Literature Study GuidesEast Of EdenPart 4 Chapters 48 50 Summary

East of Eden | Study Guide

John Steinbeck

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East of Eden | Part 4, Chapters 48–50 | Summary

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Summary

Part 4, Chapter 48

At the funeral of another Salinas brothel madam, Joe chats with Alf, a town gossip. Over a beer Alf tells him people were a little suspicious that Faye's brothel changed hands so fast after her death, adding that he wouldn't take food or drink from Kate given what he has heard about her. Later Joe untruthfully tells Kate he heard Ethel was seen in town. Kate lies to Joe, saying she wants to apologize to Ethel, and Joe recalls his father's warning him about "soup carriers," those who always want something. Joe recalls what Alf said about not taking anything from Kate and immediately realizes she may have poisoned Faye.

Part 4, Chapter 49

Aron returns for Thanksgiving, and the family, joined by Abra, has dinner together. Adam keeps talking to Aron about college; Aron doesn't want to continue there but knows Adam will force him to. He decides to broach the idea of taking over the ranch, for he feels as though he is suffocating in his father's need for him to go to college and does not know how to free himself.

The dinner is pleasant enough until Cal proudly presents Adam with the $15,000 and reveals how he got it. Adam is silent, and then says Cal must give the money back to the farmers who have been cheated. Deeply shocked, Cal says he can't do that. Adam tells him he has been sending men to war and will not profit because of it. Then he adds Cal should give him a present as Aron is doing: going to college. Furious, jealous, and deeply hurt, Cal goes to his room, where he agonizes over his situation. Then, pretending to be calm, apologizes to his father and takes the money back. He searches for Aron and, in an act of calm revenge, takes him to Kate's brothel. Aron signs up for the army the next morning.

Part 4, Chapter 50

Kate remembers the shock on Aron's face, the ugliness of his words, and her and Cal's laughter. Joe enters the room and says a man asked him if he knew the name Faye. Kate suddenly realizes what Joe is up to, offers him $10,000 to "fix everything," and then turns around quickly to see him licking his lips. When she sends him out, he realizes he has missed his chance to use her. She writes a letter to inform the sheriff to check Joe Valery's fingerprints, and then she thinks of Cal, aware that he and his brother have something she has missed in her life. She thinks of how as a child she pretended to shrink and disappear with Alice in Wonderland. After writing a note indicating all her possessions are to go to Aron, she takes the morphine from her necklace and swallows it, thinking she is becoming smaller and smaller until she is gone. The next day Joe finds her body, steals everything valuable he can find, and is met at the door by Oscar, the police officer, who shoots Joe to prevent his escape.

Analysis

All the lessons Adam learned when he realized his brother had been fighting for their father's love now seem forgotten in one awful sweep. Adam is happy to have everyone together for Thanksgiving, yet he is unrelenting with Aron about college. The narrator uses this simile to describe how Aron feels about the fatherly insistence: "packed like a bird's egg in the cotton of his father's ambition for him." Adam repeats the same oppressive behavior his father inflicted on him, only without the insistence on bloodshed. But Aron's retreat from the horror he experiences seeing his mother leads to the very place his father doesn't want him to be: the army. Adam is no longer in charge of Aron, straining against the suffocating effects of their relationship.

Adam is also replicating the Cain and Abel story, with one brother jealous of the other. Cal doesn't beat Aron or try to kill him, but he does the one thing he knows will completely shatter the celibate and pure-minded Aron—he shows Aron who their mother is. Adam has told Cal he needs to support Aron if Aron finds out about Kate, but Cal is taking his revenge on both Adam and Aron, and promises are unheeded. The theme of rejection is intensified even more by Adam's insensitive suggestion that Cal be more like Aron, a comment that fuels rage and jealousy. Unlike Charles Trask, Cal knows his jealousy, so he has shown emotional growth from the previous generation. Cal even tries to stop it, but Adam, in his final comment, makes it impossible for Cal to fight the urge to hurt both his father and his brother.

Evil doesn't do so well for Kate, who can't face living without the missing piece her two children have and she does not, which is love. Her suicide gives her the opportunity to make up to Aron, by willing him everything she has. Aron will not benefit from this gift, though, because he has put himself in the path of danger as revenge against his father. The theme of inheritance, both financial and emotional, is exemplified by her gift and his revenge.

Yet even if he had not enlisted, his inheritance is questionable, given the theme of inheritance and its ramifications. Aron physically resembles his mother, and Kate is attracted to both his looks and assumed purity. To inherit Kate's money ties him to her legacy of depravity from which Cal, by not inheriting, has escaped. Previous inheritances, on the other hand, have been divided so their questionable provenances fall equally on four shoulders: Adam and Charles, Kate and Adam.

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