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...
(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...
(The entire section is 1032 words.)
East of Eden begins with the narrator’s description of the Salinas Valley in California, where the story unfolds. The next chapter introduces the Hamilton family, beginning with the narrator’s grandfather Samuel Hamilton, who during the 1860s came to California from Ireland with his wife Liza.
The focus then switches to the Trask family, living on a farm in Connecticut. Cyrus Trask is a Civil War veteran who becomes a powerful man in the War Department in Washington, D.C. Trask has two sons, Adam and Charles. During their boyhood, Cyrus rejects a birthday present from Charles but accepts the present given by Adam. This angers Charles, and he beats Adam severely. Cyrus forces Adam to join the army.
The narrative then switches to the Hamilton family, which is thriving, even though Samuel never makes much money. Samuel’s four sons, George, Will, Tom, and Joe, are born. The narrative then returns to the Trasks. Charles is lonely by himself on the farm, but when Adam is discharged from the army in 1885 he immediately reenlists instead of returning home. He also visits his father in Washington, D.C. After Adam is discharged a second time in 1890, he drifts through the South and is arrested in Florida for vagrancy and put on a road gang. He escapes from the road gang and reaches Georgia, where he steals some clothes and wires his brother to send money so he can return home. Adam returns to the farm to find that his...
(The entire section is 1272 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 Adam would like him to wait until he has found a suitable replacement. Adam declines, knowing that the time would likely never come and he does not wish to hold his friend back. Adam wonders if they should keep the news from the boys because he fears it will upset them too much. Lee disagrees; he argues that it is best to be honest with children.
When the boys are told, they take the news in stride. Adam is furious and calls them “little brutes!” but Lee is sanguine. He claims he does not want them to be sad and hopes that one day they will remember him fondly. Adam, for his part, he tells Lee he will certainly miss him. He wants to know if Lee truly intends to open a bookstore. Lee says that is the plan. Adam offers to walk Lee to the depot but Lee refuses, knowing it would be too emotionally difficult. He says good-bye to Adam and leaves quickly, barely hearing Adam’s plea to remember to write.
Later that night after a basketball game, Cal and Aron discuss Lee’s departure. Cal wonders what Lee will ever do without them, but Aron says they will not have to wonder; he is certain Lee will return. Cal bets his brother ten cents that Lee will come back, a bet that has no expiration date. Aron takes the bet and Cal rewarded only six days later.
Lee arrives back at the Trask home and lets himself in with his own key. He finds Adam in the kitchen. Adam has burned the dinner. The two talk as if nothing in the last week has transpired, falling into their old roles effortlessly. Lee shoos Adam out of the kitchen and makes them both some coffee, pouring a little bit of Chinese absinthe into each cup. After a bit of avoidance, Lee finally confesses the reason he came home. “I got...
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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 boys in school means they must quickly and firmly establish a reputation among the student body and their teachers. He devises a plan wherein he and his brother will study very hard during the first week of classes. When the teacher asks a question, they will raise their hands. When called on, they will always know the answer, which will annoy the teacher. During the second week, they will not study at all but still raise their hands. The teacher will not call on them because, he reasons correctly, she will want to call on someone who does not know the answer. During the third week, Cal and Aron will not raise their hands at all. Then the teacher will not know whether they have the answer and will leave them alone. The plan works flawlessly and the boys establish a reputation among their peers for being smart.
It does not take long for the students to note the marked differences between the two twins—in their appearances as well as in their personalities. Cal becomes known among the children and adults as precocious and oddly intimidating. He is respected but not well liked. Cal has no friends. Most think him insensitive and even cruel. Aron, on the other hand, is beloved by all. His fair complexion, angelic good looks, and gentle manner attract both female attention and male testing of his mettle. Although he might have appeared delicate, the boys who challenge him soon discover he is a tenacious fighter. His appearance is the opposite of his nature. Aron is dogged in his determination, single-mined, and insensitive to pain. Even Cal learns when he has pushed his brother too far.
Almost immediately after enrolling in West End, Aron develops a crush on a girl named Abra. He waits eagerly to talk...
