I’m a Steinbeck fan but I had never read East of Eden until last week. Wow. I finished it not quite knowing what I thought. Maybe that’s one of the signs of a truly great novel. I think it needs to sink in a bit. Maybe.
The characters are beautifully developed and complex. My favorite by far was Lee, the cook of the main character Adam Trask. Lee is well educated, philosophical, and kind. Lee felt like someone I should hope to meet someday. Adam Trask and Samuel Hamilton are both men I felt I could understand and relate to. I especially enjoyed Adam’s years of roaming the country aimlessly- it made complete sense. And the way he approached his days fighting in the army was admirable. Samuel was a dreamer and almost everybody likes a dreamer, no? On the other hand, there are a few characters I hope never to meet in real life. Steinbeck wrote a stunning portrait of a sociopath without ever calling it such in the form of Cathy Ames. She is called a “monster” in the novel and she certainly lives up to that moniker. The interesting thing about Cathy is that she isn’t really complex- her emotions aren’t conflicting- they are just pure darkness. There isn’t anything confusing about that except that everyone else, the reader included, is determined that there should be more to her. Adam’s brother Charles was no peach either. He was both frightening and pitiful. My feelings toward him were unresolved although certainly negative. I couldn’t hate him completely but I certainly couldn’t find much good in him either. I know that Steinbeck wrote this novel with the intention of capturing all of the aspects of Salinas Valley, but as I’ve never been I can’t say whether or not he was successful, my guess is that he was. For me though, it wasn’t the setting that gripped me, but rather the characters and the plot. Many Biblical themes are captured in this novel and even though as you are reading it’s pretty apparent where Steinbeck derived inspiration from- I still read on as if I didn’t know what happens to Cain and Abel, or in this story Cal and Aron. These stories seem at once alike and yet more complicated than the Biblical stories. Like I said, I think it needs to sink in a bit. Steinbeck considered this novel to be his masterpiece and it certainly is a stunning piece of work- I just can’t decide exactly how I feel about it. Perhaps that is what makes it a masterpiece.
I hear they are re-making the movie of this novel. The original movie starred James Dean- I can’t imagine how they plan on improving upon that.
What are you reading?