East of Eden – Setting

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Intro John Steinbeck was born in 1902, in Salinas, California, the setting of this novel. From The Grapes of Wrath to Cannery Row, he has given American Ethos memorable portraits of the dispossessed- immigrants, farmers, rural underclass and the like. Though not in grinding poverty, Steinbeck did not manage to publish a commercially successful book until 1935, during which he observed how America responded to the Great Depression and labor unrest.

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He grew incredibly fond of the proletariats, their compelling stories and concrete ethics, an admiration that would bring to the socially small and insignificant to fictional heroism, like Lennie of Of Mice and Men Samuel Hamilton of East of Eden. The fruit that the snake entices Eve to ingest is from the forbidden tree of knowledge of good and evil. The consequences of the Fall are that humans are no longer innocent and, as Satan appeals to them with lies and grandeur, will always be naturally inclined to do evil.

God punishes his disobedient children with a trying mortal life of suffering, and asks humans to use free will to eradicate the urges of sin completely, repent otherwise and be good by His authoritatively prescribed standards for salvation. This binary, absolute path to the Pearly Gates provides comfort and consistency in a radical world. It is also this very simplicity of the divine that Steinbeck rejects for the complexities of that glittering instrument, the human soul. (Steinbeck 32). To say Steinbeck is interested in the tension between man and God would be an understatement- all but one novel in his wide body of work contain overt references to neo-Christian ideas. An Episcopalian from childhood and conversant with traditions of the faith, he gradually distanced himself from organised religion and grew skeptical of its role in American culture in his later years. If his previous work had the refrain to give polish and poise to his meditation on this dilemma, East of Eden makes no such effort to shield his intent evident in the primitivism in structure and hardheaded attitude. Coupled with his awareness that this should be his magnum opus- the work he has been preparing for all his life- this novel is the one where his authorial voice comes through the loudest, both in moral lesson and in artistic vision.

East of Eden takes two familiar biblical stories from the Book of Genesis- Adam and Eve and Cain and Abel- using the narrative framework of each to tell a multigenerational epic following the Trasks and the Hamiltons, that first and foremost pays tribute to the human spirit in all its good and evil. It explores what Steinbeck sees as the single most important question of existence- A man, after he has brushed off the dust and chips of his life,

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