Summary (Masterplots, Fourth Edition)
The soil of the Salinas Valley in California is rich, although the surrounding foothills are poor and life shrivels during the long dry spells. The Irish-born Hamiltons, arriving after American settlers displaced the Mexicans, settle on the barren hillside. Sam Hamilton, full of talk, glory, and improvident inventions, and Liza, his dourly religious wife, bring up their nine children there.
In Connecticut, Adam Trask and his half brother Charles grow up in harmony despite the differences in their natures. Adam is gentle and good; Charles is roughly handsome and has a streak of wild violence. After Adam’s mother commits suicide, his father marries the docile woman who becomes Charles’s mother. Adam loves his stepmother but hates his father, a rigid disciplinarian whose fanatic militarism begins with a fictitious account of his own war career and whose dream is to have a son in the army. He hopes to fulfill his dream through Adam. Charles, whose passionate love for his father goes continually unnoticed, cannot understand this rejection of himself. In despair, he beats Adam almost to death.
Adam serves in the cavalry for five years. Then, although he hates regimentation and violence, he reenlists, for he can neither accept help from his father, who became an important figure in Washington, nor return to the farm Charles now runs alone. Afterward, Adam wanders through the West and the South, serving time for vagrancy, and finally comes home to find that his father has died, making him and Charles rich. In the years that follow, the two brothers live together on the farm. Their bickering and inbred solitude drives Adam to periodic wanderings. Feeling that their life is one of pointless industry, he talks of moving west but he does not do anything about it.
Meanwhile, Cathy Ames is growing up in Massachusetts. She is born unable to comprehend goodness, but she has a sublimely innocent face and a consummate knowledge of how to manipulate and deceive others to serve her own ends. After a thwarted attempt to leave home, she burns down her parents’ house, killing them, and leaves evidence to indicate that she was murdered. She becomes the mistress of a man who runs a string of brothels and uses his love for her against him. When he realizes her true nature, he takes her to a deserted spot and beats her savagely. Near death, she crawls to the nearest house—the Trasks’—where Adam and Charles care for her. Adam thinks her innocent and beautiful; Charles, who has an empathetic knowledge of evil, wants her to leave. Cathy, who knows she temporarily needs protection, entices Adam into marrying her. On their wedding night, she gives him a sleeping draught and goes to Charles.
Aware that Charles disapproves of Cathy, Adam decides to carry out his dream of going west. He is so transfigured by his happiness that he ignores Cathy’s protests; since she is his ideal of love and purity, he thinks that she cannot disagree with him. Adam buys a ranch in the richest part of the Salinas Valley and works hard to prepare it for his wife and the child she expects. Cathy hates her pregnancy and tries unsuccessfully to abort the child. After giving birth to twin boys, she recuperates for a week; she then shoots Adam, wounding him, and leaves,...
(The entire section is 1336 words.)
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Summary (Magill's Survey of American Literature, Revised Edition)
East of Eden is the most uncharacteristic novel in the Steinbeck canon. It is a complicated—at times convoluted—book that tries to accomplish more than it finally can. In his attempt to juggle three themes, Steinbeck at times fumbles, leaving his readers confused.
On one hand, Steinbeck is attempting to write a documentary about the Salinas Valley, which comes to represent the United States as a whole. He seeks to accomplish this by directing his attention to two complicated families, the Hamiltons and the Trasks. Upon this situation, he superimposes, quite heavy-handedly, a modern redaction of the biblical story of Cain and Abel—Caleb and Aron—in the novel.
Adam Trask and his half brother, Charles, live together in Connecticut as the story opens. They are compatible, but some rivalries exist. Adam detests his father, although he gets along with his stepmother, Charles’s mother. The father has a strong militaristic bent and dreams of having a son in the Army. He handpicks Adam for this honor, leaving Charles, who adores his father, feeling rejected. In frustration, Charles beats Adam badly. After spending five miserable years in the service, Adam reenlists for another tour of duty. When it ends, he returns home to find that his father is dead. He and Charles inherit enough to make them rich. They live together in a harmony that is sometimes disturbed by violent fights.
Meanwhile, Cathy Ames is coming of age in Massachusetts. She is a confusing woman, beautiful and lovable on the surface but inherently evil in ways that few people can see. She sets fire to her parents’ house, and both of them are killed in the blaze, leaving Cathy free to escape from a home she has found oppressive. She plants clues to suggest that she, too, died in the fire and runs away, becoming mistress to a man who operates a brothel.
When their relationship sours, he takes Cathy into the wilderness and beats her, leaving her there to die. She manages to get to the nearest house, which is where the Trask brothers live. They take her in and nurse her back to health. Charles divines the evil that lurks beneath Cathy’s prepossessing exterior. Adam is innocent of such feelings, and he marries Cathy. She drugs him on their wedding night and steals into Charles’s room, where she seduces him.
The brothers’ relationship is strained by Cathy’s presence, although Adam is not aware of his wife’s duplicity. He decides, over his wife’s protests, to go to the Salinas Valley to...
(The entire section is 1032 words.)
Summary and Analysis
Before the novel begins, Steinbeck includes a note to his long-time editor, Pascal Covici. He tells Covici that he has made him a box and “Nearly everything I have is in it. Pain and excitement are in it, and feeling good or bad and evil thoughts and good thoughts…and still the box is not full.” Steinbeck set out to create an epic. He begins with a sweeping description of the Salinas Valley in California. It is a personal recollection in which Steinbeck, as the speaker, recounts the beauty of the land and the majesty of the mountains that surround the valley. He writes, “I remember that the Gabilan Mountains to the east of the valley were light gay mountains full of sun and loveliness...you wanted to climb into their warm foothills almost as you want to climb into the lap of a beloved mother.” Chapter 1 also hints at the fallible nature of the collective memory of people. In good times, when rainfall is plentiful and crops abundant, human beings tend to forget about years of drought and hardship. And, conversely, “during the dry years the people forgot about the rich years…It was always that way.” “It was always that way.” Here is the crux of Steinbeck’s thesis. The characters that inhabit the pages of East of Eden are not unlike people anywhere on Earth. They revel in the good times and mourn the bad, and the rest, what is in between, is where lives are lived and lost.
Chapter 2 introduces the Hamiltons, one of the two sets of families whose lives will be the intertwined throughout the novel. Samuel and Liza Hamilton, were, in fact, John Steinbeck’s actual maternal grandparents. Here, he recounts the story of how the couple immigrated from Ireland and came to settle in the Salinas Valley. Unfortunately for the Hamiltons, they arrived too late to claim the cheap and fertile homesteads. Instead, they had to settle for acreage that was “harsh and dry.” The challenges of the land are no match for the indomitable spirits of Liza and Samuel Hamilton. Although Steinbeck describes his grandmother as being “humorless as a chicken” with a “highly developed sense of sin” and “suspicious of fun,” it is clear that her personality balances out the zealous good nature of her husband. Samuel has a love for everything and everyone, the type of person who has never met a stranger and one who is generous to a fault. Together, Samuel and Liza manage, in their inimitable way, to raise a large family. The Hamilton clan is poor but happy, striving but not broken. At the end of Chapter Two comes first mention of the second family of the epic: the Trasks. Adam Trask is the complete opposite of Samuel Hamilton. He is moneyed, and therefore, able to purchase prime real estate. However, soon it will become clear that money is about the only thing Adam Trask has that Samuel Hamilton and his clan do not.