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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 for success in business matters. But Adam will not be dissuaded. He begins a series of experiments in their home icebox, convinced that food could be kept fresh if it stays cold long enough.
The idea simply will not leave Adam. Unlike his friend Sam Hamilton, who always had dozens of ideas taking shape in the fires of his mind, Adam has only this single notion. He ponders it and continues his experiments until he feels certain he has hit on a solution. He asks Sam’s son, the banker, Will Hamilton, to come over and hear his idea.
Will is accustomed to his father’s wild schemes, so he is cautious and skeptical. He advises Adam to drop it, claiming that people in the East are not used to fresh vegetables in the off seasons and will be too leery to purchase frozen ones. He points out, too, that any problems in transporting the produce might end badly, with all the vegetables spoiling when the ice melts. “Let refrigeration alone,” are Will’s final words on the subject. He tells Adam to invest in bean crops instead.
They may have been Will’s final words, but they are not Adam’s. After Will departs, Adam informs Lee that he intends to buy the local ice plant. Lee, ever practical, suggests that Adam “plant some beans too.”
Adam does purchase the ice plant. He throws all of his time, energy, and money toward making his idea succeed. At first, the venture seems to be on a path to remarkable success. Even Will begins to doubt his own advice. Sadly, however, a series of events causes the shipment to become stuck for five long days. By the time the train arrives in New York, the shipment of lettuce is a disgusting and smelly slop. Adam is even charged to dispose of the...
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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 circus unlike any other he has seen before. Cal follows Rabbit to the whorehouse.
Later that night, Cal knocks on Lee’s bedroom door. Lee admits him and patiently waits for the questions he knows are coming. Cal tells him that he saw his mother and that he knows what she does for a living. Lee does not deny it. He simply asks the boy what he wants to know. Lee confirms that his father knows and that Cathy did, in fact, shoot him before running away. He does not know, however, why she wanted to hurt him. Cal asks Lee to describe his mother but he is at a loss. He says she is a mystery and somehow lacks something very important—“kindness, maybe, or conscience.” She seemed full of hate, but he could not say what she hated or why. This is the extent of what Lee can tell the boy about his mother. He asks Cal if he hates his mother. He does.
Cal says he thinks he has her in him, all the badness and darkness of his mother. This enrages Lee. He tells the boy that everyone has some darkness but he also has light. He urges Cal to not take the “lazy way,” that is, to become like his mother and let the darkness take him because it is easy to blame her for the bad parts. Whatever he chooses in life, Lee argues, is his own choice.
The fact that he knows the truth about their mother and Aron does not eats away at Cal. He knows the right thing to do is to keep quiet about it, but Aron’s angelic goodness drives him crazy, especially when Aron takes a shine to religion and tries to convert his brother. Still, he keeps quiet, sure that Aron could not handle the revelation.
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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 simply gets restless at night. Adam wants to know if Aron knows about Cal’s activities. Cal denies it, explaining that his brother does not share his sense of restlessness. Adam confesses he does not know enough about either of the boys to know if that statement is true. In a statement that expresses Cal’s deep longing for his father’s love, Cal whispers, “I’d tell you if you’d ask.” Adam is humbled by his son’s revelation. He understands that he is unwittingly committing the sins of his own father.
Adam and Cal talk about Aron. Cal tells him his brother is good and that he has never done anything to be ashamed of. He also tells his father a secret, which he makes Adam promise not to reveal. He says Aron wants to go to college. Cal asks to stay and work on the ranch to help pay for his brother to do so. Despite this generosity, Adam senses something his son is not saying. He asks if Cal does not like or even hates his brother. Cal confesses that he has hated him in the past but that he he no longer hates anyone—not even, he lets slip, his mother.
Adam is taken aback momentarily. He reaffirms his son’s statement: “You know about your mother.” Cal confesses that he does know. Adam wants to know if he has told Aron or if he will do so. Cal says he would not dare tell him, because he could not handle it because, unlike himself, Aron does not possess “badness.” Both father and son then agree that sending Aron to college might keep him from discovering the truth by other means.
Cal decides that he needs to know everything about his mother. He reasons that, to be safe, one must know his enemy. By watching her house on a regular basis, he discovers that Cathy (Kate)...
