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  • John Steinbeck

East of Eden - critical Review

After studying 'Of Mice and Men' for GCSE'S by John Steinbeck, I never really thought of reading another of his books (despite really enjoying it!) However, when I was recommended 'East of Eden', and told it was loosely about the fall of Adam and Eve and the story of Cane and Abel, I was really interested in reading it. This is a 600 page novel, which is full of many different stories, that intertwine creating one very moving one.

The characters in this novel was my favourite part about it. The character of Lee, a Chinese helper, was I think one of my favourite characters in any novel. He was both humorous and profound, and created such a large impact on the novel. Not only was it a reference to the racial problems, due to the attitudes towards him, which he expected and almost embraced through humour, but he was such a profound character, that brought the message of 'Timshel' to the book. Lee was both a carer and a preacher, and I think Steinbeck created his character to show the acceptance of the absurdity of life, and little stories entwined in the novel about his life and ancestors made him even more harrowing.

His discovery of 'Timshel', meaning 'thou may' in terms of deciding whether to sin or not, carried the whole novels message. This novel is a study of evil and through this translation that is revealed, Steinbeck creates the idea that evil can be overcome. The character of Cathy, who is a representation of evil (and is also referred to as 'half human' because of this) is overcome, which for me was the turning point of the novel, because not only had the translation been revealed, but it was put into practice by the character of Adam, over Cathy, and Steinbeck uses this symbolism to represent the possibility that we can choose to overcome evil.

What I also found really interesting about the novel was the attitude towards original sin. Cal, Cathy (the 'devil') and Adams son, felt he was automatically evil, even though he didn't want to be. Cal performed many evil acts, but not in the same way as Cathy, as he was aware that it caused sorrow and burdened him after. However, what was so significant was his learning of 'Timshel', and him overcoming his ancestry of sin and realizing that even though he has it in him, he 'may' sin or may not - he can choose. I thought this was a fascinating view of humanity, accepting that we are, or contain, evil, but it is not only our choice, but also our responsibility, whether to act on it or not. This I think was the most interesting message of the novel, as it recognised original sin, but not blaming it on another source (i.e the devil and the fall of Adam and Eve) but instead portraying it is our choice to act upon this sin or not.

Another favourite character of mine in this novel was Samuel Hamilton. Samuel was a very interesting character, who was the character who caused the families of the Hamilton's and the Trask's to interact and cause so much influence over each other. Samuels determination for not only his own ambitions, but for other characters, in particular Adam, was a very important part of the story. His attitude towards Adams' sorrow at Cathy's abandonment was interesting, as it gave no sympathy to the selfish gene in humanity and instead preached that it was our duty to look and care for others, in which he succeeded, symbolised by his, Lee's and Adams act of naming Adam's two twin sons. This idea created a necessity of hardship in humanity and I thought this was a really interesting, and harrowing, attitude to grief.

Furthermore, I thought it was really interesting that the character of Cal, fighting for his fathers love, echoing the story of Cane and Abel, also mirrored his father, Adams, attitude with his brother and father. This created the idea that all sibling rivalry or rivalry at all with each other in is inbuilt in all humanity, but Steinbeck shows that this is not necessary through the sad moment of Adam not accepting Cal's money, that he had worked so hard for to 'buy' his fathers love. I thought that through both Adam and his brother Charles, and Cal and his brother Aron's rivalry, the unity of the human drive for love was evident, recognising that there is competition for love, but almost that is an overpowering source that it can not be won or lost. It almost took the story of Cane and Abel and created a contrasting view, that in fact the father didn't prefer either sibling, its just his attitude was different to them, and nothing could change it.

Overall, the novel explored themes of love and ambition through using the traditional biblical stories of Adam and Eve and Cane and Abel, but creating a new message to them portraying that sin can be overcome, and love can not be won, neither is it ever worthless from a parent to a child, which was shown further through even Cathy, the 'devil', in which the reader only see's her having affection or love for her son (through her leaving of the will to Aron.) A very meaningful and important read, especially to anyone interested in the concept of evil and morality.

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