East Of Eden by John SteinbeckEast Of Eden by John Steinbeck

East Of Eden

byJohn Steinbeck

Paperback | June 18, 2003

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A masterpiece of Biblical scope, and the magnum opus of one of America’s most enduring authors, in a deluxe Centennial edition

In his journal, Nobel Prize winner John Steinbeck called East of Eden "the first book," and indeed it has the primordial power and simplicity of myth. Set in the rich farmland of California's Salinas Valley, this sprawling and often brutal novel follows the intertwined destinies of two families—the Trasks and the Hamiltons—whose generations helplessly reenact the fall of Adam and Eve and the poisonous rivalry of Cain and Abel.
The masterpiece of Steinbeck’s later years, East of Eden is a work in which Steinbeck created his most mesmerizing characters and explored his most enduring themes: the mystery of identity, the inexplicability of love, and the murderous consequences of love's absence. Adapted for the 1955 film directed by Elia Kazan introducing James Dean, and read by thousands as the book that brought Oprah’s Book Club back, East of Eden has remained vitally present in American culture for over half a century. This Centennial edition, specially designed to commemorate one hundred years of Steinbeck, features french flaps and deckle-edged pages.

For more than sixty-five years, Penguin has been the leading publisher of classic literature in the English-speaking world. With more than 1,500 titles, Penguin Classics represents a global bookshelf of the best works throughout history and across genres and disciplines. Readers trust the series to provide authoritative texts enhanced by introductions and notes by distinguished scholars and contemporary authors, as well as up-to-date translations by award-winning translato
John Steinbeck, born in Salinas, California, in 1902, grew up in a fertile agricultural valley, about twenty-five miles from the Pacific Coast. Both the valley and the coast would serve as settings for some of his best fiction. In 1919 he went to Stanford University, where he intermittently enrolled in literature and writing courses u...
Title:East Of EdenFormat:PaperbackDimensions:608 pages, 8.3 × 5.5 × 1.5 inPublished:June 18, 2003Publisher:Penguin Publishing GroupLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0142004235