Chapter 3 begins with the sad story of young Adam Trask. Adam lives with a belligerent father named Cyrus and with his birth mother. When Cyrus goes off to war and returns home, he has a “gift” for his wife: gonorrhea. Mrs. Trask, none too stable, kills herself by drowning in a puddle. Cyrus soon gets a second wife, a timid little farm girl called Alice. Alice gives birth to Adam’s half-brother, Charles. As the boys grow up, their father’s tall tales about his exploits in the Civil War grow larger. Although Cyrus was wounded and lost a leg in the fighting, he was hardly a man of any importance. However, he begins to tell everyone about his feats of bravery. He gradually believes them himself. The boys grow up in fear of their father and mousy little Alice can offer little comfort to either child. The remainder of the chapter focuses on Cyrus’ command that Adam prepare himself to go into the Army, a path Adam is deadest against. He wants nothing to do with the violence and discipline of that life. Charles notices the attention that Cyrus gives Adam and becomes homicidally enraged. Charles nearly beats to Adam to death, confessing as he does so that he believes their father does not love him. As evidence, Charles sites their birthday gifts to Cyrus. Charles had worked hard to buy him a special knife. Adam adopted a stray dog for their father. The dog became Cyrus’ constant companion, while the knife went untouched.
Enraged by the nearly fatal beating of Adam, Cyrus sets off with a shotgun to find and kill Charles. Charles gets wind of his father’s intent and wisely hides until the threat has passed. Back at the Trask home, Alice nurses Adam back to health. While his wounds are healing, Cyrus has emissaries from the Army come to his bedside and swear his son into service. Adam finds the whole business of soldiering as distasteful as he had expected. He could never find purpose in what seemed to be senseless and useless killing. He becomes so disgusted by his job that he begins to deliberately “firing to miss,” an act, that, had it been discovered, would be considered treason. While with his unit, Charles begins regularly writing to his brother. One long letter contains information about their father who has become so convincing in his role as a war hero that he has ingratiated himself with some of the country’s most important leaders, including the President. Charles also speaks of his loneliness and isolation following the death of his mother. He longs for a wife but makes no specific mention of any prospects nor any plans for seeking out a suitable mate. His letter concludes with the fervent wish that Adam might come back home and live with him again. Although Adam has not responded with a letter in kind, he keeps Charles letter and reads it repeatedly. Something about it bothers him, but not in a way he can put into words.
Chapter 5 returns to the saga of the Hamilton’s and offers a genealogy of their nine children: George, “a sinless boy who grew to be a sinless man”; Will, who had “little imagination but great energy”; Tom, “born in fury and…lived in lightening”; Joe, “mooning and…greatly beloved”: Una, “thoughtful and serious”; Lizzie, who “married young and went away”; Mollie, the “little beauty”; Dessie, with her “constant laughter”; and Olive, who would be Steinbeck’s mother. The family is poor but secure, and that is largely due to their matriarch, Liza. Although she was humorless, she was also tenacious; she kept the family afloat during their lifetime of hardships. Liza enjoyed “universal respect because she was a good woman who raised good children.” Samuel appears to be the polar opposite of his hard little wife, a dreamer who was as likely to doodle “faces or animals or bugs” as he was a new invention. He loved a good joke and a strong drink as much as his wife abhorred both. Samuel balances his wife’s hardness with his softness, and together they created a family that anyone could be proud of, despite their continual poverty. Steinbeck, acting as the omniscient narrator says, “All in all it was a good firm-grounded family, permanent and successfully planted in the Salinas Valley... It was a well-balanced family with its conservatives and its radicals, its dreamers and its realists.”
Adam has joined the Army and Charles is left on the farm, a lonely bachelor. One day, when out working on the ranch alone and trying to pry loose a boulder, the tool he is using snaps and hits Charles in the head, knocking him unconscious. The injury leaves a permanent scar, which oddly becomes darker, not lighter, as time passes. Charles, quite prophetically, observes that he has been “marked.” Meanwhile, Adam has finally finished his stint in the Army and is preparing to return home to the farm and to Charles. However, his newfound freedom is so uncomfortable after years of military discipline that he decides to re-enlist. On the way back, Adam receives a summons from the Secretary of War, ordering him to Washington. When Adam arrives, he is surprised to find not the Secretary, but his father, awaiting him. Cyrus has risen to a position of power. He tries to tempt Adam with the offer of a cushy job, but Adam refuses, wishing instead to return to his unit. Cyrus wonders if sending Adam into service was a mistake. Back home, Charles eagerly awaits his brother. For his homecoming, Charles has painted the barn and the house and has even hired a woman to clean up everything. Of course, Adam does not arrive. Charles falls into a deep depression, becoming even more slovenly in his habits and appearance than he had been in the intervening years.
Adam spends the next five years in the Army. When he is discharged, Adam begins to head back home to Charles. However, on his unhurried trek, he runs out of money and lives the life of a hobo, “jungling” up with other restless men. He is picked up by the authorities and jailed. Charles does not hear from his brother for three years. Adam is released in the intervening time, but is picked up again by the police and put on a road gang. Just three days before he is to be freed, Adam decides to escape. Charles receives a telegram informing him of Cyrus’ death. The old man has left his sons a considerable fortune. Shortly thereafter, he also receives a telegram from Adam asking for $100 and saying that he was coming home. As the two brothers talk about their lives, Charles renews his inquiry into why Cyrus did not love him. He recalls that on one of Cyrus’ birthdays, their father shunned Charles’ gift of a knife but loved Adam’s present of a stray dog. The slight stayed with Charles all of his life. “Why didn’t he love me?” Charles wonders. Adam has no answers for his brother. The siblings try to decide what to do with the inheritance. Charles is hesitant to claim the funds, though. He thinks there is a good possibility that the money was ill-gotten; he knows Cyrus was a liar. Adam, however, does not see any reason not to accept it.
Chapter 8 introduces Cathy Ames, the female character that Steinbeck deems a natural born “monster.” It is his contention that some people in the world are born with malformed minds in just the same way that others suffer outwardly visible disabilities. The problem with others perception of Cathy is that they cannot see her inner self. Making matters more difficult is the fact that Cathy Ames is beautiful. People are blinded to her real nature by her appearance. “Cathy was a liar,” Steinbeck writes, “…her lies were never innocent…and they were used for profit.” Cathy learns from a very young age that her sexuality is the best tool she has for getting men to do her bidding. As Cathy becomes a teenager, her sense of power increases. She seduces a high school teacher and then rejects him. The man becomes so distraught that he commits suicide. On her sixteenth birthday, Cathy decides she is not going to school anymore. Her parents are incensed. After a lecture, she agrees to return but instead runs away from home. Her father brings her back and whips her for her disobedience. Shortly after, a fire breaks out in the Ames home. The house is destroyed. Cathy’s parents die. The firefighters search for her body but do not find it, for she has escaped. It is clear to the reader (but not to the characters) that it is she who has set the house ablaze and murdered her parents.
Cathy has changed her name to Catherine Amesbury. She meets a man named Mr. Edwards who is a pimp. Through subtle manipulation and agreeing to sleep with the man, Catherine gets him to support her without having to become a hooker. Cathy continues to sleep with Edwards until she is sure he has fallen in love with her and is under her spell. As soon as she feels that this has happened, she begins to steal from him. When he lets the thefts go unremarked, she becomes even more emboldened. Cathy changes the locks on her door so that she will not have to sleep with Edwards anymore. When he comes knocking, however, she relents and lets him in. After all, she wants to keep the money coming. While Cathy may think she has everyone under her control, this chapter reveals her one weakness: alcohol. Something about drinking makes Cathy drop her ruse of innocence. Her demons come raging to the surface. She tells Edwards how much she despises him and exactly how she has been using him. Mr. Edwards thought he loved Cathy and becomes enraged by her deception. She has underestimated the man. She does not understand how quickly love can turn to rage when a person feels betrayed. Edwards finds Cathy and beats her nearly to death. He leaves her unconscious, with a fractured skull, broken teeth, a broken arm, and cracked ribs. Cathy realizes she needs help if she wants to live and drags herself outside to look for help.
The narrative returns to Adam and Charles, who continue to live alone and increasingly, are getting on one another’s nerves. Adam does not have the drive to work hard on the farm, especially now that they are rich from their inheritance. Charles has a strong work ethic and it bothers him greatly that his brother is lazy. Adam decides to leave once again. Eight months pass before Adam returns. They settle into their old routine, but soon Adam is pushing Charles to move again and start a different life. As the brothers talk, Adam opens up about his life in the Army and the Indian “squaw” with whom he had had a relationship. Charles tells Adam about the few women he has been involved with. Despite the new openness, the brothers are soon fighting again. Adam leaves for another three months, this time for South America. When he comes home this time, Charles confronts Adam about never repaying him the $100 he had telegraphed to him. Adam tells Charles about escaping from the road gang; that he had been on the lam and needed the money to get back home. Charles asks why Adam fled when he had only three days left to serve. The reason, Adam explains, is that he feared he would be picked up yet again on any trumped up charge. He reasoned that no one would expect him to escape so close to his release date. Charles is impressed with his brother’s bravery.
It is a quiet day in the Trask home. Charles hears a noise and assumes it’s a cat. The noise persists. Charles flings open the door to chase the pest away. He is stunned by the discovery of the brutally beaten Cathy. Adam does not hesitate. He insists they take her inside. Charles, however, fears that it will look like he and Adam have abused this stranger. But Adam is intractable. He carries Cathy to his bedroom. A doctor is summoned and of course he has many questions. The brothers do not know anything. The doctor tells them he has to inform the sheriff. The sheriff interrogates Cathy who claims to not be able to speak. The sheriff asks her to write down the answers to his questions but she scrawls out that she cannot remember. To her satisfaction, she wins him over, just as she had already won Adam. The same is not true for Charles. Something intuitively tells him that she is not to be trusted. Adam, however, almost gleefully assumes the role of nursemaid. But when Adam goes to town to fetch more medicine, Charles confronts her. He hints that he recognizes her. Cathy panics somewhat. She sets about winning Adam permanently by claiming she has a secret she cannot tell and that she needs protection. Adam falls for it and marries her. Cathy’s evil nature surfaces again. She drugs Adam and sleeps with Charles, seemingly for no other reason than the satisfaction of breaking him, even in just this small way.
Chapter 12 begins Part Two of the epic. In the opening chapter, Steinbeck takes a break from the saga of the Hamiltons and the Trasks to reflect on the changes that have occurred in the nation and its people between the ending of the Civil War and the turn of the century. In a way, it is a return to the sentiments expressed in the opening chapter of the novel: that is, the fallibility of collective memory. Steinbeck channels the voices of the people who look back on the 18th century with nostalgia. Men were men and women were ladies then, the people said. Now, all that has been lost. On the other hand, many Americans remained scarred by the Mexican War and by the Civil War. Then came “the boom and bust, bankruptcy and depression.” “To hell with that rotten century!” they declare. “Let’s get it over and the door closed shut on it!” Twice in this short chapter (just two and a half pages) this exclamation occurs: “Oh, but strawberries will never taste so good again and the thighs of women have lost their clutch!” This embodies the feeling that people have in times of change: that is, we may have to accept it, but we don’t have to like it. It reflects not only the innocence of lost youth but also the innocence of the nation after the bitter civil conflict.
Chapter 13 continues on with Steinbeck’s reflections about the nature of man. His summations are encapsulated in this statement: “And this I believe: that the free, exploring mind of the individual human is the most valuable thing in the world.” That free mind can also be dangerous. Steinbeck narrator turns his gaze on the situation at the Trask home. He considers how and why Adam is able to delude himself so about Cathy’s true nature. It is that creative mind at work, a force so powerful that it can shape things and rationalize behavior in whatever way it deems fit. Adam does not see Cathy’s lack of affection, his brother’s anger, because he has created Cathy in his image: “a sweet and holy girl.” Adam comes home one day to find Cathy “nearly dead from loss of blood.” The doctor is summoned. He discovers that Cathy had tried to abort her pregnancy with a knitting needle. Adam does not know she is pregnant. She did not succeed. The doctor tells her that if she tries it again, he will testify against her. Cathy claims that she is afraid to have a baby because of possible epilepsy. The doctor softens and says he will not tell Adam. Adam’s dream life explodes. He envisions creating a dynasty for his family. He buys a lush plot of land. He never asks Cathy her opinion and imagines she is as enthusiastic as he. Here the lives of the Trasks and Hamiltons finally cross. Adam hires Samuel to improve his land.
Chapter 14 diverges from the narrative for a remembrance from Steinbeck about his mother, Olive Hamilton. None of the Hamilton daughters “were destined to become work-destroyed farm girls.” Olive chose to be a teacher, one of the most respected professions a young woman could have in her day. Olive taught for several years, but wanted a more “metropolitan life.” She married Ernest Steinbeck, a city boy with a city job, and raised her family. Steinbeck recalls what kind of woman and mother she had been. She had an abhorrence of debt that she passed on to her children. She didn’t like unpleasantness. When John contracted pleural pneumonia, she tried everything from Christianity to mysticism to make him better. She was not a coddler, however. As soon as John was well, she insisted he get up. Olive was brave too. She would rather be afraid than lose face or disappoint people. When Olive wins a ride in a fighter jet for selling the most war bonds, she is afraid but doesn’t want to disappoint her family. Not a small woman, Olive wedges herself into the narrow seat and prepares for take-off. She endures the ride with grim reluctance. She mishears the pilot who asks if she wants to do a stunt, thinking he had asked if she was “stuck.” Olive gives him the “thumbs up” and is plunged into frightful rolls and turns. Even tenacious Olive has her limits. Once safely aground, she goes to bed for two days.
Adam is preoccupied with the future and creating his version of Eden on his new land. He has hired a houseman, Lee Chong, to help with the day-to-day duties. Cathy is waiting for her pregnancy to be over. Here, Steinbeck explains more about the internal mechanisms of his character. Cathy “had the inhuman attribute of abandoning what she could not get and waiting for what she could get.” Cathy knew she was trapped until she was no longer pregnant. After it was over, she would leave. Samuel comes to Adam’s property to discuss sinking new wells. He meets Lee, who he is surprised to discover can speak English perfectly well, though he pretends that he can only manage “pidgin.” Lee explains it is what people expect from a Chinaman; their expectation is so strong that they are literally unable to understand him when he speaks normally. Both Samuel and Lee are made uncomfortable by Cathy but not in a way either can articulate. Samuel is disturbed by Adam’s insistence on creating an Eden. He senses that Adam is living in a dream state and wants to shake him out of it. Adam remains intransigent. The chapter closes with Cathy telling Adam directly that she did not want to come to California and that after the baby is born, she will not stay. Such is Adam’s delusion, however, that he laughs off this very real declaration. “You’ll love it once you get used to it and the baby is born,” he claims.
On his way home, Samuel tries again to put his finger on just what it is about Cathy that bothers him so much. He concludes that it is her eyes. “They were not human eyes,” he thinks. The sudden realization causes Samuel to recall a disturbing childhood memory. Young Samuel had gone into town with his father. Everything is normal for a time, but then father and son are swept away in a crowd. The people are packed in so tightly that they are unable to get away. Mr. Hamilton picks up the child. Samuel strains to see over the tops of the crowd. Briefly, the boy spies a platform and a “golden man” whose eyes “had no depth.” Quickly, his father forces Samuel to turn his head. The trapdoor in the platform opens and the golden man is hung. Samuel never forgot those disturbing eyes. It is the same look that Cathy has in her own eyes. The next morning Samuel subtly tries to feel out Liza about her feelings about what he has observed during his visit to the Trask estate and his plans to work for Adam. Liza is nonplussed. She is not impressed with money. But what disturbs Liza most is his report of what Cathy had been doing during his time there: nothing. She did not sew or mend or knit. Idleness, in Liza’s opinion, is a terrible sin. She considers refusing to allow Samuel and her boys to do the work. Eventually she relents, but against her better judgment.
Steinbeck returns as narrator and speculates on the nature of Cathy. He cannot decide if his earlier assessment, that she was “a natural born monster” was correct. The problem, he reasons, is that “since we cannot know what she wanted, we will never know if she got it.” Cathy is nearing the end of her pregnancy. Adam continues to be oblivious to her lack of interest in either him or their baby. On the Hamilton farm, Samuel and Tom are doing chores. Lee, who has ridden frantically to come get Samuel for help, surprises them. Cathy has gone into labor. Samuel arrives to find Cathy deep in the throes of her pains. It is a frightening spectacle. She has demanded that all light be blocked from her room and is snarling, showing her teeth. When Samuel attempts to assist him, she sinks his teeth into his hand. Despite the pain, Samuel continues to assist Cathy. She gives birth to fraternal twins. Cathy shows no interest in the boys. Samuel becomes increasingly discombobulated. Liza arrives and stays a week to help in the home. A week passes. Adam returns home to find Cathy’s bedroom door locked. When she allows him in, he is stunned to find her packed. She announces that she is going away, leaving both him and the twins. Cathy calls him a fool; Adam tries to prevent her from leaving. She shoots him in the shoulder, tosses the pistol on the floor and walks out of the house.
Horace Quinn, the new deputy sheriff, is about to go to the Trask home to investigate Adam’s shooting. Adam has claimed that the shooting was a self-inflicted accident but Quinn isn’t buying it. Quinn wants to speak to Cathy and is stunned to learn she is not there. His incredulity increases when Adam is unable to give him the most basic details about his wife, such as where she had come from and where she had gone. Quinn wonders aloud to Julius (his recently deputized friend) if Adam might have killed Cathy, for all he can give the sheriff is a general physical description and a mention of the scar on her forehead. Something isn’t adding up. It isn’t long until word comes to Quinn that a prostitute matching Cathy’s description has taken up employment at Faye’s one of the three local brothels. The sheriff decides that for the sake of the twins and of Adam, he will go to Cathy and warn her to keep her new identity secret or he will make her life miserable. Adam has gone into a deep depression. He has no interest in the farm or in his newborn sons. When Samuel arrives to check on him, Adam tells Samuel that he no longer wants him to dig the wells. Samuel tries to convince Adam to just “go through the motions,” to “act out being alive.” Adam refuses his advice. Samuel leaves but promises to return. Luckily for the twins, Lee will stay on.
Chapter 19 returns to some general history of the founding of Salinas. Steinbeck, as narrator, remarks on the fact that churches and whorehouses arrived in the valley simultaneously. Both, he argues, served a social purpose. There were three whorehouses in Salinas: Jenny’s, the Nigger’s, and later, Faye’s. Faye’s house is where Kate lands when she leaves Adam. When Kate arrives, Faye is originally suspicious. The girl seems too refined and pretty to be a whore. Kate does not want to be a whore. She begins coddling and complimenting Faye and soon the older woman begins to view her as a daughter and “(s)he did not want her daughter to be a whore.” Kate’s appearance in town does not go unnoticed by the sheriff. He knows that Kate shot Adam. He warns her that she is not to ever tell where she came from or who she is if she wants to be left alone. He orders her to dye her hair and that if anyone remarks on her resemblance to Mrs. Trask, she is to claim it is a coincidence. If she ever lets on or anyone ever makes the connection, he will run her out of town. Satisfied with the bargain, Kate returns to Faye and to her work of convincing the madam that she only has her best interests at heart. Kate treats one of Faye’s aching teeth. Faye becomes more and more convinced that Kate is benevolent and valuable.
Kate shocks Faye by announcing that she is going to be “working” that night. Every day that passes makes Faye think of Kate more and more as a daughter. When Faye objects, Kate knows just what to do to seal the deal. “I have to, Mother,” she says. The next day, Kate tells the other girls in the house that Faye is ill. Although the girls at first remark that they hadn’t noticed anything, soon Kate convinces them that they had noticed her not looking well. Kate is beginning to manipulate her housemates just as she has manipulated Faye. Up in her room, Faye has been busy creating a party for her “daughter.” Kate pretends surprise. She has a present ready to give to her mother, the gold watch Adam had given her. It is inscribed, “To C. with all my heart love A.” Kate claims her own mother gave it to her. Faye’s gift to Kate is considerably more substantial. She hands Kate a copy of her will and has bequeathed to her “all her worldly goods without exception.” Faye tells Kate she has about $60,000. Kate probes and finds out Faye has no living kin. Kate makes a mistake in her manipulation of Faye. Faye insists that she drink. Kate tells Faye of all the sadistic things she does to the men who come to the house. Faye becomes frightened and orders her to leave. Kate refuses. She forces a strong sedative on Faye.
Kate continues her subtle planting of ideas about Faye’s failing health. The staff begins to believe that she is in decline, but more importantly, Faye begins to believe it as well. Kate says she is going to town to get more pills from the doctor. When she arrives at Dr. Wilde’s office, the doctor is not in but his door is open. Kate lets herself in and helps herself to his supply of pills. The unknowing doctor gives her even more. Back at the house, Faye announces to the other girls that she has “taken Kate as (her) daughter.” Knowing this declaration could lead to jealousy, Kate begins making targeted efforts to keep the girls happy. She makes a point of complimenting the girls and leaving little gifts for them. Back at the house, Kate plays on Faye’s love by telling her that they should plan an exotic vacation. Faye continues to feel poorly. Kate has been feeding her toxic beverages. To make Faye’s sudden downturn look less suspicious, Kate ingests some of the stomach-churning “nux vomica” potion herself. The doctor is called. He asks what they had eaten. Kate claims that they had eaten some canned string beans. The doctor declares that they have botulism from improper canning. He gives them some tonic and leaves. Later, Kate cajoles Faye into taking some of her “medicine.” Faye dies during the night and Kate pretends great sorrow, so much so that she had to be reminded about the will.
Three months have passed. Adam has sunk into a deep depression. Lee becomes both father and mother to the twins. Lee goes into town for supplies and meets Sam Hamilton in the store. Sam is shocked to learn that the twins have never been given names. He immediately decides to go set Adam straight, but first he has to tell Liza. Liza is none to keen on Samuel going to the Trask farm as he always returns depressed. However, when she hears of the reason, she too is incensed and allows her husband to go. Adam is not welcoming to Samuel. He refuses to see how he has neglected the boys. Samuel, a completely non-violent man, is forced to punch him in the face to snap him out of it. It works. As the three men share the dinner Lee has cooked, Adam finally tells Samuel how Cathy shot him. He describes her complete lack of passion or hatred for him. What hurts him most, he confesses, is that she saw him as merely an “annoyance.” Adam asks whether Samuel has news of Cathy, claiming that he wants to know more about her in order to know “what kind of blood” is in his boys. Samuel renounces the “biology is destiny” argument. Samuel brings out his Bible in order to find names for the boys. The men discuss the history of the stories of Cain and Abel and of original sin. Eventually, Adam decides on the names Caleb and Aron.
Chapter 23 begins with a character sketch of Una Hamilton. Una is described as having “the least humor” but had a love of learning which made her her father’s “greatest joy.” Una leaves home early, however, and marries a “dark man.” She does not live very long. When her body is shipped home, it is clear that she has led a difficult life. Her “nails were to the quick… And her poor, dear feet --.” Una’s death kills something in Samuel and he “became an old man.” The narrative changes to a discussion of Tom, who it seems “never got started.” He does not possess the ability to care about money, which puzzles his successful brother, Will. But Tom has a kindness that Steinbeck fondly recalls. Tom was the kind of adult who would listen to children and feels badly when he cannot help Mary not be a girl. The narrative turns to Dessie, who has opened a successful dress-making shop in Salinas. Not only is she good at her craft, but more importantly, she creates a “sanctuary” where women can be themselves – “smelly, wanton, mystic, conceited, truthful, and interested.” Samuel has not improved and the children meet to decide how to help. They craft a plan wherein their mother and father will be offered visits to each of their homes. Samuel is wise to them, but doesn’t let on. He accepts their offers even though he knows it is a virtual death sentence for the life he has known and loved.
This chapter is probably the most important thematically to the novel, for it introduces the concept of timshel. Lee and Samuel fall into philosophical discussion. Lee reveals that he and his Chinese friends have been debating the translation of the Hebrew word timshel. Lee says that the American Standard “orders men to triumph over sin.” The King James’ says ‘Thou shalt’ meaning that men will surely triumph over sin.” But the actual translation is “Thou mayest.” It is important because this leaves the way clear for free will. A man may choose to do or choose not to do something. Either way, he is in control of destiny. We see this concept at work even before it is introduced. Samuel advises his Adam that the only way he can put Cathy out of his mind is to “kill the dream Cathy” and find another woman. It is completely Adam’s choice to either cling to the past or to move forward. Samuel reveals to Adam what he knows about Cathy: that she is in Salinas and working in a whorehouse and is now called “Kate.” The chapter concludes with Samuel and Lee, heads together again. “Thou mayest rule over sin,” Lee repeats. It is the choice all characters will have to make….whether they will allow sin to rule them or vice versa. Samuel must decide to accept the grace of his children; Lee, the family he has chosen but not created; Adam, the life he has both created and the choices he has yet to make.
Samuel Hamilton has died. Adam attends the funeral in Salinas. Afterwards, he goes into a bar and decides that he is going to go see “Kate” for himself. The bartender warns him to stay away, but Adam goes. The house itself is a metaphor for what he will find inside: “dark… overgrown…dilapidated.” One of the girls goes to announce him to Kate. She is surprised and suspicious but receives him. Adam comes into her room and finds it dim and sparse. Cathy has aged and it shows. Her bitterness, however, is still in tact. Adam thinks that she looks like “some secret and predatory animal.” Something falls into place when he sees her face. “Now I can forget it,” he realizes. He is able to turn away from both the dream Cathy and the real Kate. Cathy is shaken. She begins to drink, which makes her lose her tight emotional control. She recounts all of the people she has fooled who thought she is sweet and good because she is beautiful. She shows Adam the sexually explicit pictures she has taken of her clientele, often men with respected jobs, and how she plans to blackmail them. Kate tries to seduce Adam but he is no longer under her spell. To hurt him, she strongly hints that Cal and Aron may not be his sons, but his brothers’. Adam realizes it does not change his love for the boys, even if it is true. He walks out, leaving her in a rage.
Adam is surprised to find that despite Samuel’s funeral and visit to Kate that he is feeling pretty good. He stops in to visit Will Hamilton to offer his condolences and to purchase his first automobile. He pays for the car in cash, a fact that impresses Will. The country had just begun to accept both credit and debt as a way of life; such a thing was shameful in older days. Times were changing. Life was changing on a personal level for Adam as well. Like the springtime wildflowers he observes on his ride home, Adam too is awakening from a cold winter of the soul. Now that he has purged the dream Cathy, he is able to pursue a life in the real world. “I’m free, she’s gone,” he chanted aloud. Adam tells Lee about his visit to Cathy. Lee is not surprised. Adam studies Lee’s face and realizes Lee has aged. Lee confesses some personal things to Adam and dreams he has not been able to achieve because he has spent the last dozen years being both mother and father to the boys. Lee tells about the wife he had created in his mind to comfort and keep him company. He tells Adam about the bookstore in Chinatown he hopes to still be able to open. Adam is surprised. He had never considered Lee might leave them. But, he understands the man’s needs. He asks Lee to help him get his affairs in order before he goes.
The twins shoot a rabbit, but because their quills have become mixed up in each other’s holders, they are unsure who made the kill. The boys decide to tell their father that they do not know who should take credit. As they are walking home, Cal feels a meanness in him and decides to shock Aron with the rumors he has heard: their mother is not dead. Aron is aghast and does not believe that their father is capable of lying to them. But Cal knows he’s not totally convinced. He feels a satisfaction in knowing he has hurt his brother. Back at home, the boys are surprised to find they have visitors: Mr. and Mrs. Bacon, and their daughter, Abra. The boys shyly peek in on the guests. Lee brings them in to be introduced. Mrs. Bacon is appalled to learn that the boys have been raised by “the Chinese.” Mrs. Bacon implores Adam to move the family to Salinas where they can receive a proper education. The children are sent outside. Abra, too, is stunned to learn the boys have grown up without a mother. Cal takes offense to her attitude and makes up a story about how Lee beats them. Aron has decided to make a present to Abra of their dead rabbit, but while he is out of earshot, Cal plants the idea that there is something revolting inside. As soon as their team of horses pulls away, Abra chucks the box out of the buggy.
The boys notice the change in their father as they sit around the dinner table. He is engaged and interested in them, a fact that makes them a bit uncomfortable. Aron tells of Abra’s rejection of his gift, and that he is disappointed because he wanted to marry her. Cal is still feeling mean. He brings up Abra’s suggestion that they go put flowers on their mother’s grave. Though it makes him uncomfortable to lie, Adam tells them it’s impossible, because the grave is back East. Changing the subject, Adam mentions the Bacons’ suggestion that the boys attend school in Salinas. Later, Lee warns Adam of telling lies or even half-truths. Reluctantly at first, Lee tells of his own family history. To pay off a disgraceful debt, his father came to America to work on the rail lines. Distraught at their pending separation, Lee’s mother smuggled herself aboard the ship dressed as a man. The two manage to live and work undiscovered until Lee’s mother becomes pregnant and goes into labor. The men, enraged at a woman in their midst and fueled by lust, beat her to death. Lee survives. The camp, ashamed at what they had done, take good care of the boy. “The whole camp became my mother,” he says. Adam decides to write to Charles, his brother whom he has not seen in twelve years. He asks for Charles to come pay a visit. Lee mails the letter and they begin the wait for his reply.
Adam is impatient for an answer from Charles about whether he will come to California to visit. His wait is made a bit more tolerable, however, by the delivery of his new Ford by Will Hamilton. Will dislikes Fords but they are making him a lot of money so he acts enthusiastic for his buyers. Will is not mechanically inclined, however, and his attempts to explain the complicated start-process of the new Ford are confusing to Adam and Lee. Will says he will send someone the next day who can better teach the men about the car. The boys are beside themselves with excitement. Adam does not even try to send them to school the following day. A boy not much older than the twins arrives to teach them the basics. “Jus’ call me Joe,” he says, over and over. It is clear that “Joe” enjoys his position of authority over much older men who must rely on him. Over and over, Adam, Lee, and the twins repeat the mantra: “Switch to Bat; Crank to compression, thumb down; Easy over – choke out; Spin her; Spark down, gas up; Switch to Mag.” The boys are in awe of Joe’s expertise. They try to imitate his speech and mannerisms. They are a bit shocked when “Joe’s” employer arrives and addresses him as “Roy.” It takes a bit of the air out of “Joe.” He tries to regain a little of that luster by commanding that Adam read the car’s manual.
Adam drives into Salinas, hoping for the letter from Charles. He is surprised and saddened to find a letter from a law firm. His brother has died and left him, and Cathy, his entire estate. Adam is disturbed by his brother’s will. He talks the matter out with Lee. He does not feel it is his place to dismiss his brother’s wishes. Lee points out that without his direct involvement in letting Cathy know, there would be no way for her to claim the money. Lee wonders if perhaps Cathy will use the money for good purposes, to assuage the guilt she may feel for past wrongs. But Adam knows that with the money, Cathy will be free to carry out her stated intent of ruining the prestigious clientele. As their conversation draws to a close, Adam claims that he has not yet decided what he will do. Lee knows better. Adam has embraced the concept of free will. He will do as his brother instructed. It will be up to Cathy to make her own decision. Outside, Aron and Cal speculate about how much money their uncle Charles may have had. Cal knows his father and Lee are distracted, and urges Aron to climb into the Ford with him, something they have been forbidden to do. Cal feels the meanness rising in him again. Aron confronts his brother, asking him why he does mean things. Cal has no answer. Later, feeling guilty, Cal silently pleads, “Don’t let me be mean!”
Adam decides to go in person to inform Cathy of her inheritance. Cathy is incredulous and suspects that Adam has ulterior motives, not the least of which, she charges, is to get her run out of town. She simply cannot believe that Adam would be so generous and prefers to think of him as naïve and stupid. Adam, however, is not at all invested in what she does or does not think of him. He had a message to deliver and he did so. Before he leaves, however, Adam does have one thing to say to Cathy. He tells her that what she cannot see is goodness in people, that despite the fact that all men have some dark place, they all also have good places. It is a part of her that is “missing,” and makes her only “part human.” On his way back to the ranch, Adam stops in to call on Olive Steinbeck and her family. Liza, Samuel’s widow, is living with them. Will is concerned about Tom, who still lives on the old Hamilton ranch. Adam says he will check up on him. Liza says Dessie may go live with Tom. Will is set against it.
Dessie Hamilton is largely the focus of this chapter. Her sisters were all loved, but Dessie was the “warm-beloved.” Her warmth radiates beyond the boundaries of her own family. Everyone loves Dessie. The women who frequent her dress shop come as much for her camaraderie as for Dessie’s fashionable designs. But after the unhappy conclusion of her affair, Dessie changes. She keeps right on working, but the laughter and good-feeling that once permeated her shop no longer exists Soon, her customers find reasons to stay away. Samuel’s death finalizes Dessie’s decision to sell the business and move to the ranch with Tom. Will remains opposed but Dessie is resolute. Tom is thrilled. When Dessie arrives at the train station, the two are so happy to see one another that they make quite a spectacle of themselves, whooping and hollering. On the ride back to the ranch, brother and sister reminisce about their lives growing up. Dessie fondly notes that there never was another family that had as much fun. Tom agrees but is still concerned about the unprofitable land. Dessie assures him that together they can get by.
Tom works hard on the ranch to make a home. Dessie wants to be happy but the pain keeps returning. She begins to worry about how Tom would survive without her. Dessie, perhaps in an attempt to show Tom that more of the world exists beyond the Valley, tries to get Tom to agree to travel the world with her. She proposes that they both work hard for a year and save as much they can; Tom agrees and even has a plan to raise the traveling money. Tom is depressed because he has to go to Will for start-up money. Will says he’ll have to “think about it,” grumbling that the idea is unsound though he will not specifically identify his objections. Tom worries about how to tell Dessie the bad news. She does not run out to greet him. Tom soon discovers the reason. She has had another attack and is lying on the sofa. He treats her as best he can. In the morning, Dessie is dead. Tom feels responsible for Dessie’s death. He regrets not knowing what to do medically for his sister (the doctor has told him he did exactly the wrong things in his attempts to help.) He goes over and over their last few days together, wondering what clues he may have missed. Tom decides he cannot live with this weight. He writes a letter to Will, asking him to please tell their mother he has died in a horse accident. Tom shoots himself in the head.
Steinbeck-as-narrator reflects on his understanding of the nature of the world. He argues that there is only one story: from birth, men are caught in a “net of good and evil.” And at the conclusion of our lives, we ask ourselves hard questions: “Was it good or was it evil? Have I done well – or ill?” The only measuring stick is “Was he loved or hated? Is his death felt as a loss or does a kind of joy come from it?” Steinbeck uses his “measuring stick” to reflect on the lives of three men. The first was a rich man who spent most of his life ruining others. As his life was drawing to an end, the man attempted to right his lifelong wrongs by performing “great services.” But when the news announced his passing, the overall sentiment was, “Thank god that son of a bitch is dead.” Another man “clothed his motives in the name of virtue” but fooled no one and there was “gladness when he died.” A third man had devoted his life to “making men brave and good” in a troubled time. When he died, people cried and wondered how they could go on without him. In summation, Steinbeck sticks by his premise that people mostly want to be good and want to be loved. If he has failed to be loved in life, he dies in a “cold horror.” He asks that we try to remember our dying and choose properly in “the two courses of thought and action.”
Lee helps the Trasks make the move to Salinas by packing up the house, taking them to the train, and then unloading all their goods once they arrive. He makes the family as comfortable as possible then waits for Adam to notice his “coldness and formality.” Adam eventually becomes aware of his manner and asks Lee to tell him what he already strongly suspected: that Lee wants to leave the family.
Lee tries to begin a speech he had memorized, intending to say that he had served the Trasks with his utmost ability for many years, but Adam interrupts him. The formality is sloughed off and Lee must simply come out with it. Lee confesses that he must leave right away or he might not have the nerve to go. Still, he asks if...
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The boys are about to begin attending their new school in Salinas, the West End School. It is a huge change from the one-room schoolhouse the boys had previously attended. At West End, there is a room for each grade level, with the lower grades housed on the bottom level and the upper grades (sixth through eighth) on the second floor. The play yards are segregated so boys occupy one side and girls use the other. The exterior of the building is yellow and austere. The inside is imposing as well, with pre-Raphaelite imagery dominating the décor. Although Aron and Cal are stunned by the opulence at first, within three days they become used to life and their surroundings at West End.
Cal soon realizes that being the new...
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With the dream of owning a bookstore permanently shelved, Lee settles down and makes the Trask home his own. He arranges his personal belongings as he likes. Lee then sets about spending Adam’s money to make the home as functional and decorative as his heart desires. One of his favorite new acquisitions is an icebox. All Lee’s spending makes Adam reflect that he would like to buy something as well. He first settles on a Victrola and records, but he longs for something more.
The new icebox enthralls Adam. He begins to study everything about it and purchases a book about refrigeration. He announces to Lee that he wants to go into business. Lee is not enthusiastic, pointing out that Adam has never shown a propensity...
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Unable to sleep, Cal has taken to spending his nights wandering the streets. Although Lee is aware that the boy is out, he does not say anything because he knows there is nothing he can do about it. As Cal walks, he continually ponders and tries to piece together the tidbits of information he has overheard about his mother. He knows she is not dead but he does not know the truth.
One night, he runs into a man named Rabbit, who is in town for a semiannual drunken excursion. He sits with Rabbit while Rabbit drinks; when Rabbit’s pint of whisky runs dry, Cal procures him another. Soon Rabbit has forgotten Cal’s age and even who he truly is. He offers to take Cal to “Kate’s place” where, he promises, he will see a...
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Cal continues his nightly wandering. One night, while watching a fan-tan game, he is scooped up in a raid on illegal gambling. Adam is called to retrieve him from the City Hall. He says nothing to his son as they walk the two blocks home. Lee, Cal, and Adam eat their breakfast in silence until Cal can no longer stand the tension. He yells at his father to “get it over with!” and say what he wants to say. Cal expects rage but what Adam says stuns him. His father asks a question that is actually more of a statement. As he looks directly into Cal’s eyes, and Cal into his, he says, “I’ve failed you, haven’t I?”
Cal cannot explain to his father what compelled him to do such a thing. He lamely offers that he...
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Kate is deeply shaken by Cal’s visit and words. Bitterly, she thinks that the only other person who has ever caused her so much mental discomfort was Sam Hamilton. As she ponders, she pulls up the chain that hangs between her breasts. The necklace has three things attached to it: two safety-deposit keys and a vial that contains grains of morphine. Her son’s words, “I think you’re afraid,” reverberate in her mind. She says them aloud in an attempt to divest them of their power.
Kate receives a letter from a woman named Ethel. Kate is clueless as to the identity of the woman. She knows dozens of women with that name, but she has had a sufficient relationship with none of them to warrant correspondence. Kate...
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The United States is at the brink of war, yet nothing changes very much for the people who live in the Salinas Valley. The Trask boys are as insensitive to the world change as anyone else. Walking to school, Cal encourages Aron to work hard and take the entrance examinations for college so that he can get out of high school a year early. Cal will stay on the ranch and work. He tells Aron that if passes the exams, he will help him pay for college. Aron agrees to try his best. Cal wonders how Abra will take the news; Aron says she will do whatever he tells her to do. Aron does not tell Abra his plans right away but she is acutely aware of the change in his demeanor.
Unbeknownst to the rest of his family, Cal pays a...
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The reality of the United States engaging in warfare slowly becomes more real to the people of Salinas. The people safe on home shores learned the truth of the war in stages. At first, as news of the fighting reached home, there was a swell of national pride and resolve. To its citizens, America was the greatest nation on Earth! Every man felt he could handle a rifle, whether he had ever touched one or not, and each man was certain his own life was worth more than dozens of foreigners' lives.
But then General Pershing suffered an unexpected defeat again Pancho Villa. It began to dawn on Americans that the Mexicans might not be so inept or stupid. It was a blow to many an American ego to accept the fact that Villa's men...
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Lee has adopted American dress completely during their time in Salinas. He now wears broad cloth suits and narrow, black-string ties like the ones worn by cattle barons. His hats are round and stiff. All of his clothing is tasteful and expensive. Adam remarks that perhaps Lee will be the one lending him money before long, and Lee acknowledges that this is a possibility.
The two friends talk and Adam reveals that he has discovered Aron's plan to study hard and take his examinations a year early. Lee asks why Aron should want to do that and, as if there were no other answer in the world, Adam replies that it is because his son has great ambition.
Adam wishes aloud that Cal showed the same sort of gumption as...
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Aron has left for college. In his absence, Abra gets to know the rest of the Trask family much better. She soon discovers a great affection for Lee and an innate trust for Adam, but of Cal she is unsure.
