East of Eden

Maternal Absence and Paternal Rejection in East of Eden 12th Grade

Often times when we read or analyze texts, we ask simple, broad questions that are at the root of larger, deeper questions. For example, why does a particular character act a certain way? What are the motivations behind those actions? These questions often have no concrete answers that we can derive from the text. But by looking at these questions through the lens of a specific literary theory, we are able to create a hypothetical answer based on logical rules. By analyzing characters’ actions and motivations through the lens of psychoanalytic theory, which is highly influenced by Freudian thought, we are able to answer difficult questions about troubling characters in East of Eden. Psychoanalytic theory allows the reader to do an in-depth character analysis using Freud’s highly developed psychoanalytic concepts. In East of Eden, Cal struggles with an unusual Oedipus complex. This, combined with his under-developed superego, results in paternal rejection being significantly more traumatic for him than it would be for a person under normal psychological circumstances. These factors cause him to act out against his brother.

Freud identifies the Oedipus complex as the childhood desire to sleep with your mother and get rid of your...

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