Part 2 – East of Eden – Steinbeck

For some, including me, a 600 page book can be a little intimidating.  I had a feeling I would put the book down halfway through and start on something else, but I could hardly put it down. Steinbeck’s characters, descriptions, and plot wrapped me up quickly and it was a great read. While it switched around a little from family to family, it could be difficult to keep up with.  Interestingly, Steinbeck wrote himself into the book, as his mother, Olive, was one of Samuel Hamilton’s daughters.  I liked that he was able to do that and it made it seem a little more real.  It makes me wonder where the line of fiction ends and truth begins.  Which characters were real?  Were the real characters really like they were in the novel?  Did the Trasks exist?

From where I left on my initial post, the Trask boys (Adam and his sons, Cal and Aron) moved into Salinas to take advantage of a better school system.  That also brought them closer to the mother who left them, Cathy/Kate.  Adam came back to life and decided he wanted to go into the ice/refrigeration business.  He tried an experiment to ship lettuce from California to New York on a train, but there were obstructions which ruined the shipment and Adam lost most of his fortune.  He still had the ice company which made a profit, so the family was not in financial trouble, just not as comfortable as before.  The citizens in Salinas ridiculed the Trask family and young Cal took it especially hard.  He decided to make a personal financial foray in beans.  The US was at the cusp of WWI and Cal partnered with Samuel Hamilton’s son, Will, to speculate on bean futures.  They convinced area farmers to plant beans and contracted to buy them at 5 cents/bushel while the going rate was around 3 cents.  As the war came at harvest season, they sold the beans to the British contractors and made 10 cents/bushel.  Cal had earned $15,000 on the deal after he payed back the initial loan he borrowed from Lee.  Cal decided to give the money to father to make up for the lettuce failure, but his father refused to accept it.  Cal was heartbroken and decided to burn the money.

Meanwhile, Aaron had dreams of becoming a priest and his vow of celibacy worried his girl, Abra.  He decided to take his high school exams a year early and that pleased his father.  Cal had a great struggle between his father’s rejection of the money and his brother’s praise.  Cal decided to ‘pay his brother back’ by taking him to a secret he learned.  He took Aron to meet their mother, Kate in her whorehouse.  As Aron had aspirations of priesthood, he took it pretty hard that he had come from a woman of that reputation.  He ended up running away to join the army efforts in WWI.  Adam was heartbroken and suffered a mild stroke.  Cal felt pretty guilty at how his plan had turned out.

SPOILER-As I suspected, a sad ending.  Cal’s plan ended up with his brother dying in the war, and their father, Adam having a massive stroke.  The book ends as Lee takes Cal to his father to beg for forgiveness.  It was a sad ending, but a moral arising from the novel is that each one of us is in control of our own destiny.  We have choices to help or hurt.  We have choices of good and evil. 

Steinbeck’s tale of human destinies was melted together with the American spirit.  Lee made a point in the book that everybody in the US was descended from a man who was running away from something, looking for something, something better than he had before, whether Chinese, Irish, or British.  American’s are born with a spirit of adventure and risk, and it can be an attribute that identifies us from other countrymen.  The combination of this American theme with the theme of the stories in Genesis of the Bible were an interesting mix.  Adam and Cathy: Adam and Eve, Cal and Aron: Cain and Abel.  Adam wanted the ranch to be a tribute, an Eden, to represent his love for Cathy, while their sons struggled with rejection and revenge.

It was a great read, Steinbeck did not disappoint.

Rating ********** 10/10

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