Tag Archives: John Steinbeck

East of Eden Read-Along — Final #estellaproject

East of Eden Readalong BadgeThere are no discussion questions to answer for the final installment, and as you can see from the readalong badge, I’m almost two weeks late finishing the book, anyway. For other discussion posts by others in the East of Eden Readalong, visit The Estella Society here. There are no spoilers here, but there will be some in other discussion posts so if you haven’t read East of Eden, watch out for spoilers (as well as for your brother)!

East of Eden is currently my nomination for the Great American Novel. (Is it better than The Grapes of Wrath? I don’t know, because I read that so long ago.) The Grapes of Wrath, published in 1939, won the National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize for fiction. According to Wikipedia, East of Eden, which was published in 1952, was “not well received by critics, who found it heavy-handed and unconvincing, especially in its use of Biblical allusion.” The Wikipedia article about East of Eden goes on to say, with a thumb of the nose to contemporary critics of the day: “Nevertheless, it became an instant bestseller in November 1952, a mere month after it was released, and is now considered one of Steinbeck’s finest achievements.”

Of course, in any book discussion, we want to talk about the ending with someone who shared the reading experience along with us, but I don’t want to spoil it for anyone who hasn’t read it. The beauty of online readalongs is that I can just share this link to a blog post I stumbled across that says everything I would have said here and has saved me all the trouble of writing it myself:

You Must, You Shall, You May: The Ending of East of Eden written by Alex on the blog I Might Be Wrong.

East of Eden struck me as true to life, even with all the biblical allusions and parallels, because of the way that the lives of the main characters – Adam, Aron, and Cal – are shown to us with the attendant characters playing a large role and then disappearing from the story – even dying – or going away and eventually coming back. Most of us don’t go through life with the same people playing the same role the whole time, right?

I think East of Eden would appeal to family saga readers for the way it shows the passing of generations of a single family and its moments of high drama and long stretches of calm. Readers who like to delve into the psychology of the characters would also like it, with all the passages about personality traits, behavior, and heredity.

If you haven’t read it, don’t let the length of it scare you off! It’s a pretty fast-moving story. The biblical aspects we all keep mentioning are “bible as literature”-type references, so don’t let that scare you off either. The tone of East of Eden is agnostic, not at all preachy.


East of Eden Read-Along Installment #3 #estellaproject

East of Eden Readalong BadgeFor other discussion posts by others in the East of Eden Readalong, visit The Estella Society here.

Now, on to the discussion questions for Chapters 28-40. There will be some spoilers if you haven’t read this book, but not too many:

1. What do you think of the twins since they’ve grown up quite a bit? They seem to take after both Adam and Charles. How do you explain that? My book club had fun with some theories recently.
Well, Adam and Charles shared a father so they may have inherited some of the same traits from him that got passed on to the twins. Since the twins Cal and Aron don’t look alike, is it biologically possible that sperm from two different fathers could have fertilized the eggs?

2. Any surprises in this section? Lee, Dessie and Tom, Adam’s business dealings? Just some ideas. :)
I was surprised by Cal’s reaction to meeting his mother and then by Adam’s response to Cal’s reaction. Lee is still the glue holding the family of men together, and he knew when to step aside and let Adam talk with Cal one on one. I was also surprised by Aron’s religious leanings and that he might be willing to give up his first love for the church.

3. Ugh, Kathy/Cate. Is there anything redeemable about this woman?
The pain of arthritis is far less than she deserves!

4. Share a quote!

This is the end of the passage about Cal’s conversation with Lee about Cathy/Kate at the end of Chapter 38:

“Cal drifted toward the door, slowly, softly. He shoved his fists deep in his pockets. ‘It’s like you said about knowing people. I hate her because I know why she went away. I know – because I’ve got her in me.’ His head was down and his voice was heartbroken.
Lee jumped up. ‘You stop that!’ he said sharply. ‘You hear me? Don’t let me catch you doing that. Of course you may have that in you. Everybody has. But you’ve got the other too. Here – look up! Look at me!’
Cal raised his head and said wearily, ‘What do you want?’
‘You’ve got the other too. Listen to me! You wouldn’t even be wondering if you didn’t have it. Don’t you dare take the lazy way. It’s too easy to excuse yourself because of your ancestry. Don’t let me catch you doing it! Now – look close at me so you will remember. Whatever you do, it will be you who do it – not your mother.’
‘Do you believe that, Lee?’
‘Yes, I believe it, and you’d better believe it or I’ll break every bone in your body.’
After Cal had gone Lee went back to his chair. He thought ruefully, I wonder what happened to my Oriental repose?”



