Literary analysis of East of Eden
In Webster’s Encyclopedic Unabridged Dictionary of the English Language, the word love is defined as a profoundly tender, passionate affection for another person. Love can bring two people together but it can also have a person be rejected by another because of love. In the novel East of Eden by John Steinbeck, the main character, Adam Trask, confronts a feeling of love throughout the whole book but he either rejects the love of people who care about him or has his love rejected by the people that he cares about. When Adam was a young man in the beginning of the novel, his father, Cyrus Trask loved him but Adam did not love him back and when Adam went into the army he did not come back home until his father’s death. Later on in the story Adam really loved his wife, Cathy, but she didn’t love him back and so when she tried to leave him and he would not let her, she shot him. Even though Adam survived he was demoralized for most of his life because he still loved her. Through Adam’s experiences of love in the novel, John Steinbeck shows that Adam Trask has an inability to handle love.
When he first appears in the novel, Adam Trask is a young man who is not loved by his brother or mother but only by his father. Cyrus had punished Adam before and had tried to teach him to be a soldier and so Adam hated him for that and when Cyrus told him he loved him, Adam did not accept his love. Cyrus tells Adam, “I think you’re a weakling who will never amount to a dog turd. Does that answer your question? I love you better. I always have. This may be a bad thing to tell you, but it’s true. I love you better. Else why would I have given myself the trouble of hurting you?” (Steinbeck 28). Cyrus is telling Adam that he has always loved him and that the only reason that he punished him is because he loved him. He wants Adam to go into the army because he knows that Adam would be courageous and since Cyrus was in the army, he wants to pass on the legacy. When Adam came home from his discharge, his brother and him were talking about their father and Adam told him the truth. “I wasn’t sure until now,’ said Adam. ‘I was all mixed up with how I was supposed to feel. No. I did not love him” (69). Adam is telling Charles that after thinking about it, he never loved his father and so he rejected his love. Charles is now not jealous of Adam because he knows that Adam does not love his father and he still does. In contrast to Charles’s behavior Adam rejects the only love that loved him so far in the novel.
As the novel progresses, Adam meets his one true love but she in contrast does not love him back. Adam meets Cathy Ames and then after a while he marries her but she, does not really marry him. “He breathed harshly. ‘I already been with a whore.’ ‘You’re a pretty strong boy. Move over a little.’ ‘How about your broken arm?’ ‘I’ll take care of that. It’s not your worry.’ Suddenly Charles laughed. “The poor bastard,” he said, and he threw blanket to receive her” (125). Cathy shows that she does not love Adam because she goes and sleeps with his brother. This is showing that Cathy is rejecting
Adam’s love and that she is filled with hatred. Another example of Cathy showing her hatred and rejecting Adam’s love is when she leaves him. “Her voice came from so near that he jerked his head back. He heard richness in her voice. ‘Dear,’ she said softly, ‘I didn’t know you would take it so. I’m sorry, Adam.’… she held his .44 Colt, and the black hole in the barrel pointed at him. He took a step toward her, saw that the hammer was back. She shot him” (202). Cathy had told Adam that she had not loved him and that she was going to leave him but because he loved her so much, he did not let her go and so she shot him. Adam’s inability to handle love caused Cathy to shoot him because he could not control his love for her and that it almost cost him his life. Not only did Adam lose his only love of his life but also his twin sons would have no mother.
Later in the story, Adam builds a binding love between his two twin sons, except there is only one problem in the love that Adam builds. Adam really loves his good son Aron and rejects his dark son Caleb, when Aron begins to hate Adam and Caleb begins to really love him. When the Trask family move to Salinas, Adam tries to have an iceberg lettuce traveling company. His idea fails and so everyone at school calls Aron Lettuce Head; Aron never forgave Adam. “Suddenly Aron broke down. ‘I want to go away. It’s a dirty town.’… ‘I don’t belong here. I wish we hadn’t ever come here. I don’t know what’s the matter with me. I want to go away.” His voice rose to a wail (493). Aron is just upset that his father failed at the lettuce company. He is ashamed of Adam and rejects Adam’s love that Adam is trying to give him. Unlike Caleb, Aron is self-centered and only cares for himself but Adam does not realize that so he still rejects Caleb. “I don’t want the money, Cal. And the lettuce—I don’t’ think I did that for a profit… ‘No. I won’t ever want it. I would have been so happy if you could have given me---well, what your brother has---pride in the thing he’s doing, gladness in his progress” (543-544). Cal is trying to show Adam that he loves by giving him the money that he lost on his lettuce company but Adam is rejecting his love. Adam still loves Aron more than Cal even though Aron does not love him back but Adam wants Cal to be like Aron not knowing that Aron is a bad person. Adam Trask tries to force his love into the people that do not love him but refuses to the end, to accept the love of his son Caleb.
Throughout the whole novel Adam Trask struggles with theme of love, and the author John Steinbeck shows Adam’s inability to handle love. At first, his father loves Adam but Adam does not love him back. Then as Adam gives his love out to Cathy and Aron, they reject it like it was not even there; and when Aron and Cathy die at the end and Adam realizes that only Cal did love him, he does not praise him but only tells him timshel which means thou mayest. Steinbeck, throughout the whole novel showed what love can do to people and how rejection can imply on the ability of handling love but at the end you still ask yourself: What is love? According to East of Eden, there is no answer.