ISBN - 13:9780142004234

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Oprah's Book Club 2.0


Rated 4 out of 5 by from Long but worth it! I was intimidated by the length of this book when I first purchased it. However, it's definitely worth dedicated your time to it.
Date published: 2017-12-12
Rated 3 out of 5 by from OK Novel is very well written and ensures a connection between reader and character. Interesting read, but I found it quite lengthy and slow.
Date published: 2017-11-25
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Long, but worth it. Another beauty by Steinbeck. This book is long, but it draws you in. Well worth the read.
Date published: 2017-11-22
Rated 5 out of 5 by from My Favourite Steinbeck This is my favourite book by Steinbeck. Really long but worth it. It is slow getting into it but it is well worth it. Very interesting characters. Check out the film East of Eden with James Dean after you are done reading the book.
Date published: 2017-11-06
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Incredible An incredible tour-de-force
Date published: 2017-11-02
Rated 5 out of 5 by from on the best books list this is a must read for everyone. the trick is to get through the first 1-2 chapters where he describes the Salinas valley in such detail that it's like watching paint dry. after that, i couldn't put it down... but it took me about a year to get there lol.
Date published: 2017-10-08
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Not for me I was so looking forward to reading this book, especially since I loved Of Mice and Men. I don't know why, but I just found this to be so slow! I couldn't get into it at all, and it took me forever to read.
Date published: 2017-09-28
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Top 10 One of my top 10 books of all time.
Date published: 2017-09-14
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Classic A brilliant demonstration of literary skill -- epic in scope, yet emotionally intimate. A must read.
Date published: 2017-08-20
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent Intriguing story with captivating characters
Date published: 2017-08-18
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Can't recommend it enough. Exciting, beautiful, captivating. Not at all what you expect it to be. It's an observation on classic nature v nurture, good v evil, but told in a way unparalleled by any other book I've read. Literally found myself wishing it was double the length just so it didn't have to end.
Date published: 2017-08-03
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent East of Eden is truly an American epic. It's well worth the read and the characters are all fleshed out and interesting.
Date published: 2017-07-08
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Beautiful Beautifully written and i love the tie in to the familiar biblical story of Cain and Abel. John Steinbeck certainly puts an interesting spin on it and this is a worthwhile read for sure.
Date published: 2017-05-19
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Epic Epic tragedy of the lives of two families. Couldn't put it down
Date published: 2017-05-14
Rated 5 out of 5 by from I loved it! Epic! Amazing book and definitely one of my favorites! This was the first Steinbeck novel I read and I'm definitely looking forward to reading more of his works.
Date published: 2017-04-24
Rated 5 out of 5 by from One of my favorite books! Amazing book and definitely one of my favorites! This was the first Steinbeck novel I read and I'm definitely looking forward to reading more of his works.
Date published: 2017-04-24
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Awesome! I loved reading this book. It's really well written kept me interested the entire way through. I highly highly recommend. Steinbeck is amazing!
Date published: 2017-04-23
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Epic! Steinbeck at his best! If you are a fan thisi a must!
Date published: 2017-03-24
Rated 5 out of 5 by from my favourite book This is my favourite book, definitely a classic that I believe everyone should read. This edition is absolutely beautiful too. I love it.
Date published: 2017-02-07
Rated 5 out of 5 by from One of my most favorites This book will always be one of the best I have ever read. It is a bit tough to get through if you aren't used to the type of vocabulary used in this book, but stick with it - trust me. This book is worth the harder read and it will reward you in the end. Passages are beautiful.
Date published: 2017-02-01
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Enlightening This book brings to life its characters and brings so much depth to biblical morality. It's one of my favourites, a must read. #plumreviews
Date published: 2017-01-31
Rated 5 out of 5 by from You will be a better person for reading this All you need to know about this book is "timshel" -- thou mayest.
Date published: 2017-01-26
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Nice Beautiful story of well crafted characters - as can be expected from Steinbeck. Excellently written and pulls you through the tale!
Date published: 2017-01-21
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Can't wait to read this! I started this book and I am loving it! So moving and I cannot wait to finish it!
Date published: 2017-01-11
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Powerful. This is an incredibly emotionally involving book. I found myself going through the pages of this family saga as though I were reading a detective story. The characters are so well-realized and their story is so gripping. This is a truly wonderful read.
Date published: 2017-01-03
Rated 5 out of 5 by from East of eden It stands the test of time. What a great book.
Date published: 2016-12-13
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great read #plumreview American classic as biblical allegory. Truly great.
Date published: 2016-12-12
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Wish I could read it again for the first time The first chapter or so isn't very enticing. Steinbeck sets the scene with intricate details of the scenery of Salinas. This foundation becomes valuable later as the themes develop, but the book quickly becomes far more exciting and remains so until its end. I found this book to be a complete surprise. Such a unique, deep contemplation of such common themes. East of Eden is the kind of book that gives you the feeling of having gained insight into yourself.
Date published: 2016-12-09
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Must Read You can never go wrong with a Steinbeck novel. An absolute must-read at least once in your life.
Date published: 2016-11-23
Rated 5 out of 5 by from One of my favourite books ever! In life we meet so many people with different personalities and perspectives, but we don't often get to objectively observe how they have come to be such a way or have a certain view of life. "East of Eden" offers a way to do just that through a fictional narrative that features an unparalleled set of diverse and complex characters. Although some are ugly and evil, and others are beautiful and near sublime, all are human. Our families and social interactions shape us whether we like it or not, and some people overcome what they are given for different reasons, and for better or for worse. I encourage everyone to read this book as it will open your eyes to how various people absorb and interact with the world about them, fictional or not.
