Good vs. Evil in Steinbeck's "East of Eden"

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A theme is a unifying or dominant idea in a literary work. Steinbeck described the competition of good versus evil as the story of mankind itself. He believes that every generation to come since Adam and Eve will now be immersed with the struggle of good and evil due to Eve’s curiosity that led to sin, eventually banning both her and Adam from the Garden of Eden. In East of Eden, Steinbeck makes the contest of good versus evil apparent through his contrasting description of the setting, the characters’ opposing personalities, and society’s changing morals.

To show that man is surrounded by good and evil no matter where they are, Steinbeck describes the setting in a contrasting way to represent the good side and the bad side of nature. He begins the book by describing two mountain ranges. The first he describes are the Gabilan Mountains. These mountains were located to the east, welcoming the beginning of a new day every morning. They “were light gay mountains full of sun and loveliness” (Steinbeck 3). To the west are the Santa Lucias Mountains. They “kept the valley from the open sea, and they were dark and brooding – unfriendly and dangerous” (Steinbeck 3). No matter where a person lived in the valley, they were always surrounded by a “dread of west and a love of east” because of these two mountain ranges (Steinbeck 3). Also, Steinbeck uses a river to describe the theme of good versus evil. During the winter of wet years, the river would often overflow the banks, destroying farms and houses near it, bringing turmoil and devastation. When spring came, however, the river would contract to the confines of its banks, leaving the land fertile and full of new life (Steinbeck 3-4). In the valley, there were two types of years: dry yea...

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