Evil In East Of Eden

Evil In East Of Eden

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East of Eden: Is Evil Nature or Nurtured?

John Steinbeck's novel East of Eden was inspired by a message he wished to send to his sons. Steinbeck created this epic story to carry his voice and advice to the two young boys whom he loved immensely. He wrote the story of good and evil, including love and hate, demonstrating how they are inseparable. ("East of Eden", Kirjasto) Steinbeck wanted to describe to Thom and John IV, the Salinas Valley, the treasured place in which he grew up. He aspired to detail every element from sights and sounds to colors and smells. He placed East of Eden here, in the Salinas Valley, not because of its significance to the story but the importance intended for his sons. ("East of Eden Summary") This setting includes more than memories from Steinbeck's childhood, it shows the history of the time period. Different waves of immigrants to California, new inventions including Ford automobiles and new windmills, an attempt at shipping lettuce in icebox train cars and organized prostitution across the West are some of the real occurrences that took place during this period of history. As his children grew Steinbeck hoped that East of Eden would show them their roots. The families created in the novel contributed to this significance. The Hamilton's were immigrants from Ireland, Steinbeck's true ancestors. The Trask family was fictional, helping to tell the story Steinbeck felt was important to every man. This universal family living next to a universal neighbor had meaning to his sons as well as to anyone who picked up the work. John Steinbeck calls the novel the story of my country and the story of me. East of Eden tells of a boy becoming a man as he overcomes jealousy and realizes self worth; this being achieved by the realization that everyone possesses good and evil. A quote from Steinbeck himself expresses the desire he had to instill this in the lives of his sons, "this is for my sons" to read when they are grown...And so I will tell one of the greatest-The story of good and evil, of strength and weakness, of love and hate, of beauty and ugliness." John Steinbeck's meaningful novel displays good and evil, while questioning the reader of whether evil is fated or if our lives are ruled by moral choice. (Pearson; "The Novel: East of Eden")

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Steinbeck illuminates the story of good and evil with the biblical story of Cain and Abel. In this biblical lesson, Adam and Eve commit the original sin by eating the fruit of the tree of knowledge in the Garden of Eden. This fruit had been forbidden to them by the lord. As punishment for their sin, Adam and Eve are sent to a less perfect world outside the Garden of Eden. Here they are allowed to have children and give birth to Cain and Abel. Cain cultivated the ground and Abel was a shepherd. Sacrifices from both boys were made to God. God rejected Cain's gift. (Enotes on East of Eden) Cain becomes jealous of his brother Abel and kills him, thus creating the first sin of murder. When Cain seems to triumph, the Lord intervenes and punishes Cain. God then teaches Cain to choose good over evil. (Sauder)
In East of Eden Lee said to Adam and Sam that the story of Cain and Abel, "is the symbol story of the human soul, the best-known story in the world because it is everybody's story." This significant story mirrors elements in East of Eden. Resembling the biblical story, where Cain represents evil, the characters throughout the novel with names beginning with the letter C represent evil as well. Cyrus, Charles, Cathy and Cal display negative traits throughout the novel. Abel represents good; therefore the characters with names beginning with A appear to be good. Adam, Aaron, Alice, and Abra are examples of Abel characters. The sacrifices offered to God are also mirrored in the novel. In the beginning of the novel, Charles and Adam give birthday presents to their father, Cyrus. Cyrus favors Adams gift of a puppy to Charles' gift of a knife. Later in the story Aarons gift to his father, Adam, is accepted while Cal's is rejected. Cal, Caleb, grows jealous and seeks revenge by destroying his brother's innocence. He takes him to meet their mother at the house of prostitution that she owns and runs. Aaron is shocked after learning the truth about his mother that he later joins the military. As a result of going to war Aaron is shot and killed. Cal doesn't directly murder his brother although he ultimately causes his death. In both cases the Old Testament shows no preferences or justification for the favoritism. (Phillips; Sauder) Charles and Caleb are seen many times throughout the novel fighting for their father's attention just as Cain fought for God's attention. Lee says the story of Cain and Abel is important because it's the story of rejection. He believes that this is the root from which all evil develops because with rejection comes anger, anger some kind of crime in revenge for the rejection and with crime guilt. Lee explains that this is the story of mankind, an inevitable cycle. (Steinbeck) John Steinbeck offers the reader some choice of redemption o this inevitable evil through his use of timshel.
Cain is banished to the land of Nod, east of Eden, after killing Abel.Here God blesses him with free will, leaving the choice to him. He advises that no matter how deep the sin there is always redemption. He told Cain he may choose to live a righteous life. God said may, leading to this hope of redemption. May in Hebrew is Timshol, although Steinbeck's translation in the novel was timshel. (The Novel: "East of Eden") Timshel indicates that a person can still have evil tendencies and not follow them. It provides choice. The choice lies within you and is your own. It is not a commandment from God or a determined fate. With timshel mankind has the choice to choose goodness and redeem himself. (Sauder) During the discussion of the Cain and Abel Story with Samuel and Adam, Lee explains the significance timshel holds:
Thou mayest' that gives a choice. 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.' ...Now, there are millions in their sects and churches who feel the order, ‘Do thou,' and throw their weight into obedience. And there are millions more who feel predestination in ‘Thou shalt.' Nothing they may do can interfere with what will be. But ‘Thou mayest'! Why, that makes a man great, that gives him stature with the gods, for in his weakness and his filth and his murder of his brother he has still the great choice. He can choose his course and fight it through and win. (301-303)
The choice to choose good over evil provided through timshel like Lee says offers that redemption. A cycle of evil is not inevitable and as long as the choice is made. The characters throughout East of Eden are faced with many chances to choose timshel and overcome evil.
Timshel was accepted by the characters on many different levels. Cathy was able to choose goodness over evil but always choose wrong. She was evil in every turn manipulating and wounding others for her own benefit. (Sauder; Phillips) She insisted there was only evil in the world, therefore never achieving anything else. She killed her parents, attempted to make Mr. Edwards mad, attempted to kill Adam and she killed Fay. Aaron in contrast, only accepted the world's goodness, never choosing evil. Cyrus chooses evil by stealing money during his term as a U.S. Army administrator. After lying about his heroic deeds in the civil war he was promoted to this job. Charles succumbs to jealousy over Adam, thus choosing evil.
Caleb was aware of the evil within himself. He fought tremendously against it, sometimes with success others falling a little less short. He struggled the most, perhaps because of his anxiety of inheriting a legacy of sin from his mother. (Phillips) However success came when he when he accepted himself and saw his life as it was. When he saw this he was able to choose outside of his nature and choose goodness. (Jackson) Caleb had to accept Aaron's death and not blame himself. When Cal accepted his "fall from grace" he was rewarded by receiving his father's forgiveness. Through confessing his sins to his father, Adam blesses him- granting Cal the power of free will. Here he masters timshel. Although he chooses evil in providing the reason Aaron went to the military, he accepted his actions and choose outside his nature. This proves Steinbeck's one point that love can conquer evil. (Sauder) The discussion of Cain and Abel was intended to question the reader more. It instills a desire for the truth through this discussion of heaven and hell, right and wrong, and truth and lie. The characters represent many of traits some as simple as good and evil others such as jealousy and envy.
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