Date published: 2016-11-19
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Stop looking and buy this book! You are still looking, go and buy it! This powerful story feels more like a myth than a novel. The religious imagery is intense in this inspired classic.
Date published: 2016-11-15
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A must read! I can't say enough good things about this story, it's everything I look for in a book. Despite having being written in the 50's, Steinbeck's wisdom and ability to create fully rounded characters (like Samuel Hamilton, for example) are unsurpassed. Just read it and find out for yourself. It's worth ever minute.
Date published: 2015-04-18
Rated 5 out of 5 by from An excellent read John Steinbeck remains one of my favourite authors. This book is such a wise journey, wrapping up lessons of a generation while keeping pace with a thrilling tale of love and loss. It's as timeless as the bible. I will read it again and again.
Date published: 2014-08-24
Rated 3 out of 5 by from It was good 3.5 stars Adam and Charles are brothers who grew up in Connecticut, and are quite opposite. Under his father's pressure, Adam joins the army, but hates it. When he returns after wandering for a time, he marries, and leaves for California. Charles hates Cathy, Adam's new wife. There is something a little "off" about her. The remainder of the book focuses on Adam's life on a farm in California, including raising his twin sons, Cal and Aron, and his relationships with his neighbour, Sam Hamilton, and his employee, Lee, who helps run the household. It was good. I found some parts more interesting than others, especially those parts that focused on Cathy. I thought the characters were very well done.
Date published: 2012-02-28
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Exceptional This story takes place at the turn of century (1900) in Salinas, a mostly fertile valley in northern California. The story covers 2 families, the Hamiltons and the Trasks, and their trials and tribulations as farming neighbours. While one is a large, happy family, the other is infected with pure evil. Filled with murder, betrayal, and cover-ups and told through unforgettable characters, makes this story truly exceptional. East of Eden will take you into the darkest corners of the human mind and at the same time show our capacity for great love and unselfishness. Steinbeck’s talent as an outstanding story teller shines through in this unforgettable saga. Thoroughly enjoyable and highly recommended.
Date published: 2012-02-18
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Great The novel East of Eden is about the sides of good and evil in society, and the novels explores a great deal of themes such as depravity and love, to name a few. What is also quite interesting is that the novels has a great deal of parallels with the Book of Genesis, specifically Cain and Abel. It is certainly the magnus opus of John Steinbeck.
Date published: 2012-01-25
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Gripping Read You can never go wrong with Steinbeck and this is one of his best works. It is gripping from beginning to end and impossible to put down, and a book that everyone should read at some point in their life.
Date published: 2012-01-08
Rated 2 out of 5 by from The Philosophy of the East of Eden John Steinbeck’s East of Eden talks about who people really are inside- the good, the evil and all those in-between. In fact it was clear that one could not say for sure certain people were purely evil or good but there was a certain understanding why someone was someway. John Steinbeck took you into the heart and soul of each character so you could understand why people are the way they are. East of Eden is really a story about life-even if it doesn’t directly apply, the events in the book do not specifically happen to you, you can relate to each character because they are symbols of different people in our society. But the part the grabbed me the most was perhaps the most important part in the book. At the end of the book when Lee asks Adam to forgive his son Cal by saying his name before he dies of his stroke Adam speaks only one word: “Timshel!” and dies. Timshel is the Hebrew word for “Thou mayest.” It was discussed earlier about the translations of the fourth chapter of Genesis. The King James version has “thou shalt”, which was apromise that Cain would conquer sin. But the American standard bible had that part listed as “Do thou” which was an order. But it was discovered that it was “Thou mayest rule over sin,” which suggests choice because you may but you may not. At the end Leee asks Adam to forgive his son so his son does not have to carry the guilt of Aron’s death but all Adam says is ‘Timshel” which suggests to me that Adam is giving his son Cal a choice whenever or not he will forgive himself for it. This is a good book if you want to go deep into the philosophy of life.
Date published: 2010-12-05
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Great! A very touching story. This book could easily be considered a timeless classic.
Date published: 2010-11-02
Rated 5 out of 5 by from One of the Best Books of All Time Why? Because there is next to no ego in the last book John Steinbeck ever wrote. You finish "East of Eden" and you remember the characters not the writer. You remember Lee, who is so selfless and good and wise; you remember the two sets of brothers, Adam and Charles, and Cal and Aron; and with a series of spinal shudders you find you cannot forget Cathy (or Catherine) who has to go down as one of the most sinister - and interesting - characters in all fiction. No tricks, no overly clever plot-twists or wordplays, this is just a straight-ahead, old-fashioned, fascinating story about the greatest biblical theme of them all: people's struggle with good and evil. But that's not all. It's so much more than that. [Ok, nerdy confession time:] I drew up a list of all the great themes "East of Eden" covers but have since scrapped it because Steinbeck does precisely that in the book's appropriately humble epigraph, delivered as a simple letter to a dear friend: "Dear Pat, You came upon me carving some kind of little figure out of wood and you said, 'Why don't you make something for me?' I asked you what you wanted, and you said, 'A box.' 'What for?' 'To put things in.' 'What things?' 'Whatever you have,' you said. Well, here's your box. Nearly everything I have is in it, and it is not full. Pain and excitement are in it, and feeling good or bad and evil thoughts and good thoughts - the pleasure of design and some despair and the indescribable joy of creation. And on top of these are all the gratitude and love I have for you. And still the box is not full. John" What more need be said? -Probably Because I Have To
Date published: 2010-05-08
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Engaging and addictive novel This is one of the best books I have read. I love the classics, but with few exceptions, am not usually crazy about the American classics. This book was really fantastic, written superbly makes you feel like you are a part of the story. I am glad I gave Steinbeck a chance. Highly recommended.