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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 agrees to meet with the letter writer. Ethel turns out to be an ageing, addle-brained whore who had once worked in Kate’s house. As the poor woman babbles, it becomes clear that Kate had “run her off” some time ago. Ethel spent some time in jail and could never get enough money through prostituting to survive very well.
Kate offers Ethel forty dollars but Ethel was hoping for more, in light of the information she had sent to Kate in the mail. Kate has no idea what the woman is talking about. In her blundering way, Ethel finally reveals that she is blackmailing Kate. After Faye’s death, Ethel found the smashed medicine bottles in the backyard. She saved the broken glass in an envelope, certain an analysis of the glass would reveal poison. Kate offers Ethel room and board in exchange for some domestic help. Ethel refuses. She wants a hundred dollars a month to keep her mouth shut. Kate agrees, then counts out a hundred dollars and Ethel goes back to her hotel. The next morning, Ethel is arrested when a man accuses her of robbery. Ethel screams that she was framed but the judge will have none of it. Ethel is escorted to the county line and threatened with prison if she returns.
Kate initially thinks nothing of what she has done to Ethel, but the knowledge that someone out there has information that might link her to Faye’s death eats away at her. Even if testing the bottles proves nothing, people would wonder why she smashed them rather than simply disposing of them. Kate knows what she would think if she heard about a wealthy widow who died mysteriously and left her fortune to a relative stranger. Kate bitterly regrets letting Ethel go free; Ethel might do or say anything beyond Kate’s...
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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 visit in town to Will Hamilton. He asks the older man for advice, particularly, how he can make a great deal of money quickly, between twenty and thirty thousand dollars. Will is taken aback. Cal explains that he wants to recoup his father's losses in the lettuce fiasco. Will is touched by the younger Trask's good heart and generosity. Will sees in Cal qualities of his own family and reflects how he missed out on what most of his family possessed: fire for ideas and goodness. Despite his deficiencies, however, Will knows the Hamiltons loved him no less for what he lacked.
Will asks Cal point blank the deeper reason for wanting to help his father. Cal, in his honest way, says he wants to make it up to his father for not being good. Will asks if giving him the money will make Cal "good." Cal again surprises by saying no; in fact, he thinks it is bad. Will asks if he is trying to buy his father's love. Cal says simply, "Yes."
Will offers to take Cal into a business venture with him, but is reluctant to take on a partner without money. Cal says he can get five thousand dollars, an offer Lee had made to him previously. Cal will not reveal the source of his funding to Will, but he does say it is a loan, made to him without interest. Will is impressed.
Will tells Cal that war in imminent. Their best bet, he argues, will be to invest in bean crops. Will tells Cal how to get the tenant farmer on the Trask ranch to plant beans. They will give the man a seed loan and promise him five cents a pound, even though the market is currently paying only three cents a pound. Because of the coming conflict, Will knows that soon demand will skyrocket. He expects to get ten cents or more for each pound. Cal...
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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 had beaten the homeboys, both in ability and endurance. Making matters worse, a lot of the infantry suffered from dysentery, an ignominious fate to be sure.
Despite their failures of perception regarding the Mexican forces, Americans went right on and applied those same myths about the capabilities of a foreign aggressor to the Germans. Americans made other poor predictions as well, erroneously believing the Kaiser would not dare interfere in trade, that he would not dare to sink American ships.
Even as these truths began to hit home, Americans still were removed from the action. It was exciting but still "over there." It was still "somebody else" who got killed. But then the telegrams began to be delivered, informing more and more families about the loss of their sons in combat.
The "fun" of being at war no longer seemed so exciting. Even attempts to "get involved" stateside seemed weak and ineffectual. Clubs could host parades, regular citizens could wear fatigues to support the troops, and speeches could be passionately delivered, but none of this stopped the continual arrival of boys in body bags.
But still, every day, more and more young men packed suitcases and headed to the war. Bands marched ahead of them, playing "Stars and Stripes Forever," and families followed them. The music they marched to now, however, "sounded more like a dirge."
