East of Eden is a complex and interesting reflection on the interaction of good and evil with the human soul. Through incorporating references to Cain and Abel, John Steinbeck leads the reader to ask, what is good? what is evil? can any human being be completely and thoroughly evil? and most importantly, what is free will?
Using multiple literary devices, John Steinbeck portrays the struggles of two generations of the Trask family in addition to those of his own ancestors in the Salinas valley. In an important scene, the characters question the meaning of God's words after he banishes Cain. Lee, a man who hides behind a Chink stereotype, tracks down the meaning behind the single confusing verb that had been lost in translation, bringing to a full circle the events of the novel.
As I read, many of the characters seemed exaggerated, but keep in mind that what Steinbeck does not directly say about the character is just as important as his lengthy descriptions. For example, given his first description of Cathy, a few of her actions may seem confusing... but Steinbeck even states himself that he did not understand her and her motivations.
East of Eden can be read on two levels - for the plot line, good in itself, and for the multiple levels of deeper meaning, which emerge with every perusal. At first glance it may seem long and tedious, but I recommend it for anyone willing to take the time to read it, especially those in a pensive mood - the time spent is definitely worth it, and the ideas the book throws out will give you a lot to chew on, even after you finish.
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