Date published: 2009-05-26
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Amazing One of my favorite novels of all time. I enjoyed it much more than Grapes of Wrath, though that is not to say that it is better. The biggest difference in my eyes is that Grapes of Wrath starts slow and builds and builds in pedantic but wonderful prose, towards an unforgettable ending. East of Eden seems to do the opposite. The first half of the novel is full of wonderful stories that set the tone for the second half which is a bit slower and less exciting. Either way Steinbeck is a master of prose, and this is worth reading for anyone.
Date published: 2009-05-03
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Really a great book It's difficult to describe what exactly this book is about, except to say that it tells a story of numerous characters whose lives are inter-twined with each other. Steinbeck is a master with his words at helping the reader really understand the intricate dimensions of the character. We are lead to appreciate that people are not one-dimensional being either good or evil, but complicated. This is probably the strength of this novel, and the story just lets us get to know the people.
Date published: 2008-12-27
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A Classic Must Read I'm a little hesitant about some of Oprahs book club picks especially when they are considered classics but I was blown away by this book. I was interested in every word that was written and was disappointed when it ended. Everybody should read this book.
Date published: 2008-09-28
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Outstanding work After reading this wonderful cast of characters, I had to take a trip to the Salinas valley. I fell in love with John Steinbeck all over again. A gifted writer with so much to share. do yourself a favour and read this wonderful book...you wont be sorry.
Date published: 2008-05-05
Rated 4 out of 5 by from A Classic Worth Reading I always have a really hard time getting into classic novels and as such am always afraid of reading them. For the most part it always feels as if I should expect to write a book report afterwards and that the story itself will be written in this "old-fashioned" way. It was with great surprise that I really found myself enjoying "East of Eden". I actually really like the story, the pace, and all of the characters Steinbeck created. This is one where I truly understand why after all this time people still talk about it and still enjoy reading it.
Date published: 2008-01-27
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Impossible to put down! Really touching story... This is a great book and a true classic. A must-read!
Date published: 2007-10-09
Rated 5 out of 5 by from MY FAVOURITE I chose to read this book for a final in a course I took and I'm so happy I picked this one. The imagery, metaphors, and characters are so beautifully crafted. This was a fantastic read!
Date published: 2007-09-25
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Loved it! Some parts were a little slow for me but then something would happen and then before I knew it, I couldn't put the book down and when I did all I could think about was "what will happen next?".
Date published: 2006-06-26
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Very disturbing. I found this book very disturbing. One of those books where men try to play out fantasies about how they think women really think....but far, so far from the truth....attempted abortions, manipulative hookers...really not so taseful.
Date published: 2006-06-06
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Shocked! I was pleasantly surprized when I read East of Eden. I didn't know what to expect, I hadn't had much luck with other "oprah book club" books. I read Grapes of Wrath in high school and apparently that was a little too deep for a 17 year old because I hated it. My friend told me that I NEEDED to read this book and I'm glad I did. I may not have liked the characters but I cared about what happened to them. This one is a keeper.
Date published: 2006-06-03
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Amazing! Wow. This was the first time I read a Steinbeck novel and I was thoroughly impressed. The characters are rich, the story moves along beautifully and the theme of Able and Cain holds a strong impact to the reader. The saying 'Thou Mayest' will now become part of my own internal monologue. I highly recommend this novel!
Date published: 2005-02-11
Rated 5 out of 5 by from East of Eden An alien from another planet could study this book, and when finished have a full and complete understanding of all humans and how they think and feel, from birth to death. The most inspiring highs to the most repulsive lows and all tangents in between. Hope, jealousy, success, happiness, pressure, hate, love, all loves and on and on.The old California setting adds nostalgic value to the epic, and today, serves an escape to a far and different land.Stienbeck is a master of creating a vivid picture in the mindês eye. The difference between the settings of the good ol days and today, strengthens the portrayal of the timeless spectrum of human emotion and being. Best read slowly and savored.
Date published: 2004-01-01
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Entertaining Read This was the first Steinbech novel I ever read and it took me a bit to get into it, but I loved it and highly recommend that everyone read it. The reason it took me a while to get into it is that Steinbech is extremely descriptive, but once you get used to the style, he draws you in and you don't want the story to end.
Date published: 2003-11-25
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Not as difficult Don't let the 'size' of this book intimidate you. Once you have started, you can hardly put it down. Not one of those 'classic' books that you need to sometimes refer back because you have completed a page and have no idea what you have just read. An outstanding book and a very good choice for a book club.
Date published: 2003-10-03
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Wonderful It is a book that everyone should read. You will discover yourself in it. You will see that the purpose of life is not to be perfect as an individual but to know that you aren’t perfect!
Date published: 2003-09-09
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Good and Evil This was Steinbeck's "first book" although, by this time, he had published the controversial "Grapes of Wrath." It outlines the history of two families, the Hamiltons and the Trasks, at the turn of the century. The dominant character is Cathy. She happens to be an evil whoremaster reponsible for the deaths of her parents and boss. She weds Adam Trask, and they have a couple of boys. But Cathy abandons her family. Adam spends the rest of his life in a search for meaning, bringing him eventually to the Masonic (of which there is only a page's mention). Multiple other characters are surveyed throughout. It is episodic rather than plot-driven. The book tended to be repetitive, but many of the sentences had striking similes. As always, we are shown with Steinbeck the struggles of the Californian working class.
Date published: 2001-05-11

