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Literature Study GuidesEast Of EdenPart 4 Chapters 54 55 Summary

East of Eden | Study Guide

John Steinbeck

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East of Eden | Part 4, Chapters 54–55 | Summary



Part 4, Chapter 54

Lee is taking care of Adam through his illness, and Adam's health seems to be improving. Lee has studied up on cerebral hemorrhage and is more knowledgeable than the doctor. He keeps Adam calm by talking with him all day. Abra and Cal head out to get azaleas on a school day. Cal tells Abra he showed Kate's place to Aron, causing Aron to fly into a rage and enlist in the army. Cal feels he is responsible for Aron's choice as well as for Kate's suicide and Adam's illness. Abra tells Cal her father has taken money from his company and may be punished for it. Abra makes the first move to hold Cal's hand, and Cal puts his head on Abra's shoulder. Lee is at home doing chores when a telegram arrives with the news that Aron has been killed. Lee talks himself through telling Adam and prepares a glass of bromide to dull the shock.

Part 4, Chapter 55

When Cal gets home later, he finds out about Aron and his father's resulting stroke. The doctors explain that Adam is helpless and may not live, but it is possible he might survive. When he sees his father, Cal believes Adam is staring at him and accusing him of killing Aron, but it is just brain pressure making Adam's eyes look so intense.

Lee sends Cal to find Abra, and Cal tells Abra he killed his brother and caused his father's stroke. However, this revelation and his mother's identity do not stop Abra from loving him. She makes him go back home to his father, going with him, and Abra and Lee make Cal face Adam. Lee implores Adam to forgive Cal and give him his blessing. Adam uses almost all of his strength to raise and lower an arm and forces out one word: "Timshel."


The romance between Cal and Abra progresses, and the description of Cal's shyness with Abra shows how carefully he is trying not to hurt Abra's feelings again. He is still ashamed of the way he treated her years ago. Cal's triumph over his evil impulses occurs partially because Aron is not there to raise his jealousy, but part of it also is attributable to Abra's good nature and honesty.

However, Aron's death and Adam's stroke crush Cal's self image, and he goes back to blaming himself. The theme of father-son relationships is explored in this intense confrontation between Adam and Cal and the motif of timshel in the blessing Adam gives Cal. Adam wants Cal to know that the only actions he is responsible for are the ones he chooses himself. Aron chose to go into the military and knew the risks. And Adam had been having little brain bleeds before the stroke, so he was vulnerable to what has happened. The strain of the bad news might have caused the stroke, but the bad news is not anything Cal caused or should be punished for. Adam wants Cal to know greatness is his because he is choosing it by being there for Adam and coming to him with Abra and Lee. Steinbeck ends the novel with the most powerful concept in the novel, a motif that unites all the themes—timshel.

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