Essay on the Character of Caleb Trask in John Steinbeck's East of Eden

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The Character of Caleb Trask in East of Eden Cal Trask is one of the most complex characters in John Steinbeck's East of Eden. Through Cal's childhood experiences, his personal motives, and his internal conflict, Steinbeck shows the development of Cal's character. First of all, the most important childhood experience which affects Cal's life is Adam's 12 year abandonment of his sons. Since Cathy ran away, the twins have no mother figure to give them tenderness as they grow up. This absence of open affection leaves Cal unable to express his needs for love and attention. Only Lee, the Chinese servant, is there to guide Cal and Aron. Since Cal is the more dominant of the two brothers, he learns to manipulate Aron and others around him. He takes this role because, while "no one liked Cal very much... Aron drew love from every side"(Steinbeck 551). Lee observes that "he's [Cal] fighting for his life and his brother doesn't have to fight [for his father's love and affection]"(386). Cal's well-intentioned motives are mostly aimed at winning his father's love. He sacrifices his pride and asks Will Hamilton to help him raise money to replace the money Adam lost in the lettuce adventure. When Adam rejects the money, he in effect rejects Cal, which is "brutal, and unfeeling, and this after he had begun a cordial relationship with his son"(Fontenrose 375). Cal is so distraught that he lashes out at Aron, his father's favorite son, by telling him the truth about their mother. This act is a contrast to a similar crossroad earlier in the novel when Cal doesn't tell Aron the truth about his mother because "he didn't think Aron could handle it at all" (586). Cal also withholds the information in an effort to be "good," and because Cal knows that the revelation of his knowledge of this secret would bring pain to Adam, the man he loves the most. Finally, Cal is faced with his internal struggle of good versus evil. This struggle is partly caused by his traumatic child experiences. He struggles with the question of whether his evil actions are the result of his own evilness or his mother's wickedness. He tries to combat this wickedness that he sees within himself by trying to acquire affection, especially his father's, through good deeds and being more pleasant towards other. However, he strikes out at others whenever he feels rejected by Adam, and he fights the urge to strike out at Aron, who Cal believes is Adam's favorite son, by using his most devastating weapon---the truth about their mother.

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