Recognizing Evil in Steinbeck's East of Eden

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Good will always triumph over evil. If you believe that good things will happen to you then they will. East of Eden, a novel by John Steinbeck, challenges this idea by forcing his audience to read then discuss unpopular or controversial topics with themselves. Further, Steinbeck sets burdensome obstacles into each of his character’s paths to let them know that facing and defeating personal and interpersonal demons is a routine and needed part of life. Likewise, this event could also mean coming face to face with a rather literal demon, not just metaphorical, and how you choose to deal with them shows your true nature. However, the question is, are the characters strong enough? Can they do it themselves or will they rely on others? Steinbeck suggests that the triumph and redemption of the human soul can only consist of the struggle between good and evil because that is what makes us human.

Cathy Ames, also known as Catherine and Kate throughout the novel, is manipulative, barbaric, and parasitic to everyone she comes into contact with. However, Cathy is not the type of monster that you first think about, Cathy is not misshapen, has no extra or non-existing limbs, or body parts in weird places. No Cathy is described to be a beautiful, yet exotic, and delicate-looking character. But just as Steinbeck writes at the beginning of the novel, “[t]he face and body may be perfect, but if a twisted gene or a malformed egg can produce physical monsters, may not the same process produce a malformed soul” (Steinbeck 71)? A moral monster, she acts out of a love for debasement, destruction, and control. The evil she displays seems to be deep-seated and all-consuming, as she displays murderous and sexually perverse tendencies from a young age. Cathy’s character is built around Eve, the mother of humankind and mistress to sin, but while Eve was coerced into committing sin, Cathy takes it in like a stray cat on your porch. She uses other individuals, like Adam or Faye, trust and kind nature against them and manipulates so as to get what she wants. However, there is no reason for Cathy to be acting this way, she had a nice family and was given decent opportunities. That is, there was not one single event or series of events that made her turn out this way, she just is. Though she may have some personal demons and insecurities she is holding onto and her barbaric actions are how she chooses to treat them. Also, she seems to operate without an ultimate goal or aim. In these ways, Cathy is the most confusing and thought-provoking character in the entire novel.

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Adam Trask, Cathy’s husband in the later parts of the novel, faces both literal and metaphorical demons. All Adam wanted to do after he found the love of his life, or so it seemed, was to provide a paradise-like environment for her and their future children to prosper for years to come. This garden-like utopia that Adam is so desperately trying to build is based upon the Garden of Eden, where Adam and Eve were placed to live, grow, and repopulate. This is not what Cathy wants, and she makes that quite clear. She has no desire to move away, marry Adam, or bare his children and her actions over time support that idea. When Cathy finally decides to leave Adam, shooting him in the process, Adam lies on the floor “[a]nd the monotonous sound that had been there all along was the cry of the twins, wanting their dinner. He had forgotten to feed them” (Steinbeck 200). This scene brings Adam’s personal demon into the light. Adam feels as though he has failed at being both a husband, and a father because his wife left him, and he has “neglected” his children. From what I have gathered, the twins, at this point, were still newborns, therefore, they should still be relying on their mother’s breast milk for their food source. This being the case, it is Cathy who neglected to feed them not Adam. And it is Cathy who has failed to be a parent.

Adam’s personal demons date all the way back to his mother committing suicide. Adam feels as though he could have done something more to make his mother stay, make her stay for him at least. When in reality, his mother had deep-rooted issues of her own that she could not overcome. Just as he feels he could have prevented his mother from leaving him, he feels like he could have given Cathy more and maybe she would have stayed with him. When again, in reality, Cathy’s reasons for leaving have absolutely nothing to do with Adam, but her own twisted and demonic problems that she refuses to overcome. Adam is both a kind-hearted and naive man. These traits are shown by his betrayal of Abel in the first generation of the Trask family and Eve’s companion Adam, a role befitting his name. I began to question at multiple points in the novel if Adam was really that clueless or did he know all along Cathy’s true nature and just refuse to allow negativity into his life? If that was the case, then believing and thinking positively did absolutely no good for him and this made the cards he was dealt with all the more effective at destroying his personality and quality of life.

This novel also depicts characters who recognize evil in themselves and wonder if they can overcome it. For example, in the second generation of the Trask family, featuring Cal and Aron Trask, Cal displays envious tendencies comparable to those of Charles Trask. Both loved their brothers but could not help but wish evil things on them. Overtime they both grew jealous of their brothers because of all the postive attention they were recieving and they themselves were lacking. Once Adam’s son, Cal Trask, figures out who his mother is he begins to believe that that her evil is reproduced in him, and the good he sees in his brother could not possibly exist in himself. His inner turmoil is the central conflict of the later portion of the novel.

Eventually, Cal is finally able to have a little part of Aron’s “perfect” life when his fiance falls for him. Abra voices that she loves Cal because he is not “all good” but instead he is full of everthing, goodness, badness, joy, sorrow, meaness, and kindness. In other words, having the choice between sin and virtue, denial and acceptance, and good and evil is what makes mankind so great and superioir to all other species. In this way, Steinbeck suggests that in order to be fully human, a person must, like Cal Trask, possess everythng. I belive what Steinbeck is attempting to teach his audience is that every human soul is a kind of contradiction. Meaning, that there is a monster like Cathy Ames in everyone, and consequnetly, there is a gullible and naive purity in everyone as well. That is, our very humanity depends upon being able to choose whether we want to be good or evil.

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