East of Eden Read-Along Installment #2 #estellaproject

East of Eden Readalong BadgeI’m supposed to be farther along than I am in East of Eden by John Steinbeck, so I’m going to do a quick discussion post and get back to reading, although it may be too late for me to catch up! For other discussion posts by others who have reached this checkpoint in the East of Eden Readalong, visit The Estella Society here.

Now, on to the discussion questions for Chapters 14-27. There will be some spoilers if you haven’t read this book, but not too many:

1. What do you think of the characters’ growth and/or change in this section? Specifically, Adam, Cathy/Kate, and Lee have all had some big things happen.
I was surprised that Charles dropped by the wayside once Adam moved west, but I guess his part in the story had already been played and his influence on Adam’s future would eventually be felt from afar. I had less empathy for Cathy/Kate in this section because even though the narrator tells us her evil nature is genetic and not her fault, it’s impossible not to recoil from a person like her. Lee and Samuel – growing old separately and not seeing each other often – are the most sympathetic of all the main characters and are the role models Adam needs.

2. Lee is quickly becoming an important and insightful character. What do you think of his insights and his thoughts on language and his ethnicity?
I love Lee and his sharp insights into human nature and how people think about people who are different from them! At first I thought how unfortunate it was that he remains a servant for so long, caught in a trap of responsibility and love (?) for the neglected twins, and I wish he weren’t so subservient, but his intelligence finds an outlet soon enough and his selfless nature makes seem more powerful than Adam, despite being his servant.

3. The Cain and Abel and the importance of narrative continues to take on more prominence. How so?
The Cain and Abel story is deceptively simple, and there is light shed on it in this section, but this question is too complicated to go into now! I need to get back to reading. Look to see if others have answered this question better, or go read the book yourself!

4. How do you perceive Samuel now that he’s gone? Was he just a device for delivering advice?
Nooooooooo! I am so sad at this point. I don’t perceive Samuel as a mere plot device, at all! He confessed something at the end, but that made him seem all the more valiant and pure-hearted to me. He was much more than a talker or dispenser of advice, he was a father and a do-er.

5. Cathy/Kate…expound. There will probably be one of these at every checkpoint because OMGthatwoman.
Without Cathy/Kate, Cal and Aron would not have been born. That may, in the end, have been a good thing for all concerned, but from her conscience-less existence, two new lives have sprung; given the parallels drawn between Cal and Aron and Cain and Abel, odds are good that one of those lives (poor Cal and poor Aron) will be very, very bad.

 6. Anything else?
One character I would have liked to see more of, and hope that we will in the remainder of the book, is Liza Hamilton, Samuel’s wife, whom he calls “Mother”. This passage is from Chapter 16:

“Samuel came in from the yard where he had been washing himself. His face and beard gleamed with water, and he turned down the sleeves of his blue shirt as he entered the kitchen. Rolled-up sleeves at the table were not acceptable to Mrs. Hamilton. They indicated either an ignorance or a flouting of the niceties.
‘I’m late, Mother,’ Samuel said.
She did not look around at him. Her spatula moved like a striking snake and the hot cakes settled their white sides hissing on the soapstone. ‘What time was it you came home?’ she asked.
‘Oh, it was late – late. Must have been near eleven. I didn’t look, fearing to waken you.’
‘I did not waken,’ Liza said grimly. ‘And maybe you can find it healthy to rove all night, but the Lord God will do what He sees fit about that.’ It was well known that Liza Hamilton and the Lord God held similar convictions on nearly every subject. She turned and reached and a plate of crisp hot cakes lay between Tom’s hands. ‘How does the Sanchez place look?’ she asked.