“But I have a love for that glittering instrument, the human soul. It is a lovely and unique thing in the universe. It is always attacked and never destroyed – because ‘Thou mayest’”
How do I get over a book that deeply moved me?
I had been putting off East of Eden because, firstly, the size of it intimidated me and secondly, I wasn’t so sure if I would enjoy a book about family drama. I picked it up simply for the reason that it looked like a good book to curl up with on a rainy day; the kind of book that would give me a little comfort and escape from my world.
Needless to say, I was captured. East of Eden captivated me with its multi generational stories, giving us characters who are uniquely different and distinguishable. Its homage to the tale of Cain and Abel was thoughtful and very complex as we were given insights into the duality of brotherly relationships; a lot was focused on love, identity, and longing.
“Maybe it’s true that we are all descended from the restless, the nervous, the criminals, the arguers and brawlers, but also the brave and independent and generous.”
Cal’s character broke my heart deeply. His longing to be loved, to be good, were conflicted with his desire to protect his brother; reading of his struggle really shed light on the Cain and Abel story. It was a moment when I stepped back and thought that perhaps this was less to do with mere jealousy or pride and more about wanting to be loved and appreciated. That’s one thing I took away from East of Eden.
Steinbeck takes the relationship of brothers and draws us the two different ways it could have ended, drawing comparison between Charles and Adam, and Cal and Aron.
The dynamics of the relationships between characters was fleshed out. It was like I was sharing the lives of these individuals. No secondary character was left to seem like a cardboard copy. They each had a back-story and a motive. The description of the Salinas Valley was luscious and came bounding off the pages.
East of Eden is a powerfully moving tale that portrayed the conflicted, raw, and cruel side of people. It shows that no one can be completely good or completely bad. I personally thought that East of Eden laid bare desires that we think are too silly or embarrassing to admit and shows how this affects a person’s mindset. In a way, it made me forgive myself a little bit.
I loved Lee so much. He’s a darling! I loved the balance he provided to the Trask family, and even to Abra. His friendship with Adam and Samuel warmed my heart and I enjoyed their many arguments. I was a bit conflicted with Cathy. Her characterization reminded me too much of the story of Lillith, Adam’s first wife. I had so much hope for Cal and I’m glad that he was given the chance to grow and redeem himself.
“And now that you don’t have to be perfect, you can be good.”
Honestly, it’s deceiving to give this book such an innocent cover when its story is dark, maddening, and yet so full of hope.
First published in September 1952
An early review: “There will be many who may be affronted by its brutality or who will find Steinbeck’s philosophy of life too strong for them. But many of the classical works of fiction, from ‘Don Quixote’ to Fielding’s ‘Tom Jones,’ aren’t coherent or artistically graceful. But no one can doubt its merits as the work of a great storyteller. It compels and holds the reader’s fascinated attention from the first chapter to the last”
– The Washington Post (qtd here)