Of Mice and Men, The Grapes of Wrath, East Of Eden. It is not without reason that John Steinbeck is considered one of the great American writers. While he does not go as far as Milton in East of Eden, Steinbeck takes on a no less weighty topic in this book: the question of fate versus choice.
History repeats itself in East of Eden. Cain slew Abel. Charles nearly kills Adam, and Caleb and Aron seem poised to do the same. This leads to a certain amount of inevitability, or fate, as it were. Like a good writer, however, Steinbeck is not looking at inevitability. but rather what we as people do with that apparent fate.
Charles and Caleb both do their brothers harm over the apparent lack of love of the father. Charlies nearly kills Adam, and would have done so had Adam not hid. Caleb did not physically attack his brother, merely showed him what his mother way, and that spiritually killed Aron, who then went into the army and was killed in the first world war. Caleb may not have pulled the trigger himself, but he felt responsible for his brother’s death. The question of timshel – thou mayest, a question of great scholarly debate in the story, seems to apply here. Caleb chose his actions, like Charles before him, but so did Aron. Some critics may argue over the heavy-handedness of religion on this novel, however it serves an important point: that we all chose our destiny.
We all have choices to make, and the Hamiltons and Trasks made theirs. The Trasks had all the money in the world, but through a series of choices, the money went away, leaving them fairly empty as a family. The Hamiltons, on the other hand, were a poor family, living on even poorer land, but they were loving and beloved by almost everyone. They were rich and their lives flourished. Adam, on the other hand, let his property go to waste after Cathy left him for dead. He was not a father to his boys, he was not a farmer, nor was he a man involved much in anything else. He had money but nothing could compare to his spurned love.
The power of choice is apparent through all of the book. Cathy made her choice to be bad, only very late in life seeming to come up with some sort of conscience, albeit a very thin one. Cathy is the snake in the grass of the Garden of Eden. She represented all that was bad and sadistic about the world. She longed for money, and got it, through blackmail, whoring and sadism. She was always loved by her husband, but could not return it, forever suspicious. And she was the one who turned brother against brother. Charles saw Cathy for what she was, and wanted to turn her out, Adam did not. It was either Charles or Adam, or both, who fathered the twins, and the cycle began again.
At just over 600 pages, East of Eden was a tome. At times it seemed to meander, but having completed the book, one sees that most of the journey was worth it. The long stories of the two families might seem over done, but we are to take from these stories how different the families were. One had all the riches, could buy anything they wanted, and they were not happy. The other struggled for everything they had, but they were extremely happy. We choose our destiny. We choose how to live.
Timshel. Thou mayest have a happy life.