Read from the Book

Chapter 1[1] THE SALINAS VALLEY is in Northern California. It is a long narrow swale between two ranges of mountains, and the Salinas River winds and twists up the center until it falls at last into Monterey Bay.I remember my childhood names for grasses and secret flowers. I remember where a toad may live and what time the birds awaken in the summer—and what trees and seasons smelled like—how people looked and walked and smelled even. The memory of odors is very rich.I remember that the Gabilan Mountains to the east of the valley were light gay mountains full of sun and loveliness and a kind of invitation, so that you wanted to climb into their warm foothills almost as you want to climb into the lap of a beloved mother. They were beckoning mountains with a brown grass love. The Santa Lucias stood up against the sky to the west and kept the valley from the open sea, and they were dark and brooding—unfriendly and dangerous. I always found in myself a dread of west and a love of east. Where I ever got such an idea I cannot say, unless it could be that the morning came over the peaks of the Gabilans and the night drifted back from the ridges of the Santa Lucias. It may be that the birth and death of the day had some part in my feeling about the two ranges of mountains.From both sides of the valley little streams slipped out of the hill canyons and fell into the bed of the Salinas River. In the winter of wet years the streams ran full-freshet, and they swelled the river until sometimes it raged and boiled, bank full, and then it was a destroyer. The river tore the edges of the farm lands and washed whole acres down; it toppled barns and houses into itself, to go floating and bobbing away. It trapped cows and pigs and sheep and drowned them in its muddy brown water and carried them to the sea. Then when the late spring came, the river drew in from its edges and the sand banks appeared. And in the summer the river didn’t run at all above ground. Some pools would be left in the deep swirl places under a high bank. The tules and grasses grew back, and willows straightened up with the flood debris in their upper branches. The Salinas was only a part-time river. The summer sun drove it underground. It was not a fine river at all, but it was the only one we had and so we boasted about it—how dangerous it was in a wet winter and how dry it was in a dry summer. You can boast about anything if it’s all you have. Maybe the less you have, the more you are required to boast.  

