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East of Eden by John Steinbeck

East of Eden (original 1952; edition 2002)

by John Steinbeck

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14,230237142 (4.41)1 / 670
Title:East of Eden
Authors:John Steinbeck
Info:Penguin (Non-Classics) (2002), Edition: CENTENNIAL EDITION, Paperback, 601 pages
Collections:Your library

Work details

East of Eden by John Steinbeck (1952)

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English (225)  French (2)  German (2)  Dutch (2)  Italian (2)  Finnish (1)  Hebrew (1)  All languages (235)
Showing 1-5 of 225 (next | show all)
It is difficult to write a book-sleeve-like summary for East of Eden, because it is a rather large novel that covers a breadth of different topics, ranging from biblical philosophy to personality theory. The story itself is based on the experiences of two families throughout late 1800 to 1900-ish America: The Hamiltons and The Trasks. They are at first situated quite a distance from each other, leading their own stories, but then begin intersecting towards the first 1/3rd of the book. What occurs is an entire history of two families and their interactions with each other as they settle into the new wild land that is Salinas Valley.

There is a bit more to it than this. One may have already correctly guessed that the book takes a dive into American culture at the time, perhaps similar to Steinbeck's other works, and it certainly does this well. It represents not only the "effects" the different historical events had over the two families, but the general atmosphere it loaned to the country and individual states at the time as well. I'd say the book pulls it off well because it manages to somehow paint a rather unbiased look at America at the time, with all the pros and cons of a nation that is sometimes ambitious to the point of arrogance, and yet still invoke a sense of pride in the reader (or at least me).

In a lot of ways, this pride is due to a sort of self-acceptance that the book explores a lot, and I think does so mostly well. That is, with the personality theory aspect to the book, the book introduces a range of characters from all over the temperance ballpark in order to dabble over what drives people to be, whether that be humble or serious, giving or greedy, etc. To this end, there's a bit of talking over the idea of nature vs. nurture (specifically regarding moral development), though I believe this is not necessarily looked into as much as I personally would've liked; looking more into the idea of free will/emotional control over what actually shapes a person a certain way, beyond genetics and sibling rivalry that is. What is looked into, however, is very interesting (again, sibling rivalry and jealousy, which is certainly distinguished from envy in this book).

The book is certainly a character study, whether it intended to be or not with its exploration of personality theory. There is not a single character in the book that comes off solely as a caricature for a metaphor or other symbol, perhaps in part because they all seem to re-occur to some extent throughout the story, or because Steinbeck just writes damn well. Yet, there is still much attention given to the cultural and philosophical aspects of the book (with a surprising amount of looking into Chinese ways of being, based on the experiences of a marvelously interesting slave-servant from China), giving the book a nice balance between contemporary character study and the more philosophical style of many older classics (though perhaps still a bit leaning more towards character study).

All in all, the book is a certain something that adds to your life regardless of your religious background, which is perhaps helped by the fact that the book thankfully seems to look past hedonic pleasure as the source of sorrow. Indeed, the book somehow has a way of looking into even the most violent of beings in a way that makes it hard to dislike them. It's a certain experience that somehow leaves you feeling a bit closer to life itself despite the sadness of the content - like placing flowers on the grave of a loved one on Christmas day. Basically, it's a classic.

( )
  MMMMTOASTY | Mar 16, 2015 |
I must admit it took me a while to get to the end of this. There's an extensive back history that takes up the first half of this dynastic epic and I guess now that it's a tough time to try and read so many pages and keep so much relevant information in your head to try and get all the knots tied at the end. But boy is it worth it.
There's little to spoil in a book which takes it's story from the first pages of the Bible, but the amount of thought that went into padding out the rise and fall of the Trasks gives the reader plenty to chew on. It's one of those inevitable tragedies. You know everything is going to go wrong, and the limited success the boy's father has as the plot picks up its pace and density plunged me into a race against time to finish. Ironic, given the years it took me to find some threads of identification with the characters. ( )
  villemel | Feb 3, 2015 |
This isn’t a proper review, just a list of things I noticed / liked / disliked about the Salinas Valley California family saga East of Eden by John Steinbeck.

