HomeLiterature Study GuidesEast Of EdenPart 4 Chapters 4547 Summary

East of Eden | Study Guide

John Steinbeck

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East of Eden | Part 4, Chapters 45–47 | Summary

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Summary

Part 4, Chapter 45

Joe Valery, an ex-con, is trying to devise a way to cheat Kate out of more money, but he fears her. Kate has been relying more on Joe to run the brothel and do dirty jobs for her. Kate, however, has information about Joe's escape from a prison road gang after serving only four of five years for robbery. She knows his real name and keeps the information for future use. When she asks him to find Ethel and bring her back to Salinas, Joe sees a way to get money. As he notices Kate becoming unnerved and losing control, he realizes Ethel might have something on Kate. He tries to get Kate to give him $500 to get Ethel, but Kate gently reminds him of his real name, to keep him honest. That stops Joe from doing anything stupid, for now.

When Joe goes to Santa Cruz looking for Ethel, he learns her body has been found on the beach. In talking with Hal, the pool hall owner, he discovers Ethel kept questionable company. Hal thinks she was dumped overboard, too lazy to kill herself. At home Kate is fantasizing about getting to know her sons and living in New York, far away from the scandals. But when Joe returns and tells her Ethel has disappeared, Kate gets panicky again.

Part 4, Chapter 46

Steinbeck, as the narrator, then relates the story of how he and his sister tormented a German neighbor because of the war with Germany. In describing the effects of war, he says people do things they would never do otherwise, like claw at each other over a can of tomatoes. War brings nothing but sorrow, in which the people of Salinas reveled by buying war bonds and feeling important because of their losses.

Part 4, Chapter 47

Adam Trask serves on the draft board, feeling guilty about sending young men to war and worrying he will have to send his own sons. His conversation with Henry Stanton about resigning over having to send his sons because he couldn't reject them disturbs Henry. Henry likes Cal, says he's smart, and asks about Aron, too, who Adam says is smarter than Cal because he's going to college. Henry reminds Adam that neither of them went to college, and the military gave them good experience nonetheless. Adam begins to brag all over town about Aron's early exam results and how smart he is. When Adam asks Lee about timshel again, Lee says it means a man can become great if he wants to.

Aron decides he doesn't want to continue college because he is homesick. He has created an "immaculate" picture of Abra that doesn't resemble her; his sexual denial, always in his letters to her, has made her into an ideal that in reality she is not. He has decided he and Abra will live on the ranch, but he hasn't asked Abra what she wants.

Analysis

The talks between Adam and Cal now seem to have done little because Adam has already decided who Aron is without really talking with him. Lee, however, has had the most revealing conversations with Aron and knows more about how he feels and what he wants. Aron himself has taken on the family tradition of assuming, rather than asking, in his ignorance of what Abra wants and who she is. The lack of a close father-son relationship has thus led to the continuation in his son of a trait Adam disapproves of in himself but can't change on his own.

It is worth noting that Adam begins to brag about one son and ignore compliments about the other just as he is being asked to send young men to war. Adam's war experiences still bother him; he is not someone who tolerates killing. To be doing a job that sends people's sons to do what his father sent him to do might affect his ability to check himself on his communication with and about his sons. Adam is replicating the arrogance Cyrus assumed as his duty to lead him toward what Cyrus, not Adam, wanted. The father-son relationship that was so strained and unhappy for Adam has some of the same unhealthy qualities as the relationship he is fostering with Aron and Cal. Although Adam wants to know about timshel again, regarding his position on the draft board, he is not making the choice to be his best.

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