Bookclub Guide

INTRODUCTIONEast of Eden, John Steinbeck's passionate and exhilarating epic, re-creates the seminal stories of Genesis through the intertwined lives of two American families. The result is a purely American saga set in Steinbeck's own childhood home, the Salinas Valley of northern California. The valley is a new world both idyllic and harsh, and Steinbeck sings to it with a personal nostalgia that is clouded by the knowledge that this valley-as all human dwellings-is the location for as much tragedy as triumph.The first family whose story is told in this novel is the Hamiltons, led by the charismatic poet-patriarch Samuel Hamilton, an Irish immigrant who raises a large and boisterous family on a mean and unyielding plot of land through charm, ingenuity, and adaptability. The Hamiltons are penniless, but Samuel and Liza's strong and traditional marriage yields nine children of every type and talent who brim with affection and potential. The children act out the numerous possibilities of American life, some making money in business and advertising, some seeking love and home life, others failing utterly in their struggle to find meaning and clarity in the chaotic possibility of a new century.The second family, the Trasks, is introduced to us as a Connecticut father-a false war hero with a fortune of mysterious origin-his used-up wives, and his two sons: the murderous Charles and the sensitive, searching Adam. After a stint in the army and aimless years as a hobo, Adam falls in love and migrates to Salinas, intending to create his own Garden of Eden. There he presides over a fractured home, raising twin sons Caleb and Aron alone after the dissolution of his marriage to the unfathomable, treacherous Catherine Ames. Catherine herself-later known as Kate-represents the potential for evil in the world. Her life in the valley is the antithesis of that which the Trasks and Hamiltons seek to achieve, as she sinks into a limited life of meanness.The Trasks are what Steinbeck called his "symbol people," and their story reenacts the saga of Cain and Abel, for Steinbeck one of the world's greatest stories of love, rejection, jealousy, and redemption. But Adam and his sons are held together as a family by the Chinese-American philosopher-servant Lee, who offers wisdom in the face of painful circumstances. Together the characters try to formulate personal paradises that can withstand the inevitable challenges of human existence, battling the contradiction between the desire to submit to God and tradition and the human need for self-realization and fulfillment. Much as the United States itself had to resolve its roots in Europe as it absorbed the labor of immigrants from around the world in the creation of a new nation, East of Eden's path-breaking Americans seek to free themselves from the chains of the past and achieve personal freedom.A brilliant novel of ideas, East of Eden is far-reaching in its effort to explicate the most fundamental trials of mankind. Brutally realistic-and sometimes fatalistic-about people's ability to harm themselves and those around them, it is also a celebration of perseverance, enduring love, and the noble yearning to better oneself. And it is a work of profound optimism about the capacity of humans to triumph over adversity and determine their own fates. In prose both evanescent and dignified, Steinbeck creates in these characters and for the reader "a new 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."ABOUT JOHN STEINBECKNo writer is more quintessentially American than John Steinbeck. Born in 1902 in Salinas, California, Steinbeck attended Stanford University before working at a series of mostly blue-collar jobs and embarking on his literary career. Profoundly committed to social progress, he used his writing to raise issues of labor exploitation and the plight of the common man, penning some of the greatest American novels of the twentieth century and winning such prestigious awards as the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award. He received the Nobel Prize in 1962, "for his realistic and imaginative writings, combining as they do sympathetic humor and keen social perception." Today, more than thirty years after his death, he remains one of America's greatest writers and cultural figures. East of Eden, the novel he called "the big one," was published in 1952.DISCUSSION QUESTIONSSteinbeck has a character refer to Americans as a "breed," and near the end of the book Lee says to a conflicted Cal that "We are all descended from the restless, the nervous, the criminals, the arguers and brawlers, but also the brave and independent and generous. If our ancestors had not been that, they would have stayed in their home plots in the other world and starved over the squeezed-out soil." What makes this a quintessentially American book? Can you identify archetypically American qualities—perhaps some of those listed above—in the characters? Sam Hamilton—called a "shining man"—and his children are an immigrant family in the classic American model. What comes with Sam and his wife Liza from the "old country"? How does living in America change them and their children? What opportunities does America provide for the clan, and what challenges? Adam Trask struggles to overcome the actions of others—his father, brother, and wife—and make his own life. What is the lesson that he learns that frees him from Kate and allows him to love his sons? He says to Cal near the end that "if you want to give me a present—give me a good life. That would be something I could value." Does Adam have a good life? What hinders him? Would you characterize his life as successful in the end? Lee is one of the most