The book started out like books written in the middle of last century do—slowly, with lots of description. But I didn’t mind as it was all grand, large-stroke painting. Though I do remember thinking, somewhere around page 50, I wonder when he’ll have all the furniture in place.

At the beginning I was confused over who was who. Steinbeck embarks on telling several family histories which, at the start, have no connection with each other. A family tree or a who’s who section would have helped.

There are some pretty dark characters. Kate / Cathy is incredibly evil and though her activities are mostly only hinted at, there was a point at which I wondered if I should / wanted to read on. I persevered and I’m glad I did.

I really enjoyed the way Steinbeck explored the theme of good and evil, whether we’re born pre-determined to be evil (with evil genes, so to speak) or whether we have choice. He riffed on the bad-brother, good-brother archetypes Cain and Abel, creating two sets of C&A brothers (Charles and Adam Trask; later Adam begets twins Caleb and Aron).

His character Liza Hamilton, wife of Samuel Hamilton is the most recognizably Christian of the characters. Steinbeck first portrays her in an almost Dickensian way:

“She had a dour Presbyterian mind and a code of morals that pinned down and beat the brains out of nearly everything that was pleasant to do” – p. 7 (1962, or thereabouts, edition).

However, by the end of the book she comes across as Samuel’s anchor, his true north. Steinbeck’s softening portrayal of her sheds a much more serious and sympathetic light on the faith aspect of the book than I expected when I read the beginning.

In closing, here are a couple of my favorite passages from this incredibly well-written book. The first is Samuel Harrison, talking to Adam’s servant Lee just before they name the twins. He is referring to Liza’s mother’s Bible and Bible use in general:

“’This one has been scraped and gnawed at,’ he said. ‘I wonder what agonies have settled here. Give me a used Bible and I will, I think, be able to tell you about a man by the places they are edged with the dirt of seeking fingers. Liza wears a Bible down evenly’” p. 237.

The last quote sums up, in my mind, the book’s theme. It’s a passage in which the author stands back momentarily from telling his story and reflects:

“I believe that there is one story in the world, and only one that has frightened and inspired us, so that we live in a Pearl White serial of continuing thought and wonder. Humans are caught … in a net of good and evil. I think this is the only story we have and that it occurs on all levels of feeling and intelligence …. There is no other story. A man, after he has brushed off the dust and chips of his life, will have only the hard clean questions: Was it good or was it evil? Have I done well—or ill?” p. 366.

If you want to know more about East of Eden’s plot and characters, check the East of Eden entry in Wikipedia.

Thanks B., my son, for pressing me to read this grand classic novel!
( )
  Violet_Nesdoly | Jan 4, 2015 |
"East of Eden" is a study of man’s deepest emotions: love, hate, pride, envy, and guilt. Exploring the philosophical complexities of good and evil, Steinbeck carefully weaves an intricate plot that helped win him the coveted Nobel Prize for this important contribution to literature.

The story covers four decades in the lives of the Trasks and the Hamiltons - two families who converge as friends and neighbors in the rural community of Silanas, California. Having been born and raised in the Silanas Valley, Steinbeck channels his own family memories - particularly those of his father who is cast as a primary character Samuel Hamilton - and is able to provide an authentic backdrop for his story which offers the reader a graphic picture of rural life in the early 1900s. The plot starts out slow and picks up speed after all the characters are introduced.

"East of Eden" is rich in symbolism, biblical references like Cain and Abel, and psychological character analysis. To sin or not to sin… that is the question. And given the power of natural instinct, how much choice does any human really have in the matter?

The Trask family is not without problems. Cyrus Trask is an authoritative, pompous army veteran. Following the suicide of his first wife, Cyrus marries the shy seventeen year old neighbor girl who is quiet and subservient. His two children - Charles and Adam - have a turbulent childhood struggling with sibling rivalry.

With the passage of time, Steinbeck records many events of American history - from war with the American Indians to war with the Germans. And for the Trask family, history seems to repeat itself. Cyrus’s grandchildren, Caleb and Aaron Trask, follow in the footsteps of Charles and Adam as they grapple with the same destructive elements of fraternal competition.

