Wednesday, June 21, 2017

East Of Eden by John Steinbeck

East Of Eden is a moral fable played out as the American Dream.  It is set in the Salinas Valley of California in the late 1800's to around the time of World War I.  It follows the life of the Trask family.  Adam Trask came to California after growing up in the Northeast.  He was the son of a famous military man who favored his other son, Charles, over Adam.  The boys grew up in a state of rivalry that they never managed to get over.  When Adam married Cathy, a woman who showed up on their doorstep, he had to leave when Charles would not accept her.

Adam and Cathy moved to California where Adam, a rich man, bought a large farm.  Cathy had never loved Adam as she had never loved anyone.  She used him to escape a situation.  The couple had twins and as soon as she was able, she left Adam and moved out.  Cathy became a whore and later the madam of the most infamous brothel in town.  Adam was crushed, more or less ignoring his sons, Aaron and Caleb.  The family's servant, Lee, basically raised and loved the boys.

Aaron and Caleb played out the same sibling rivalry as Adam, never learning from his own upbringing, played obvious favorites.  Aaron was blonde and everyone loved him for his sunny disposition and good behaviour.  Caleb was brunette, full of contradictions and a more complex child whose let his bad side emerge sometimes.  The boys loved each other yet Caleb would sometimes hurt Aaron just because he could.  The story ends with a major confrontation that had far-reaching consequences.

This is considered one of Steinbeck's master works.  The retelling of the old Cain and Abel story from the Bible relocated to America touches the American reader as it was intended to.  The story is full of Steinbeck's identification with the working class and his belief that man must make his own moral choices in life.  Cathy is one of the most memorable villains in literature.  The reader must make their own choice of who will have their sympathy, Caleb or Aaron.  This book is recommended for literary fiction readers.

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