Published in September of 1952, East of Eden deplores many religious matters, specifically, the concepts of sibling rivalry and the age old battle between good and evil. In the biblical Book of “Genesis,” the brothers Cain and Abel offer God “the father” a sacrifice. God favors the shepherd Abel’s sacrifice of his best lamb over the farmer Cain’s grain. Subsequently, in a jealous rage, Cain kills his brother Abel, only to be marked by God and banished to wander the earth. Stanford dropout, John Steinbeck applies the story of Genesis heavily in East of Eden; the concepts of this biblical allusion are evident in both generations of brothers.
In each generation, one of the Trask brothers is moral and good while the other brother behaves badly and immorally, already we see how the Trask family parallels “Genesis. ” Because the good Trask brothers are favored, the bad Trask brothers develop envious tendencies and a recurrent theme of sibling rivalry appears throughout the book.
The first generation of Trask brothers, Charles and Adam, follow the Cain and Abel biblical model from the very beginning. “.. it’s awful not to be loved. It’s the worst thing in the world…
It makes you mean, and violent, and cruel. ” (Steinbeck 347). This quote epitomizes the root of all evil in the Trask generations- lack of recognition to one of the sons. When their deadbeat father Cyrus favors Adam’s birthday gift of a puppy over Charles’ expensive knife, Charles nearly beats Adam to death. Although Charles does not kill Adam, he is a clear allusion to Cain. While Adam wanders the Earth in the army, it is Charles who remains on the farm, where like Cain, he becomes marked with a dark brown scar.
Adam therefor, is reflected as Abel. “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. ” (127). This quote is a clear representation of the Adam and Charles relationship throughout the novel. The incident that occurred over a simple birthday gift sparked a jealous rage that caused Charles and Adam to remain at odds with each other throughout their entire lives despite their love for each other.
The next generation of Trask brothers, the dark haired Cal and fair-haired Aaron, also carry out the dynamics of the Cain and Abel tale. Cal’s jealousy towards Aron is due to the favoritism that Aron receives from their father Adam; this is especially seen through an episode that resulted in Aarons death. For some reason, Adam favors Aron over Cal and when Cal offers his father a birthday present of $15,000 to help him recover his financial losses, Adam scorns him for making the money during a war-time economy. In a rage, Cal takes his brother to visit the notorious prostitute that birthed the two boys.
Emotionally traumatized, Aaron runs away to the army during World War I, and dies soon after. Cal lies to Adam when asked about ‘Aaron’s whereabouts. “Where is he? ” “How do I know? ” said Cal. “Am I supposed to look after him? (p. 562). This sequence between Cal and Adam portrays the emotional barrier between the two that seems to bring out the untruthfulness in Cal that reflects his ancient parallel, Cain. Thus, the biblical tale plays out with Cal, although inadvertently, killing his brother. “It might be the most important word in the world. That says the way is open.
That throws it right back on a man. For if ‘Thou mayest’—it is also true that ‘Thou mayest not. ” (301). This introduce the concept of timshel. While psychologically shattered Adam reminisces over Cathy, Lee and Samuel share philosophical discussions over the ancient Hebrew word “timshel. ” Timshel defies the pattern in the Cain and Abel tale, rather than condemning the less favored brother to a life of sin it pursues the issue of free will and grants Cal the strength to depart from the inherently bound evil motives that possessed him at an early age.
While Cal caused much destruction to his family, perhaps he reflects less of the malicious Cain than we tend to recognize. It is quite clear that the Trask brothers are molded after the ancient biblical brothers Cain and Abel. Steinbeck has masterfully recreated the ancient story and vitalized the literarily ubiquitous theme of sibling rivalry. Steinbeck has managed to revive a theme that has been evident in literature since biblical times. Steinbeck is a true saint of literary technique.
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