My favorite passage from the book:
“I believe there is one story in the world, and only one... Humans are caught- in their lives, in their thoughts, in their hungers and ambitions, in their avarice and cruelty, and in their kindness and generosity too- in the net of good and evil... I think this is the only story we have and that it occurs on all levels of feeling and intelligence. There is no other story. Virtue and vice were warp and woof of our first consciousness, and they will be the fabric of our last, and this despite any changes we may impose on field and river and mountain, on economy and manners. There is no other story. A man, after he has brushed off the dust and the chips of his life, will have left only the hard clean question: Was it good or was it evil? Have I done well- or ill?”

All characters in "East of Eden" are richly developed - from the Trask boys’ evil prostitute mother to the Trasks wise Chinese servant - and especially to Samuel Hamilton. Readers may feel Steinbeck’s characters are a bit one-dimensional, and in all fairness, the tendency to emphasize the elements of good and evil definitely define with exaggerated intensity. This was obviously intentional to propel the plot to it’s dramatic climax. A must read for anyone who savors the sense of conscience. ( )
  LadyLo | Dec 5, 2014 |
What an amazing story. Glad I chose this book as my non fantasy read. ( )
  Gonzalo8046 | Sep 29, 2014 |
Showing 1-5 of 225 (next | show all)
Novelist Steinbeck has done some of his best writing in East of Eden. As always, he describes his Salinas Valley with fidelity and charm. Moreover, individual scenes and yarns are frequently turned with great skill. But whether as a novel about pioneers in a new country or just men & women working out their private, earthly fates, East of Eden is too blundering and ill-defined to make its story point. That point, says Steinbeck, is "the never-ending contest in ourselves of good and evil." East of Eden has over-generous portions of both, but a novelist who knows what he wants channels them, he doesn't spill them.
added by Shortride | editTime (Sep 22, 1952)
Probably the best of John Steinbeck's novels... ["East of Eden's"] dramatic center is a narrow story of social horror that rests quite disarmingly on the proposition that "there are monsters born in the world to human parents." But through the exercise of a really rather remarkable freedom of his rights as a novelist, Mr. Steinbeck weaves in, and more particularly around, this story of prostitution a fantasia of history and of myth that results in a strange and original work of art.
added by Shortride | editThe New York Times Book Review, Mark Schorer (pay site) (Sep 21, 1952)
A fine, lusty sense of life is here, a delight in the spectacle of men and women struggling in the age-old ways to meet their separate destines, and an abundance of good story-telling... John Steinbeck has grown in his respect for his fellow human beings, in his understanding of them. He has reached mature and thoughtful conclusions about them. And he has expressed his conclusions in interesting and thought-provoking fashion.
added by Shortride | editThe New York Times, Orville Prescott (pay site) (Sep 19, 1952)

» Add other authors (19 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Steinbeck, Johnprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Eggink, ClaraTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Linturi, JoukoTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Poe, RichardNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Wyatt, DavidIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed

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Pascal Covici

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 graditude and love I have for you. And still the box is not full.


First words
The Salinas Valley is in Northern California.
You must not forget that a monster is only a variation, and that to a monster the norm is monstrous.
I don't very much believe in blood. I think when a man finds good or bad in his children he is seeing only what he planted in them after they cleared the womb. - Samuel Hamilton
And this I believe: that the free, exploring mind of the individual human is the most valuable thing in the world. And this I would fight for: the freedom of the mind to take any direction it wishes, undirected. And this I must fight against: any idea, religion, or government which limits or destroys the individual.
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Disambiguation notice
East of Eden was written by John Steinbeck, not Ernest Hemingway.
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Book description
Often described as Steinbeck's most ambitious novel, East of Eden brings to life the intricate details of two families, the Trasks and the Hamiltons, and their interwoven stories.
Haiku summary

Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0142000655, Paperback)

FOR USE IN SCHOOLS AND LIBRARIES ONLY. The biblical account of Cain and Abel is echoed in the history of two generations of the Trask family in California.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:54:27 -0400)

(see all 7 descriptions)

This sprawling and often brutal novel, set in the rich farmlands of California's Salinas Valley, 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.… (more)

(summary from another edition)

» see all 9 descriptions

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