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East of Eden (Penguin Twentieth Century Classics) by John Steinbeck
East of Eden (Penguin Twentieth Century Classics)

allyede, May 4, 2010

East of Eden by John Steinbeck is literature in its most artistic form. A novel overflowing with biblical allusions and symbolism, East of Eden is a perfect mix of intriguing and complex characters as well as relevant and timeless themes. The novel is set in the fertile farmlands of the Salinas Valley in Northern California. Steinbeck portrays the lives of two families, the Trasks and the Hamiltons as they recreate the stories of Cain and Abel and Adam and Eve. By incorporating one of the most evil characters created in literature, Steinbeck manipulates his characters to demonstrate the never-ending struggle between good and evil and how good will prevail, if only we will choose it.
Biblical allusions are a central part to the novel as a whole. The story of Cain and Abel in particular is a motif that reappears throughout the book. In reenacting this well known story, Steinbeck explores the fragile existence between love and rejection. Like Cain, Steinbeck’s characters, Charles and Caleb, experience rejection at the hands of their fathers. The jealousy created by this rejection causes these characters to commit acts of violence or revenge. By making an ancient and well known story the central thematic focus of his novel, Steinbeck appeals to a broad audience while conveying challenging yet lasting themes and characters.
Steinbeck’s complex characters are part of what makes East of Eden the successful piece of literature that it is. His characters do not only fit the molds of the characters in the biblical stories, but also fill numerous other important roles. Some symbolize broad concepts, such as life or evilness, others are used as givers of information and are portrayed as wise and all knowing, and still others have the role of demonstrating the internal struggles of identity and the cruelties of love. But no matter what the role, all of Steinbeck’s characters play a part in developing the central theme of choosing to live a life of good, or one of evil, a theme that has been relevant for hundreds of years.
As long as the struggle between good and evil endures, East of Eden will hold relevance in the world of literature. The point that makes this novel unique in its depiction of the age-old concept is its original interpretation and its overall message. Steinbeck modernizes this struggle and applies it to a set of characters that are relatable to the audience. Characters are the chess pieces in this interpretation of good vs. evil. They are manipulated experience the event, go through a given situation, or demonstrate to the audience a certain symbolic meaning. On top of these unique interpretations of the ancient concept, Steinbeck also puts his own twist on the overall message of this struggle. He believes that it is not merely that good should and will prevail, but that we have a choice. We have a choice in which path to choose and which will triumph over the other. Due to the fascinating symbolism, characters, and thematic concepts, my evaluation of East of Eden is one of optimism.
Steinbeck controls elements such as plot, characters, and symbolism to keep the novel intriguing and engaging. Readers must play an active role while reading in order to understand the many hidden meanings. This is important because if the reader is not engaged or unaware of certain symbolic meanings, they may not obtain all of what the novel has to offer. East of Eden requires that you think deeper, but this only makes the understanding of the plot more enjoyable and rewarding. Steinbeck more than achieves the goal of depicting a unique interpretation of the struggle between good and evil while engaging the reader through symbols, complex characters, and biblical allusions.
In East of Eden, Steinbeck masterfully creates complex characters, explores the concepts of identity, free will, and the pains of love and rejection, and develops a plot overflowing with symbolic meaning. His interpretation of the timeless struggle of good and evil will make East of Eden relevant and popular for decades to come.
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