# East of Eden Themes

## The Land

Steinbeck utilizes the opening chapter's symbolic landscape to illustrate the overriding theme of good versus evil that permeates the novel: the Eden-like Salinas Valley is surrounded by the "good" sunlit Gabilan Mountains to the East, and the dark and foreboding "bad" Santa Lucias Mountains to the West. For most of the novel, the characters reside in this valley.

The land also reveals the characteristics of the two major families, the Hamilton and the Trasks. The Hamiltons settle in the driest land, but although their land is practically barren, they raise nine children. The wealthy Trasks buy the most fertile land, but despite its rich soil and plentiful water, the farm remains uncultivated for decades after Cathy abandons Adam.

## Good vs. Evil

Steinbeck illustrates the central theme of good versus evil through two of his primary characters: Samuel Hamilton, who represents goodness, and Cathy Ames, who represents pure evil. Both characters play crucial roles in the spiritual development of the protagonist, Adam Trask.

Samuel Hamilton, the positive patriarch, mentors Adam with support and guidance, unlike Adam's own father, Cyrus, who lies about his military record to amass a fortune. Samuel, an Irish immigrant himself, views books as treasures, and fathers nine children. Throughout the novel, he is associated with light, water, and fertitility.

Cathy Ames is Samuel Hamilton's polar opposite. She murders her parents, becomes a prostitute and brothel owner, enslaves her whores with drugs, encourages sadomasochistic sexual practices, and blackmails her customers. In contrast to Samuel, Cathy is associated with darkness and gloom.

Both the innate goodness of Samuel Hamilton and the inherent evil of Cathy Ames deeply influence Adam Trask, and throughout the novel he wavers between the two poles. He loves his wife Cathy even when he is confronted with her evil nature, but also deeply admires his teacher and mentor, Samuel.

## Timshel

The concept of timshel is a major thematic concern throughout the novel. A hebrew verb, timshel translates into "thou mayest", and expresses the notion that humans have the ability to choose good over evil. It holds that we can decide not to be influenced by our dark family histories, and choose instead to live more positive lives.

The concept of timshel stipulates that every individual, at any given time, has the ability to choose good over evil. This idea is particularly pertinent at the end of the novel, during Adam's death scene. Adam's son Cal believes that he is condemned to become an evil man because he has inhertited his prostitute mother's innately evil nature. Adam, however, raises his hand in blessing and utters the word to his son - timshel - signifying the fact Cal can decide his own moral destiny for himself.

## Sibling Rivalry

Steinbeck employs the theme of rivalry to the relationships between the novel's two sets of brothers: Charles and Adam, and Cal and Aron, whose initials recall the biblical brothers Cain and Abel. The sons of Adam and Eve, Cain is a farmer and Abel a shepherd. God prefers Abel's sacrificial offering of a lamb over Cain's offering of grain. In a jealous rage, Cain murders his brother. Cain angrily replies to God's inquiry by saying, "Am I my brother's keeper?" Cain is exiled to wander in the East of Eden.