remarkable characters in American literature, a philosopher trapped by the racial expectations of his time. He is the essence of compassion, erudition, and calm, serving the Trasks while retaining a complex interior and emotional life. Do you understand why he speaks in pidgin, as he explains it to Sam Hamilton? How does his character change—in dress, speech, and action—over the course of the book? And why do you think Lee stays with the Trasks, instead of living on his own in San Francisco and pursuing his dream? Women in the novel are not always as fully realized as the main male characters. The great exception is Adam Trask's wife, Cathy, later Kate the brothel owner. Clearly Kate's evil is meant to be of biblical proportions. Can you understand what motivates her? Is she truly evil or does Steinbeck allow some traces of humanity in his characterization of her? What does her final act, for Aron Trask, indicate about her (well-hidden) emotions? Sibling rivalry is a crushing reoccurrence in East of Eden. First Adam and his brother Charles, then Adam's sons Cal and Aron, act out a drama of jealousy and competition that seems fated: Lee calls the story of Cain and Abel the "symbol story of the human soul." Why do you think this is so, or do you disagree? Have you ever experienced or witnessed such a rivalry? Do all of the siblings in the book act out this drama or do some escape it? If so, how? If all of the "C" characters seem initially to embody evil and all the "A" characters good—in this novel that charts the course of good and evil in human experience—is it true that good and evil are truly separate? Are the C characters also good, the A characters capable of evil? Abra, at first simply an object of sexual competition to Cal and Aron, becomes a more complex character in her relationships with the brothers but also with Lee and her own family. She rebels against Aron's insistence that she be a one-dimensional symbol of pure femininity. What is it that she's really looking for? Compare her to some of the other women in the book (Kate, Liza, Adam's stepmother) and try to identify some of the qualities that set her apart. Do you think she might embody the kind of "modern" woman that emerged in postwar America? Some of Steinbeck's ethnic and racial characterizations are loaded with stereotype. Yet he also makes extremely prescient comments about the role that many races played in the building of America, and he takes the time to give dignity to all types of persons. Lee is one example of a character that constantly subverts expectations. Can you think of other scenes or characters that might have challenged conventional notions in Steinbeck's time? In ours? How unusual do you think it might have been to write about America as a multicultural haven in the 1950s? And do you agree that that is what Steinbeck does, or do you think he reveals a darker side to American diversity? What constitutes true wealth in the book? The Hamiltons and the Trasks are most explicitly differentiated by their relationship to money: though Sam Hamilton works hard he accumulates little, while Adam Trask moons and mourns and lives off the money acquired by his father. Think of different times that money is sought after or rejected by characters (such as Will Hamilton and Cal Trask) and the role that it plays to help and hinder them in realizing their dreams. Does the quest for money ever obscure deeper desires? During the naming of the twins, Lee, Sam, and Adam have a long conversation about a sentence from Genesis, disagreeing over whether God has said an act is ordered or predetermined. Lee continues to think about this conversation and enlists the help of a group of Chinese philosophers to come to a conclusion: that God has given humans choice by saying that they may (the Hebrew word for "may," timshel, becomes a key trope in the novel), that people can choose for themselves. What is Steinbeck trying to say about guilt and forgiveness? About family inheritance versus free will? Think of instances where this distinction is important in the novel, and in your own life. The end of the novel and the future of the Trasks seems to rest with Cal, the son least liked and least understood by his father and the town. What does Cal come to understand about his relationship to his past and to each member of his family? The last scene between Adam and Cal is momentous; what exactly happens between them, and how hopeful a note is this profound ending? Why is Lee trying to force Cal to overturn the assumption that lives are "all inherited"? What do you think Cal's future will be? East of Eden is a combination novel/memoir; Steinbeck writes himself in as a minor character in the book, a member of the Hamilton family. What do you think he gained by morphing genres in this fashion? What distinguishes this from a typical autobiography? What do you think Steinbeck's extremely personal relationship to the material contributes to the novel? 

Editorial Reviews

"A novel planned on the grandest possible scale...One of those occasions when a writer has aimed high and then summoned every ounce of energy, talent, seriousness, and passion of which he was capable...It is an entirely interesting and impressive book." —The New York Herald Tribune   "A fantasia and myth...a strange and original work of art." —The New York Times Book Review"A moving, crying pageant with wilderness strengths." —Carl Sandburg "When the book club ended a year ago, I said I would bring it back when I found the book that was moving…and this is a great one. I read it for myself for the first time and then I had some friends read it. And we think it might be the best novel we've ever read!"—Oprah Winfrey