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 a net of good and evil.
East of Eden is a book which portraits the human being as a complex creature in which the good and the evil coexist since the beginning of the world. Sometimes the good prevails the evil, but sometimes it is the other way around and the man is caught in between, struggling with his own nature. The main idea o f the book is the duality of the human nature, the fact that Eden and Hell are actually a manifestation of the inner condition and people are born with virtues as well as with temptations, but the most important think is that every single person has the possibility to choose how to respond to them. People don’t come by accident on earth and certainly don’t have a random life; they aren’t some puppets guided by destiny’s hand because once gifted with reason, everybody, undoubtedly, is already empowered with the capacity to make a choice while walking on the life’s path.
“That makes a man great, that gives him stature with gods, for in his weakness and his filth and his murder of his brother he has still the great choice. He can choose his course and fight it through and win.”
“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. This is what I am and what I am about.”
Steinbeck builds his story on a biblical myth of Cain and Abel, two brothers who symbolize the evil and the good. Using these religious characters, the author creates a very similar case, transposed in modern times, pursuing throughout the book the life of two generation of brothers Adam and Charles Hamilton and later Aron and Cal Hamilton. Following the myth, the characters in the book also ended up hating each other to death, but what Steinbeck is doing is that he develops the case, he tries to elucidate the cause of brothers rivalry which becomes so intense, even thou they still keep in their hearts deep affection one for another. The author finds the source which poises the mind and soul of brothers and this is: rejection, lack of father’s love and appreciation, the willing to gain parental affection at any price, even with the price of a life.
“I think this is the best-known story in the world because it is everybody’s story. I think it is the symbol story of the human soul. I’m feeling my way now – don’t jump on me if I’m not clear. The greatest terror a child can have is that he is not loved, and rejection is the hell he fears. I think everyone in the world to a large or small extend has felt rejection. And with rejection comes anger, and with anger some kind of crime in revenge for the rejection, and with the crime guilt – and there is the story of mankind. I think that if the rejection could be amputated, the human would not be what he is. Maybe there would be fewer crazy people . I am sure in myself there would not be many jails. It is all there – the start, the beginning.”
The action is placed in Salinas Valley, at the beginning of 20th century having Hamilton and Trask families as main pillars of the story. It develops during two generations, bringing into attention different issues and struggles human being is facing during his life.
The book is very complex, approaching many aspects of human nature, but an important thing is that in the end it gives a vague idea of hope and believe that good can triumph over evil and the man is capable to overcome his own demons while holding on those good qualities and virtues he owns.
“But Cain lived and had children, and Abel lives only in the story. We are Cain’s children.”
“We are violent people. Maybe it’s true that we are all descended from the restless, the nervous, the criminals, the arguers and brawlers, but also the brave and independent and generous. And so we’re overbrave and overfearful – we’re kind and cruel as children.”
“I do not believe all men are destroyed. It is true of the spirit as it is true of battles – only the winners are remembered. Surely most men are destroyed, but there are others who like pillars of fire guide men through the darkness. “