I am sometimes very upset by the fact that the true masters of the pen often do not find in the life of that recognition, which they undoubtedly deserved. Pulitzer and Nobel Prizes posthumously, world circulations and translations into dozens of foreign languages, enrolling in the ranks of classics and similar regalia – it’s all the same, but where were you when you were still breathing and walking about the same land with us?! Alas, we cannot appreciate what we have at the moment, and the realization of all the importance comes too late. To a certain extent these words also apply to John Steinbeck. His book “East of Eden” was adopted rather coldly, or even hostile. But how cool the events have changed literally several decades after its first publication!
Believe me, it’s quite difficult to put together all the disparate thoughts and write a clear impression of a book like “East of Eden.” The fact is that this is not just a book, but an entire epic saga in which space is reserved for several generations and a huge number of problems, and life gave them the wonderful language of John Steinbeck, his unique ability to use metaphors meticulously, create perfect images, and fill his own text with many-sided ideas. As in his other landmark work, The Grapes of Anger, Steinbeck relies on the most powerful biblical layer, the basis of which became the prototype for the main characters of the book, as well as some events. But we’ll talk about this a little later!
What is this book about?
The main events in the work unfold around different generations of the Trask family: grandfather Cyrus Trask, then his sons Adam and Karl, as well as the sons of Adam – Caleb and Aron. Actions stretch for a long half century, capturing the second half of the 19th century, and until the end of the First World War. In the book the author introduces us to other families (Hamilton, for example), as well as people of all kinds of professions and occupations: farmers, entrepreneurs, courtesans. Steinbeck spent several years in the archives, studying the real history of the Salinas valley, and so his work turned out so plausible that the first impressions of the Salinists themselves were extremely indignant: how did the writer dare to show the whole truth about their corruption, debauchery and drunkenness?!
So what exactly is the book about? If someone says that it is devoted to the eternal confrontation between good and evil, I most likely will not agree with this statement. There is no exceptional good in this book, actually, as well as a real evil personify! Your arguments about the fact that Katy Trask was exactly the same evil, I will not accept for one simple reason: Steinbeck is an exemplary author (in Umberto Eco’s theory – like a voice that sounds in the mind of the reader, leads to and directs to the necessary the side), as if God creates images of people and explains their fundamental essence and significance. So in his explanation, Cathy cannot be called an evil being, its essence is slightly higher than what is usually considered deliberate feudal action.
Here it is necessary to make a small digression and explain the biblical basis of the work, perhaps the meaning of the previous paragraph will be more clear. So, when reading the book, it is impossible not to notice a clear parallel between the Traskov family and the history of the first people created by God. The already mentioned Adam (with emphasis on the title “A”) Trask, however stupid it may sound, is a real prototype of the very Adam (with an emphasis on the second “a”) – the first person on earth. Like his biblical prototype, Adam Trask had two sons – Caleb and Aron. By the way, the name was also taken from the Bible, and with due imagination one can find a certain harmony between Cain and Caleb, Abel and Aron. The fate of sons in many ways is also similar: two completely different in their spiritual world boy, different interests and goals, hobbies. As in the Bible, the brother kills his brother, but Steinbeck does this differently, however indirectly, however, the message remains unchanged.
What about Eve? In the Bible, Eve is the first woman created from the rib of Adam; The first mother who gave birth to two sons. She is – the embodiment of purity and some female sanctity, however, she was tempted by the serpent, she became the reason for their expulsion from the Garden of Eden, it was she who gave life to the first murderer of man. If we take into account all these characteristics, we will get a very contradictory image. It is such a contradictory image that creates Steinbeck in the face of Katie Trask.
It is difficult to say what sense or prototype John Steinbeck put in the image of Cathy. Was this Eva and her multi-facetedness or is it just an inflamed fantasy of the author of these lines? Probably, everyone will answer for himself.
However, not only the biblical basis is so important this novel! I already mentioned above that the writer’s constant visits to the city archives of Salinas played a significant role in outlining details and life. That is why we see such a naturalistic image of life a century ago.
We with undisguised reverence observe Sam Hamilton – extremely pleasant and good-natured farmer. Lee is a Chinese servant – contrary to his stupid image, very intelligent and perhaps the only character able to think sensibly and deeply. I assure you that you will not even find the same images of Steinbeck. In addition to the above generations, the writer introduces into his story a whole layer of the population, each cell of which is endowed with unique characteristics. There is a place in the narrative and the family of certain Steinbeck’s – for sure the writer decided to leave a part of himself in the history of this book. So the elements of autobiography are visible to the naked eye, it’s not for nothing that the author himself was born and spent his childhood in the California Salinas valley.
The writer himself considered the book “East of Eden” his fundamental work, in which he wanted to sum up the final line under all creativity, explain everything that he devoted his life to. Steinbeck was very afraid of being rejected, and as I already wrote above, that’s exactly what happened. During his lifetime, his work was poorly accepted by the society of critics, and, frankly, in some ways I can agree with them. “To the east of Eden” – this is very viscous reading, not devoid of stages of misunderstanding and rejection, but in my understanding, this is not an author’s defect, but a reader’s failure. Therefore, it is necessary to embrace the scope of the writer’s thought and the level of problems, and to strive for the epic, on the altar of which Steinbeck laid all his powers, skills and knowledge.