Regular citizens were beginning to doubt that their government was telling them the truth. They heard rumors that the soldiers were not getting what they needed. Others worried that the enemy was stronger and that their own forces were doomed. Still others speculated that America was about to be invaded. No...
(The entire section is 461 words.)
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 his twin. Lee hints that perhaps he has, and has his own secrets as well. Not pursuing the matter of the darker twin, Adam ruminates on what type of gift to get Aron when he passes his exams. Lee suggests an engraved gold watch and Adam thinks that is a fine idea.
Aron studies for his upcoming exams in the rectory of St. Paul's Episcopal Church, where he can read and reflect on his materials without interruption. Aron talks to the priest, who reveals with some pride that he has, for several weeks, observed a woman of ill-repute in the pews during Sunday services.
On the day of the exams, Adam waits patiently for Aron to reveal his results. He has the gold watch waiting for his son. The idea that Aron may not have passed does not enter his mind.
Adam is disappointed when Aron tells him he is having dinner at the rectory but does not say anything else. Later on Cal, thinking there is not a secret to keep, accidentally tells his father that Aron did indeed pass. Adam tries to pretend that he already knew but Cal knows he is lying.
Dusk turns to darkness. Cal sits on the front steps of the house, waiting for his brother to return. Lee finds the teenager there when he goes out to mail a letter. When Lee inquires what he intends to do when Aron comes back, Cal says he is going to "beat the hell out of him." Lee advises against this as Aron is the better fighter and Cal would probably get the worst of it.
Cal goes inside and Lee waits alone for Aron's return. When he does, Lee reprimands Aron for his callousness towards his father. He tells Aron to inform his father in person of the test results. Aron refuses but Lee will not give up. He tells Aron he will...
(The entire section is 522 words.)
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 with Lee is that she believes the source of Aron's discontent and anger stems from not having a mother. She and Lee ruminate about the fact that not having a mother around does not seem to affect Cal as greatly. Abra decides that different people have different needs.
As Lee and Abra prepare supper, Abra accidentally confesses that she does not want Aron to be a minister. Lee is surprised and asks her why. Abra says it is because Aron lacks balance. He fails to see nuances. He also idolizes her and his idolization makes her feel that she will never measure up to his fantasy. She can never be as "pure" as the girlfriend Aron has constructed in his mind.
Abra also muses that because Aron did not have a mother, he created her out of every good thing he could think of. Then when Abra came along, Aron "dumped" all that goodness on her. It makes Abra uncomfortable in the extreme. She says she wants to be rid of it, even if it means that Aron no longer likes or wants her.
The two continue to prepare dinner. Suddenly Abra voices the one question she has held back. She asks Lee if Aron's mother is still alive. Lee will not answer directly. After several long minutes of avoidance, Lee finally answers in the affirmative.
Their conversation is interrupted by Cal bounding into the kitchen and gleaming. He proudly hands Lee a check. It is the five thousand dollars he borrowed plus interest. He tells the pair that he has another surprise, this one for his father, but he will wait until Thanksgiving when Aron is home and Abra can be there as well. Abra is pleased by Cal's sunny demeanor. Before she goes home, Abra remarks that she has never seen Cal so happy.
(The entire section is 555 words.)
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.
Alone in her room and suffering from worsening arthritis, Kate reminisces about Faye. She wonders how she felt about the woman: love, hate, pity? Was she sorry she had murdered her? Kate concludes that she feels none of these things; in fact, she has no emotion at all regarding her former "friend."
Kate's thoughts turn to Ethel. The thought of the "lousy old bag" always brings a tinge of fear. She expects the old whore will tell people but also thinks that no one will believe her seemingly addled ramblings. Still, the thought of Ethel out there and the possibility that someone might believe her is unsettling. Kate resolves to have Joe find Ethel.
Joe becomes more important in Kate's life as her arthritis become more and more crippling. She trusts Joe more than the girls in the house not only because he is not prone to the same sorts of emotions that women are but also because Kate has the ability to blackmail him. She knows that years ago Joe, then known as Joe Venuta, walked off a chain gang. She could have him back behind bars at any time. Joe does not know this; Kate never shows all her cards.
Kate tells Joe that she needs him to locate Ethel. Joe asks why but Kate refuses to tell him. She offers him five hundred dollars to find out where she is: not to bring her back, just to provide a legitimate address. Although he promises to be quick and quiet, Kate shows him a bit of the card of knowledge she has hidden: she asks him if the name "Venuta" means anything to him.
In Castroville, where he has gone to seek Ethel, Joe lays on his bed and ponders. He does not know how Kate knows he is wanted. He wonders if he should run away, find a new town to hide in. Then he thinks...
(The entire section is 752 words.)
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 crossed over the chest as well as going around the waist. It had no function other than ornament, and even the British could not say if it ever had served a functional purpose.
Many men also began mimicking the British way of carrying handkerchiefs up their sleeves and sporting swagger sticks. Curiously, the one thing Americans were reluctant to emulate was the wearing of wrist watches. This was deemed "too silly."
The fear of war "over there" soon transferred to fear "over here." There were spy scandals in nearby cities like San Jose. Salinas natives began to look with suspicion upon their own. One of the objects of this scrutiny was Mr. Fenchel, a tailor who had worked in Salinas for some twenty years. Mr. Fenchel was a German by birth but his accent had never been a problem before the war.
Suddenly, despite his long history of service in the community, Mr. Fenchel was shunned. Nothing he could do would change the minds of his former friends. He bought all the war bonds he could afford. He tried to enlist in the Home Guard and was refused. His business dried up because no one wanted to support "the enemy." No one would even speak to him any more, even though he had never met a stranger in the past.
Steinbeck, stepping in as narrator to tell his own part in this shame, remarks on how he and his sister also hurt poor Mr. Fenchel. Although the man greeted the children as he always had, John and Mary taunted back, "Hoch der Kaiser!" Mr. Fenchel began to sob. He just stood there, crying and crying. The children turned stiffly and walked back home, each feeling an enormous burden of guilt.
As poorly as the children treated Mr. Fenchel, adults were even more cruel....
(The entire section is 450 words.)
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 to send his sons whether his boys were fit to go to war or not because so many others had met their fates because of his decisions.
Henry remarks that he has seen Cal walking the streets at night and thinks Cal is a "smart boy." Dismissive of Cal as always, Adam replies that Cal did not go to college a year early as had Aron. Henry tries to argue that people have different interests and strengths. He points out that neither he nor Adam went to college and both of them had done all right in life. Adam says nothing in reply other than bid goodnight to his coworker.
Back home, the weight of his responsibilities continues to press on Adam's mind. He finds Lee in the kitchen and seeks his advice. Adam wants to know how much he is to blame for doing his job and sending young men to die. Lee asks what exactly is bothering him: the deaths or the resulting blame. Adam believes it to be the blame that upsets him the most. Lee finds this to be the easier burden as responsibility "doesn't carry any pleasant egotism."
Adam brings up a concept taught to him by the late Sam Hamilton that he has long pondered. It is the Hebraic word "timshel" and means "thou mayest." It is a crucial theme and concept of East of Eden for it takes away fate and predestination and places responsibility firmly in the hands of the living to make their own choices and accept the resulting rewards or consequences.
After the talk with Lee, Adam looks forward to Aron's homecoming. He imagines a son who is happy and bright, pursuing his academic goals with gusto. In reality, Aron is miserable at Stanford. His ideal is not living up to his imagination. More than anything else, Aron is desperately...
(The entire section is 465 words.)
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.
At a saloon, the two continue to talk. Joe learns that Kate may have been married once to Adam Trask. He stores away that piece of information as he might one day use it to blackmail Trask. He is unsure of what to do with Alf's speculations about Faye and Kate; he is still afraid of pushing Kate too far.
Alf is perturbed that although he offered Joe some good gossip, Joe does not return in kind. Joe stiffly says he has to go meet that friend and leaves Alf with nothing to pass on. Joe goes back to Kate's to ponder what to do with the new information.
