Literature / East of Eden

"If you want to give me a present, give me a good life. That's something I can value."
Adam Trask

A 1952 novel by John Steinbeck, East of Eden was brought to the screen in 1955 by director Elia Kazan with a cast headed by James Dean.

The novel concerns two families, the Trasks and the Hamiltons, who live in Salinas Valley, California. The Hamiltons, headed by patriarch Samuel Hamilton and wife Liza, initially settle into the valley with their nine kids. When the kids set out to seek their fortunes, the land is settled by the wealthy Adam Trask. The Trask family grows, adding a wife, Cathy, a Devil in Plain Sight, and sons Cal and Aron. Just after the birth of the two sons, Cathy vanishes from their lives. Years later, the now-grown boys meet a girl named Abra, whose presence drives a wedge between the two.

Not to be confused with Eden of the East nor Far East of Eden aka Tengai Makyou. Not related to the book West of Eden either.

Provides Examples Of:

  • Adam and/or Eve: The two brothers are named Cal and Aron and their father is named Adam. The brothers' uncle is Charles, and Adam's wife is named Cathy.
  • Adaptation Distillation: Director Elia Kazan decided to completely cut out the first two thirds of the book and just make the movie about the final third, which focuses on Adam's two sons as teenagers.
  • Alice Allusion: Alice in Wonderland was Cathy's favorite book as a child. She kills herself by taking poison, imagining the "Drink Me" bottle shrinking her into oblivion.
  • Ambiguously Gay: In the book, Abra seems to suspect that Aron is gay, and his disinterest in Abra does develop along with his intense admiration of the pastor, Mr. Rolf.
  • Arc Words: Timshel.
  • Asian Speekee Engrish: Thoroughly subverted and deconstructed with Lee's entire character.
  • Bitch in Sheep's Clothing: Cathy until she inherits Faye's brothel and no longer has to hide her real personality.
  • Cain and Abel: Charles and Adam, Cal and Aron.
  • Calling the Old Man Out: Abra does this to Adam after he had a stroke for his treatment of Cal.
  • Childhood Marriage Promise: Aron and Abra make one. It doesn't work out.
  • The Clan: two for the price of one!
  • Devil in Plain Sight: Cathy in her early years.
  • Direct Line to the Author/Autobiographical Role: John Steinbeck himself as a young boy shows up in the novel as a minor character, or at least a young boy named John Steinbeck who is the grandson of Samuel Hamilton, son of Ernest and Olive (nee Hamilton) Steinbeck (names of author's actual grandfather and parents), does. Steinbeck is implied to have heard about and/or seen the events in the novel as he was growing up and simply wrote about them as an adult. The Hamiltons are indeed loosely based on author Steinbeck's own relatives but their lives are supposedly rather heavily fictionaluzed.
  • For the Evulz: Apparently why Charles sleeps with Cathy on her and Adam's wedding night (even though he had been suspicious about her and warned Adam). When she tells Charles she gave Adam her painkiller-spiked tea accidentally-on-purpose, he merely laughs and says "That poor bastard."
  • Funny Foreigner: Lee pretends to be one of these.
  • Generation Xerox
  • Go Mad from the Revelation: Aron. In the movie, he smashes his head through the window of the train, laughing maniacally at Adam as it pulls away.
  • Hooker with a Heart of Gold: Played straight with Faye (and others, to a lesser extent), but subverted with Cathy, who pretends to be one.
  • Meaningful Name: Naming the boys Caleb and Aaron was after the Bible characters. In a counterpoint to the Cain and Abel sequence, it was Caleb and not Aaron who lived to reach the Promised Land, but because Caleb was one who hadn't sinned.
  • Not Listening to Me, Are You?: As Sam reads Adam and Cathy a story, he throws in some nonsense lines. They fail to listen to them.
  • Obfuscating Stupidity: Lee, the Pidgin speaking Chinese cook, is actually the smartest character in the whole story.
  • Parental Favoritism: Cyrus prefers Adam over Charles - even though Charles loved his father while Adam did not. Adam prefers Aron.
  • Roman Clef: the Hamilton sections are based heavily on Steinbeck's maternal family history.
  • Self-Made Orphan: Cathy, in one of the most chilling scenes in the book.
  • Sensitive Guy and Manly Man: Adam and Charles (who are actually described as having a relatonship more similar to that of a sister and a brother), Aron and Cal.
  • Shout-Out: The title is taken from The Book of Genesis: "And Cain went out from the presence of the Lord, and took up residence in the Land of Nod, east of Eden."
  • Sibling Triangle: Cathy marries Adam, but sleeps with his brother Charles. Later, Aron's girlfriend Abra transfers her affections to Cal.
  • Sliding Scale of Idealism vs. Cynicism: Members of the Hamilton clan. Sam is a Wide-Eyed Idealist, while Liza is a cynic. Of their children, Tom is another Wide-Eyed Idealist with "ideas coming out of his ears," even more so than his father, while Will is a cynic who "never had any ideas" and thus "the only one in the family who made any money." Others fall somewhere between Tom and Will. John loves his Uncle Tom but he doesn't seem to like Uncle Will much.
    • The Cal and Aron mirror Will and Tom to an extent. Will and Cal work well together, being both practical and business-minded. Both Aron and Tom wind up as Doomed Moral Victor of sorts.
  • The Sociopath: Cathy. She's a consummate liar and a master manipulator, she's completely self-centered and has no empathy or shame. The narrator claims that she was simply born this way; some children are born without arms, while Cathy was born without a conscience.
  • Son of a Whore: Cal and Aron.
  • Surprisingly Good English: Lee.
  • Theme Initials
  • Twice Told Tale: The tale of Cain and Abel. Repeatedly.
  • The Unfavorite: Charles and Cal.
  • "Well Done, Son!" Guy: Cyrus to Charles, and later, Adam to Cal.

Alternative Title(s): East Of Eden