[Review] East of Eden by John Steinbeck
Title: East of Eden
Author: John Steinbeck (1902-1968) and Introduction by David Wyatt
Publisher: Penguin Classic 1992, first published 1952.
Theme: Saga of two families in Salinas Valley, California.
Rating: 5 Stars
|First edition cover.|
East of Eden is about two families that live in Salinas Valley, California. The Trask family and the Hamilton family. The Trask family is the main focus of the book. The Hamilton family is a companion so to speak for the story. Adam Trask's story begins before the Civil War. After the war, Adam left the family farm in Connecticut with his new wife and moves to Salinas Valley. The Hamilton's emigrated from Ireland to Salinas Valley. The Hamilton's labor hard on their land to create a ranch and livelihood for their large family. Samuel Hamilton is the patriarch. He is larger than life, self-made and capable. Adam Trask and his new wife seem out of place. Adam is dismissive with reality and unpleasantness.
The two families are in sharp contrast of each other.
In the introduction John Steinbeck is quoted as saying he wanted to try something new with this story: "I am inventing method and form and tone and context." All through the story while I was reading it, I kept thinking about that quote. I asked myself what is this new thing he is doing in "method and form and tone and context?" For one thing I noticed he is particular about commas. I guess for some of you this is a dull reason. If you read the story, notice the precise manner in which he uses commas and when he does not. The absence of them or the manipulating of this punctuation, adds a certain rhythm to the story which to me adds an aura over the scene. Steinbeck is the manipulator of a sentence, character, story. Manipulator is not really a bad word, in this case it's all good.
Secondly, Steinbeck used a well-known dramatic Bible story as the template for East of Eden. I feel he wanted to create a story from something many readers would be aware of and tweak it so that it was an invention of Steinbeck's own.
Third, I believe Steinbeck was sharing from his own life. In the introduction David Wyatt brought this out as well.
Fourth, his characters seem to be polar in nature: (1) deceptive dominant women versus long-suffering innocent women, (2) Depressive milky-toast men versus self-made decisive men, (3) Long-suffering patient men versus the natural type man who only thinks of self.
Last, this is a story that has raw reality to it. The author does not try and put sweet icing on his characters so that they are sweet to digest. He shares the good, bad, and ugly of human nature.
How did I feel about this story as a whole?
When I began to read the story I was trying hard to hold on to having an open mind about the book. I wanted to have a good attitude and not be persuaded to pre-judge. In reading a classic I've found it a good idea to try and sweep away all pre-conceived feelings. I imagine myself sitting alone in a movie theater without the jeers and laughter from others, and let the story reveal itself to me in its own time and fashion. I began to fall in love with the book when Cathy was introduced. Cathy is not a likable character; although I felt her character and story is compelling. She was like watching a train wreck, it was hard for me to stop reading about her devious exploits and the trail of wreckage she left. The high point of the book, when I wanted to stand up and cheer, is when Cal and Cathy have their chat on page 466. I was proud of Cal. I felt this was the first moment in solidifying his true personality.
Link @ Amazon with a different front cover from mine: