Good vs. Evil
to John Steinbeck's East of Eden is the theme of good versus evil.ï¿½ From
the opening chapter, the author delineates the central structure of good and
evil in the form of the symbolic landscape: the Edenic splendor of Salinas Valley
in Northern California.ï¿½ The narrator learns to tell east with its "good"
sunlit Gabilan Mountains from the western dark and foreboding "bad" Santa
in addition to the symbolic landscape are the more or less symbolic characters
that most deeply influence the protagonist, Adam Trask:ï¿½ Samuel Hamilton, who
represents the epitome of goodness, and Cathy Ames, who signifies abject evil.ï¿½
Adam, the first man, or everyman, navigates life's valley wavering between good
(light) and evil (dark) in the form of Samuel and Cathy.
Hamilton is the much-beloved and admired Hamilton family patriarch who acts as
a mentor for Adam and stands in sharp contrast to his own father Cyrus, the
dishonest Trask Family patriarch who committed the novel's "original sin," by
lying about his military record and amassing a fortune he bequeaths to his
sons, Adam and Charles. A self-educated immigrant from Northern Ireland who
considers books to be treasures, Samuel is associated with light and demonstrates
the positive principle of life.ï¿½ A good
figure, he finds water and delivers babies. The progenitor of nine children
himself, he walks in sunlight, moonlight and starlight. Water always surrounds
him. He washes constantly.ï¿½ Samuel is one of the few characters who views Cathy
for what she is-evil personified-and suffers a severe fever when she infects
him with a bite.
of Satan, the most evil character in the novel, Cathy is a parasite who
embodies evil. She lacks the innate quality that makes one human.ï¿½ She murders
her parents and becomes a notorious brothel owner who gives drugs to her
whores, encourages sadomasochistic sexual practices and blackmails her
customers. In opposition to Samuel, who is associated with light, she prefers
the dark.ï¿½ While giving birth, she labors in a completely dark room, like an
animal in a den.ï¿½ And, she is only comfortable during the latter part of her
life in a gray tomb-like room void of light.ï¿½ And while Samuel
the positive loving father, she signifies the ultimate evil mother, or "anti-mother."
Her nipples are inverted, her breasts fail to produce milk, and she never
looks at her babies that she abandons when they are a week old. And, while
Samuel sinks into a comfortable life of retirement with his children caring for
him, she commits suicide alone in her dark hole of a room.
two characters represent good and evil and most influence the protagonist Adam
Trask.ï¿½ He is completely smitten by Cathy and cannot effectively continue his
life after she leaves.ï¿½ His inherently good friend Samuel finally forces him to
confront her as evil, and he comes away free for the first time in years.ï¿½
However, even at the end the shattered Adam still cries out "Oh, my poor
darling," when he hears of her death.
Samuel visits Adam before he retires from his ranch, he comes across Cal and
Aron, the twins he delivered eleven years earlier.ï¿½ Lee brings drinks and
almost immediately, the story of Cain and Abel comes once again to mind and the
three men take up the conversation they began ten years earlier when they
puzzled over exactly why God had favored Abel's gift of the lamb over Cain's
gift of the grain. Similarly, after reading the sixteen verses of the
biblical account, they had discussed the story at length and attempted to
figure out what indeed God had promised Cain when he banished him from the
sight of mankind.ï¿½ Was Cain predestined to everlasting damnation, or could he
philosopher Lee explains he has in the interim been studying the Cain and Abel
four aged Chinese gentlemen and a rabbi in San Francisco. One biblical translation,
he informs them, maintains that God promises Cain that he will overcome sin,
but another translation, puzzlingly posits the idea that God orders Cain to
overcome sin.ï¿½ After years of research, the aged wise men happily conclude that
both these translations are in error and that indeed the Hebrew word,
timshel, the verb causing the discrepancy, actually means "thou mayest."
Lee cannot contain his glee as Samuel comes first to grasp the meaning. Lee
considers timshel to be a powerful idea about human free will, something
that gives people the freedom to forge their own moral destinies. Thus, Cain
with the ability of free will, or free choice: God has given humans the power,
or the ability, to choose goodness over evil.
this point, Samuel utilizes the concept of timshel by choosing to help
his friend Adam and informs him that Cathy, now known as Kate, is still in
Salinas where she runs a notorious whorehouse. Lee acknowledges Samuel's
message as truth.ï¿½ But Adam, unable to stand the pain, runs away in horror.
concept of timshel remains of primary concern in Steinbeck's East of
Eden.ï¿½ Simply put, timshel offers humans the ability to forget the
past and forge a better life, a life of hope and redemption.ï¿½ No one, the idea
insists, is predestined to choose evil despite the lives (evil or otherwise)
lived by their parents.ï¿½ The concept of timshel becomes
pertinent at the end of the novel during Aron's death. The despairing Cal
believes in innate evil but is convinced by Lee otherwise, and during the final
scene, Adam raises his hand in blessing to his son and utters the Hebrew verb:
timshel.ï¿½ï¿½ Cal and Abra, descendants of prostitutes and thieves, embrace
the concept of timshel, "thou mayest," and thus attain the freedom of
will to choose their own moral destinies.