Aron writes frequently from Stanford University. He is lonely and longing for Abra. From afar, his tone takes on a passion for her that was quite absent in real life. His imaginary relationship with Abra becomes Aron's obsession.
Abra and Lee develop a close and real friendship. There is nothing Abra cannot discuss with the older man. She finds that she only wants to tell him "true things," even if she is not exactly sure what constitutes "truth."
One of the truths she arrives at and shares...
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Joe Valery works for Kate in the capacity of both bouncer and security guard. He is big and strong but not very bright. He has a few simple rules by which he lives, most involving staying out of trouble and seizing on the slip-ups of others, always with the goal of profiting financially from their mistakes.
Of Kate, Joe is afraid. Early on, he discovered she was above being manipulated or tricked, so he gave up trying to con her altogether. Kate knows she has broken him and treats him more like a slave than an employee. Joe has come to believe that Kate is incapable of failure because she is smart and always gets "the breaks." The combination of the two gifts makes her invincible in Joe's estimation.
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The war continued. An early, false spring came to the Salinas Valley. In Europe, Germany was pushing toward Paris. People still hoped General Pershing would be their savior. Despite American resolve that they were "winning," there were troubling signs that the war was not going well. Flour was being rationed and older men were being accepted into military service.
Those at home tried to make themselves feel useful. The Minute Men gave their one-minute speeches at movie theaters and churches. Women rolled bandages for the Red Cross. All of the good leather went straight to making belts and boots for officers.
Americans adopted some British fashions, especially "Sam Browne" belts. This style of belt...
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Adam is appointed head of the draft board. Although he had seen war in his youth, warfare has changed. It has become more brutal with improved weaponry and tactics. More young men die, and with every boy Adam sends to the front, he feels as if he is signing his death warrant.
Adam is filled with sadness. He worries about how much longer the war will last and whether his own sons will be called upon to serve and, perhaps, to die. Talking about the possibility with his colleague, Henry Stanton, Adam muses that should his boys come before him at the draft board, he would have to resign. Henry understands; a man would be too tempted to give his own blood a pass. Adam says no, it is just the opposite; he would feel compelled...
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A rival madam to Kate, an old black woman known as "the Nigger," dies. Joe Valery is one of the many curious people who goes to have a last look at this woman who had lived so long in Salinas yet was unknown to almost all save her devoted husband.
While at the mortuary, Joe runs into Alf Nichelson, a handyman and inveterate gossip. Alf remembers Joe from some work he had done at Kate's place and ropes Joe into an uncomfortable conversation. Joe tries to get away, saying he has someone to meet, but Alf continues to talk, bringing up Faye, her mysterious death, and how no one really knows how Kate came to own the place. Suddenly Joe's "friend" is no longer a priority; Joe offers to buy Alf a beer.
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Adam insists on going to pick up Aron at the train station even though Cal and Lee urge him to let Abra go alone. Unable to dissuade Adam, both Lee and Cal agree to join him. Adam is sure his son has changed, despite the fact that he has only been away a couple of months. Experience, he argues, always changes a person. They arrive at the platform and find Abra already waiting.
Nervous minutes pass but finally a green light announces the imminent arrival of the train. Several more anxious minutes pass before Aron steps off the railcar, looking quite dapper and modern, his eyes bright with pleasure at being home. Spying Abra, he scoops her up and swings her joyfully around. He sets her down and shakes hands with Adam...
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Kate is making Joe nervous. She sits and stares at her wall for hours upon end, not revealing a single thought. Joe's only plan is to keep his boss on edge, waiting for her to reveal more information to use against her. But hour after hour, Kate remains still and wordless.
In reality, Kate is not thinking at all. Her mind simply drifts from image to impression. In her mind, she sees Aron's blonde head and angelic face. She hears his bitter words aimed more at himself than at her. She sees Cal too, the dark twin, leaning against her door frame, laughing. She wonders why he brought his brother. She does not know what he wants from her or the point of doing such a thing at all.
Joe interrupts her musings...
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Horace Quinn is the sheriff of the Salinas Valley. A friend of Adam, Quinn had been keeping tabs on Kate's activities for many years, ever since she shot Adam. He knows but cannot prove that her story about Faye is fishy. However, since Kate had treated him fairly in the times he dealt with her directly, Quinn developed a sort of respect for the madam. She and her house stayed out of trouble, and he liked anyone who did not cause him undue grief.
It is Sheriff Quinn who goes through Joe Valery's pockets, removing the bloody envelope from the pocket of the dead man's jacket. Sheriff Quinn lets out a heavy sigh when he views the photographs the envelope concealed; he knows that the evidence will ruin many lives. He also...
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It is the winter of 1918 and the war shows no signs of drawing to a close. People are becoming dejected. There are hundreds of thousands of casualties from many nations, and hopes for a quick and decisive victory have been dashed. Still, Americans are reluctant to "put on the doggedness" of a protracted conflict. Steinbeck-as-narrator remarks on how quickly people forget the pain and uncertainty of victory and soon remember only homecomings and parades.
Adam is given a leave of absence from the draft board because of his failing health. His left hand bothers him, his eyesight is failing, and he is often subject to troubling spells of dizziness. Adam is also troubled by the lack of communication from Aron, who rarely...
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Abra is looking forward to her visit to the Trasks; she is especially eager to see Lee. Cal tells her Lee is happily awaiting her arrival, even baking special tarts for them all.
Abra has bought Lee a potato peeler as a gift. She asks Cal if he would like to carry her books home, and he does. Abra looks lovingly at him until Cal drops his own gaze.
At the Trasks', Adam has taken to napping frequently instead of sleeping through the night. It is late in the morning before Lee discovers Adam has awakened. Adam tells Lee he has dreamed of his father. He asks Lee if he knew his father was a thief. Lee says he does not believe it but Adam is insistent. He has finally come to terms with the reality of what his...
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It seems like winter will never let go of its grip. People even begin wild speculations about its tenacity, blaming the long season on the huge guns erupting overseas and messing up the seasonal weather patterns all over the world. Grain crops are not as far along as they should be and wildflowers have not blossomed. Even as late as May Day, the temperatures are still very cold.
Cal and Abra had been waiting to have their promised picnic among the azaleas. But on the day they scheduled to go, a cold rain fell. Inclement weather postponed their date for another two weeks.
Frustrated with continually buying fresh bread for their picnic, Lee asks Cal why they shouldn't just go anyway. Cal says no; he had...
(The entire section is 565 words.)
Cal comes home to find his house lit up and the door standing ajar. It is cold inside, and Lee is huddled in a chair. Adam's bedroom door is open and Cal can hear voices coming from within. Lee bluntly tells Cal that his brother is dead and that his father has suffered a stroke.
Cal heads for his father's room but Lee stops him, telling him to let the doctors do their jobs. Cal wants to know how bad his father's stroke was, but Lee doe not know. He tells Cal that his father repeated the news of Aron's death to himself over and over for about five minutes until the news "seemed to get into his brain and explode there."
The doctor emerges and asks Cal what he knows about strokes. He confirms that Lee is...
(The entire section is 790 words.)