I’ve been thinking about John Steinbeck’s magnum opus, East of Eden for a very long time now. It might be the only book that ever would supersede my all-time favorite book…well, series…of Harry Potter.
Let me preface that and say that I love the hidden allegory in the Harry Potter series that often gets ignored.
I’m not here to defend Harry Potter, but I will say I proposed with the first book because it’s got the sentimental aspect of my relationship with my wife.
The point we’re all here is to talk about East of Eden.
I’ve enjoyed Steinbeck since I read Grapes of Wrath in high school. I tried my hardest to be the cool kid that didn’t care about it, but I loved that book. It was made even better when my friend made the joke after our teacher misspoke saying the name of the book and my friend said, “Ah, the Rapes of Grath. A tale of a space-traveling rapist.”
But Steinbeck, as I began to take my education more seriously, became one of the greatest writers I had ever read. His books were always top-notch to me.
However, I didn’t read East of Eden until a few years after I graduated college. In fact, I only read it because I read a different book where the author performs self-experiments then writes about them. The book in question was The Year of Living Biblically by AJ Jacobs, which I’ll review soon because it was great too.
But on to the main point.
The plot of this book is very intriguing. East of Eden was John Steinbeck’s attempt at figuring out why people should be responsible for their own choices.
Steinbeck determines that the answer should come from a deep look at the first sins.
I say sins because it does 2, the fall of Adam and Eve, and the murder of Abel by Cain.
East of Eden is John Steinbeck retelling this story in a 1930s setting. It also shows that history repeats itself. That means that the retelling of Cain murdering Abel plays out multiple times over the course of multiple generations.
It’s primarily set in the beautiful landscape of California’s Salinas Valley. The novel follows the Trask family primarily, but how they’re intertwined with the Hamilton family.
East of Eden begins with Adam and his brother Charles competing for their love of their parents Cyrus and Alice Trask. Then it falls to Adam’s family repeating the process. His wife, Cathy births twins, Caleb and Aaron then leaves him. This leaves Caleb and Aaron to repeat the process of the Fall and first murder.
That’s the extent of a plot I want to give. You have to read it to get the fun details by actually putting in the time to read it.
I’m sure most people have heard of East of Eden. It’s not only a crazy popular book, but it’s also a pretty crazy popular film.
Not going to lie, I would absolutely love it if a company like A24 or Netflix (despite the Cuties debacle) made a mini-series, like a single season or something, where they do this novel. It would be so freaking good and would win awards…if done well.
Nonetheless, it’s surprisingly not getting talked about a lot. I literally got my degree in English and didn’t even once bring up East of Eden.
I could get all conspiracy theorist and say that it’s probably because it’s contradictory to the modern belief of liberalism in the classroom, but the more likely answer is that it’s a 600 page behemoth of a book that should have a whole course to get people to discuss it.
East of Eden is large. It’s time consuming. But it’s damn life changing.
The biggest point of the book is individualism and taking responsibility for your own actions. It even makes a Biblical debate on the idea.
If you’re a fan of Mumford and Sons then the song Timshel may be well known. That song was written specifically because of this book.
The writing is amazing, and the deep philosophical and theological discussions that take place within the covers of this book are so excellent.
The biggest flaw from this though is that the debate is mainly an intellectual exploration of the Bible, going back to the language it was written in: Hebrew. The flaw comes from the lack of an intellectual counterargument.
That mean East of Eden is kind of built on the idea that God exists and is the ultimate being of the universe. If you take away this supposition, the novel kind of loses some steam.
But the point of East of Eden to show that personal ownership is divine. It’s what drives people. Not the punishment from the government, but an individual’s right and responsibility to believe in themselves and conquer sin.
Long story short: East of Eden is damn good and should be read by everyone. It helps challenge some beliefs and support others. It’s really good and is a strong reminder of individual responsibility.