I recently finished reading John Steinbeck’s East of Eden for about the eighth or ninth time. It still stands as my favorite book if I had to choose a favorite that is. For a while now I have thought about writing a post like this for those of you who might be wondering a few things about the book and me. I tried to stay away from any spoilers in this post but majorly failed so SPOILER ALERT! Also, these are only my thoughts and interpretations of the books although most people agree on many of the themes and ideas I mention here. If you have not read the book yet and are interested in doing so I would advise reading it then coming back to this post and sharing your own thoughts with me. Since this is my favorite book, I really love hearing how it has changed and influenced others lives and what others like or dislike about it( though I find it hard to believe anyone would dislike this book at all.) Here are some common questions I have been asked in conversations about the book, Steinbeck and just a few others things I wanted to include in this post.
- How did I first come across the book?
This is actually one of my favorite stories to tell about how I learned about a book. Flash back to around 2013 and little Eva entering high school. Ninth grade year Humane Letters class. I can’t remember how the book fit into whatever discussion we were having but my teacher at that time read us a passage from the book, the scene where Adam is sitting with Lee naming the twins ( Cal and Aron), I think. The teachers at my school were reading the book for a faculty book discussion that they carry out every year. After, she read us the passage many of us had questions about the book. She said to paraphrase, that it was an beautiful crafted book but that it was probably a little heavy for many of us. In fact, she strongly discouraged us reading it. Naturally, that only made me more curious. I had heard of Steinbeck but up until then I had never read anything he wrote. I went that week end and checked out the book from the library. That day changed my life in many ways.
2. Why is it my favorite book?
This is one of those questions that internally I know the very answer to but never know how to put into words. I will try…
One question that I think I have been asking myself for years without realizing it until I first read this book was: Am I a Cal or an Aron, a Charles or an Adam, a Cain or an Abel, a Cathy or perhaps an Abra? In other words, as a human being I struggle with the same story we all do, as Steinbeck so elegantly states and as shown in this post I created and put on Instagram a few weeks ago.
Maybe I just feel that Steinbeck encapsulates the human condition, the human story and my own struggles like no one else can. I feel this bond in his words that resonates so strongly with me and my life. It isn’t about the way the story reads, though it reads beautiful and I stand in awe of his use of language. It is about looking into the pages and seeing my own reflection. It is about wanting to hate Cathy, or Charles and call them evil…but then seeing myself in them. It is about knowing we are all in the Land of Nod, east of Eden, struggling between good and evil like those in Steinbeck’s Salinas Valley who find themselves stuck between the darkness of the Santa Lucia Mts and the goodness of the Gablian mountains.
In short, I love the book because of its amazing penmanship, its message, my connection to the author( who connects himself directly to the text in many ways therefore displaying his own struggle with good and evil), my connection to humanity through it and my personal struggles with good and evil.
3. What do I take away as the key message from the book?
I kind of went into this one in the last question. I think these are the keys points though.
i.) Good and evil are part of being human… but we have Choice, in a biblical sense, free will.
ii.) Having that choice may be important but we have to learn to want what is good and to go after it even in the face of personal battles that may lure us to the evil.
iii.) Identity: We can’t take what is given to us for all that we are. We are not those who came before us. Even Lee shows this idea throughout the text. He may be Chinese but that does not define him and in many ways he doesn’t relate to it. Yet, he finds himself connected to that part of himself in other ways as well… he isn’t afraid to choose to be something outside of his nationality. This is also about Choice. Choosing to perhaps go against your inner voice and also the choice to see the good in yourself and others. We can’t identity with only the darkness in us, Cal and Adam both struggled with this throughout the book. Of course, there is the question of whether Cathy had any good in her…. but I think she did, she just chose to never see it, to never feed it and therefore she died full of darkness.
iii.) Naming/ Familial Bonds: Commonly this is something that is not a key theme but I think it is really important. Not only do we see this importance in places such as when Adam refuses to name the twins but we also see in through other characters. Cal chooses to go by Cal instead of Caleb, his full name. While the story offers this has a simple choice of preferences, it is interesting that at the very end of the story when Cal is receiving Adam’s blessing the name Caleb is uttered. We can see this significance in relation to the bible. In the bible, names are an important thing uniting people to god. In fact, another reason names are such an important theme in the book is because of Steinbeck’s choice of names. As I mentioned earlier the names can be divided into two main categories, those that start with C and those that start with A, likened then to the biblical Cain and Abel ( good and evil once again, as well as the ideas of acceptance, rejection and blessings). This also ties into my next point about familial bonds in the story. While one may argue that families are only stressed so much in the story because you have to have background in any story to understand what is going on, I disagree. The story is built around different familial structures all a part of a whole, that of humanity which as I mentioned earlier is the crux of the story. The story of humanity and our struggles. Therefore, names and naming as well as familial structures, relationships and bonds or lack there of are more key themes and sub themes in East of Eden.
While, I do believe there are more themes in this book and perhaps will consider doing more posts on this book in a different format in the future, these are the four main themes from the book in my opinion: Good versus evil ( as shown in many forms and through many biblical references, choice( free will), Identity ( personal, national, familial, and choice involved in it), and the importance of family/familial bonds as well as the significance of names and naming.
4. If I am not religious then why do I latch onto many of the ideas in the book so firmly?
Some of this I already covered in the above questions but in short, I don’t think this book is saying god is the only way. I don’t deny it can be read through a religious lens but I think it goes beyond that. I want to be clear though, I think it could not be what it is if it did not have the biblical references in it. It is about the human condition, so is the bible… and while I don’t believe the entire bible is true, I do believe that true or not it speaks to the human condition… the same in many ways with East of Eden.
5. Have I read in other Steinbeck books?
Yes. After reading East of Eden. I read The Grapes of Wrath, Cup of Gold. Of Mice and Men, The Red Pony, Cannery Row, and The Wayward Bus. In fact, I consider Steinbeck my favorite author overall since most of his books carry similar ideas and sentiments that I resonate with on a very deep level.
I know this was a bit of a longer post but like I said I wanted to address many questions in regards to my relationship with this book. If you have any others or want to know more drop your questions in the comments and if I get enough maybe I will make a part 2. Also, if you want to see more quote art work follow me on Instagram where I have shared more similar posts to the one above. 🙂
Thanks for stopping by my little ink angels and have a wonderful day!