, especially because he is convinced he caused her death. Since Dessie never confided in anyone that this stomach ailment was worsening, Tom cannot know her death is not his fault. Steinbeck says, "he was a gallant gentleman," a sad phrase that feels full of loss and regret about how Tom never knew his own worth.

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