John Ernst Steinbeck was an American novelist, short storywriter, dramatist, and essayist. He was born in 1902 and died December 20, 1968. He attended Stanford University, specializing in marine biology (Herzberg 1079). Steinbeck’s first published book was Cup of Gold , which was not successful. Tortilla Flat , his first successful novel, was published in 1935. John Steinbeck is best known for his vivid portrayals of the hardship of the Great Depression in Grapes of Wrath , which won him the 1940 Pulitzer Prize. Steinbeck’s shorter fiction is humorous, warm, and concerned with the small tragedies in lives of simple people. His longer fiction is concerned with the growth and development of men to whom it is necessary to be good (Herzberg 1080). Steinbeck’s East of Eden is concerned with his longer fiction subjects.
John Steinbecks East of Eden is based on the biblical story of Cain and Abel. The scene of East of Eden is mostly the Salinas Valley in California; the action and events resolve around the lives of three generations of two families. “The story is about sin, about the encounter with evil, and the corruption of human nature by an act of its own will and an expression of its pride” (Bryfonski 513).
Steinbeck’s timshel concept grows until it includes not only the declaration of
man’s freedom to choose between doing good or evil, but, as Joseph Wood
Kruten suggests, a further implication that man is not the victim of his heredity,
his environment, or anything else.(Gribben 95)
All the evil characters in East of Eden are symbolically linked to Cain, and although all of them have the opportunity through timshel to change, the only character who does change is Caleb.
One of the evil characters in East of Eden who is linked to Cain is Charles. The main connection Charles has with Cain is the mark on his head. Charles has a scar that looks like a long fingermark laid on his forehead to remind us of the mark of Cain (Lisca 167). Cain’s scar that he receives, however functions not so much as a mark of sin but as a mark of protection (Marowski 384). “When Cain was filled with remorse upon slaying Abel, he is driven from the company of men and the lord lays the mark of protection upon him” (Marowski 384).
The evil in Charles is generated by the need for love. “The greatest terror a child can have is that he is not loved, and with rejection comes anger, and with anger, some kind of revenge for rejection, and with the crime, guilt- there is the story of mankind” (Marowski 369). Charles’s violence is triggered by jealousy, evidenced most clearly in the gift his father rejects (Marowski 375).
“What did you do on your birthday? You think I didn’t see? Did you spend six
bits or even four bits? You brought him a mongrel pup you picked up in the wood lot. You laughed like a fool and said it would make a good bird dog.
That dog sleeps in his room. He plays with it while he is reading. And where is the knife?” (Steinbeck 38,39)
In reaction Charles beats Adam and later returns with an ax to kill him.
Another way Charles chooses his evil is by sleeping with Cathy on her wedding night. Cathy puts sleeping medicine in Adam’s tea on her wedding night so that she can enter Charles’s bed; and she becomes impregnated by him. Even though Charles dislikes Cathy and calls her devil, he leaves her half his fortune (Marowski 375).
Steinbeck’s timshel concept does not affect Charles. Charles is never directly examined in the light of the timshel doctrine (Gribben 100). The evil that Charles does is his choice, and he could have chosen not to do those things.
The next charter who is linked to Cain is Cathy-Kate. Cathy-Kate’s evil is equated with strength of will and mastery of the material world (Marowski 399). Because a Cain and Abel allegory requires a lilth figure and a serpent in Eden, Cathy-Kate is described frequently in terms of a serpent(Marowski 379).
Steinbeck emphasizes her serpent nature by giving her a heart-shaped face, an
abnormally small mouth, a little pointed tongue that sometimes flicked around her lips, small sharp teeth with the canine teeth longer and