East of Eden is John Steinbeck’s most famous novel. This book published in 1952 has won international critical acclaim, and propelled Steinbeck to international glory. Critics, both positive and negative, often describe the book as the most ambitious literary project of Steinbeck. The book talks about the intricacies of two families that live in the Salinas valley. The families are the Hamilton’s and the Trasks. The two families have interwoven stories. The book originally addresses the author’s two young sons, Thom and john. The book describes in detail the Salinas valley in California where the story is set. The story also involves other places like Connecticut and Massachusetts.
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The Salinas valley in central California is aptly described as it is the setting of the book. The story begins with the Hamilton family that has emigrated from Ireland. Samuel Hamilton raised his brood of nine children on some infertile patch of land until they are able to fed for themselves. As Hamilton’s children begin to leave home, a well-off stranger buys the best ranch in the Salinas valley. The stranger is Adam Trask, and he has come to his riches after discovering that his father left him and his brother some worthwhile inheritance. Adam has fallen in love, and married Cathy Ames, a girl who is described as a monster. This is because she has been a manipulator of men, and she has left home after killing her parents.
After giving birth, Cathy shoots Adam in the shoulders and flees. Adam has to rear his twin boys with the help of Samuel Hamilton and Lee. Lee is a Cantonese servant of Adam. The three men make good companionship and engage in lively biblical debates. Cathy turns to prostitution, and through murder, manages to acquire a brothel. The boys grow up, and Samuel Hamilton dies. Adam loses his fortune in a business misfortune. One of the boys chooses to farm, and the other twin becomes a priest. Caleb the farmer gets to be successful. During thanksgiving, he gives his father a gift of $15,000, which his father rejects. Meanwhile, his brother, Aron wants to drop out of college. The book ends with Adam bedridden, and Lee pleading with Adam to forgive his son.
Benson.J. (1977). John Steinbeck: Novelist as Scientist. Novel, Vol. (10):6.
It is important to note that, during the publication of East of Eden, the book did not get positive acclaim. It was rejected for many literary and biblical allusions that did not auger well with the critics of his day. East of Eden has been loved by the general readership worldwide. One of the failures of the East of Eden is that the book has borrowed heavily from Author Gunn’s book, New family physician. The borrowing is used to deepen the creative legacy and artistic portrait of Samuel Hamilton. John Steinbeck, in writing East of Eden, has strayed from his literary style and adherence to realism and naturalism. This is because of his habit of what he has referred to as creative reading. Creative reading can be related to creative writing. Only in this case it is the opposite, for the creative reader reads to write. The implication is that Steinbeck has immersed himself in various documents, some of them scientific to come up with East of Eden. The book has been superimposed with so many allusions that it loses the fictional ability with which it is supposed to command the reader of fiction. The result is that the book borders on non fictional work. In many respects, the book is drawn from the author’s background. This makes it an autobiographical stretch of his life. For example, Samuel Hamilton, the benign farmer is a representation of Steinbeck’s grandfather. His execution of form (Steinbeck’s) is heavily influenced by other works. The problem is not the heavy borrowing, the problem is the way he has failed to disguise his borrowing. It is a fact that all great literary work is some form of copying, or stealing. Shakespeare plagiarized ninety percent from ancient Greek writing. He plagiarized in mastery disguise, and what we have of him are great works. East of Eden is blatantly plagiarized.
Fensch, T. (1988). Conversations with John Steinbeck. New York: Free Press.
The use of symbols and symbolization has been employed to masterly level in East of Eden. Like in all his other novels, symbolism is one of the marks that distinguish the works of Steinbeck. Symbolism is the use of objects, figures, colors and characters in representing abstract ideas and concepts. The usage of symbolism in East of Edn is of the most classical nature. Symbolism brings out the realism in East of Eden without sacrificing modernism. Salinas’s valley, that was the original title of the novel, is a representation of the biblical Garden of Eden. The lyrical opening of the book with a description of the smells and sights of the valley parallels the garden of Edn that is virginal in its depiction in the bible. The Salinas valley is the home of the contest between the likes of Adam and Cathy. It depicts the genesis of the great diabolical deception that contributed to the fall of man. The title rightly depicts the fall of man, for in the biblical chronology, man was chased out towards the east. The mountains in the Salinas valley represent the struggle of man between the eternal forces of good and bad. The scars that Charles Trask get after wounding himself represent the mark of Cain.
French, W. (1976). “John Steinbeck and Modernism,” in Steinbeck’s Prophetic Vision of America, ed. Tetsumaro Hayashi and Kenneth Swan. Indiana: Upland press.
One of the characteristics of the books of Steinbeck is that they contain spiritual positivism. In East of Eden there, is the tendency of the writer to want to lift the reader and to encourage the reader. This is one of the most enduring positive traits of East of Eden. The author does not adopt a strict moralistic view or an amoral view. Rather, it puts to the reader that sainthood and damnation are both available to human beings. The difference between the two is determined by the choice of man. The author has drawn vivid biblical allusions that portray that human choices are the determinants if his destiny. The titling of the book captures the fall of man in the original Garden of Eden. The author has, however, used some depictions that contradict the biblical stories. In reading the book, it is apparent that the portrayal of women is negative. The negative traits of Cathy Ames are exaggerated. It is a well known fact that the author depicts her as the devil, and this is taking the negation of women too far. This is because no other male character gets to do the wicked things that she has been doing. The other insult to womanhood is that the author has not at least developed another female character to counter the negative image of Cathy Ames. The grief that is so apparent at the end of the book does not do much to lift the hope of the reader. The sense of guilty that follows the characters in the book is not good for the book. This is because the main characters seem to find no atonement for the wrongs that they have done in society.
Parini, J. (1996). John Steinbeck: A Biography. Carlifornia: Holt Publishing.
The critical acclaims that Steinbeck has got have been from his short stories and rarely for his novels. A significant observation is that the author has not faired well even with a book that won him the Nobel Prize in literature in 1962. This is the book, East of Eden. In fact, his literary fame and reputation declined with the publication of East of Eden. The book in discussion, East of Eden, is overly theatrical. Its biblical allusions are farfetched, and the portrayal main character lacks originality. The book is an amalgamation of themes, characters and literary styles from various sources without cogent intrinsic threading. It is disconjuctive in it ending, and leaves the reader with a sour taste in the mouth. The book is too sentimental and philosophically simplistic. Although Steinbeck remains on of the most celebrated authors, East of Eden is no Paradise Lost. Its humor is overly sympathetic, and the sociological perception that is said to distinguish is work is water down in this work by an overt desire to see himself, and his family, in his works.
Robert. ed. (2002). John Steinbeck, Novels 1942-1952. Washington: Library of America.
East of Eden is a paradox in it’s’ reception. This is because the public received the book well with the critics writing off the book. The book, like all Steinbeck’s past world war two books, is not hard to understand. This is because it develops the themes that are first exposed in his short stories. The criticisms of heavy borrowing from Gunn’s works, and the biblical allusions cannot detract from his work.
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