After a long night of contemplation, Joe decides he has been given "the breaks" and that it is his duty to make the best of them. He goes to Kate's room to receive his evening orders. Unexpectedly, Kate accuses Joe of not doing his job properly. He tells Kate he has been busy trying to find out more about Ethel. Although he had not planned on saying it, Joe tells Kate he ran into a man who claims to have seen Ethel.
After a pregnant pause, Kate tells Joe that she should not have kept him working in the dark. She has discovered that Ethel is innocent and will feel so much better, she claims, when she can apologize to Ethel in person. Kate offers Joe more money and asks him to either bring Ethel to the house or find out how to contact her.
Joe thinks he has wildly succeeded. He is beside himself with glee as he quietly closes the door to Kate's room. Behind the door, Kate sits quietly at her desk. She thinks of "fat, sloppy Ethel" and is weary. Her fingers ache and her head pounds. Still, she fixes her makeup and hair. She calls to one of the girls, Helen, to come in to her room. She wants to know about the Nigger's funeral. Helen says...
(The entire section is 497 words.)
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 and Cal. He gives Lee a giant bear hug, nearly crushing the thin man in his enthusiasm.
It does not take long to travel from the depot to their home. Lee prepared coffee before they left and passes a steaming cup to everyone gathered in the living room. Adam begins to grill Aron about college life but notices his son's quiet displeasure and chalks up his unwillingness to talk to being tired. Lee notes that Aron would probably like to be alone with Abra, who asks if Aron will walk her home.
Aron grips Abra's arm in both a desperate and possessive way as they walk. Aron tells Abra he has some serious things to discuss with her. At the door, Abra asks him not to come inside. She says her father is once again on one of his disapproving "streaks" against their relationship and that she will see him later. Putting him off causes Aron to ask whether she still wants to be with him. Abra says that she does, giving him a light kiss, and Aron heads back home.
Alone in his bedroom, Aron feels something like panic as he realizes the full weight of his father's expectations for him. He wonders if he will ever be able to break free of Adam's will. He notices the light is still on in Cal's room and asks to come in. He sees Cal is at his desk wrapping up something in tissue and red ribbon, the contents of which Cal quickly tries to hide.
Cal offers little explanation for the present and Aron does not press the issue. He has more on his mind. He tells his brother that he does not want to return to college. Cal is shocked. He asks Aron what it is that he wants to do instead; Aron says that he would like to take over the ranch. Cal says there is no money in farming or ranching; Aron...
(The entire section is 778 words.)
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 when he brings in a pot of tea. Kate's arthritis is flaring, causing her pain like she has never before experienced. It startles Joe to see her in such a weakened and vulnerable state. He senses that he may be getting another one of "the breaks" and tells Kate, in a hedging way, that he has information about Ethel.
Joe spins his lie carefully. He tells Kate that a man he did not know stopped him outside of a store. The stranger clandestinely told Joe that he had some information on the person Joe has been looking for. He hints that he knows about the judge's order that Ethel not return to Salinas. The man implies that Ethel has violated this order.
Kate asks Joe if the man wanted money from him. Joe says he did not want money but did ask a puzzling question: "Does Faye mean anything to you?"
Kate steadily asks Joe if the name "Faye" does mean anything to him. Joe denies it. Kate, in mock surprise, wonders how he could not have known that a woman named Faye used to own this very house. Joe begins to panic. He knows that the denial was a miscalculation. He tries to backtrack but Kate is far too smart to miss his discomfort.
Kate is pleased. Joe's betrayal gives her something new to focus on, something other than her sons and her pain. She pretends not to notice his fear-stricken expression and his shaking hands as he pours her a cup of tea. Instead she asks Joe, in a pleading voice, to help her. She says she will give him ten thousand dollars if he will "fix everything up."
Joe licks his lips. Kate asks if she has "caught him out." He claims not to know what she is talking about. Kate assures him that he is smart and can figure it out, then dismisses him....
(The entire section is 782 words.)
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 finds Kate's handwritten will.
Sheriff Quinn takes the will to a lawyer, who verifies that it is valid and that Aron Trask will be her heir. Quinn has another question for the lawyer; he wants to know if Kate has been blackmailing him. The man denies it and seems to be telling the truth. Quinn, however, slips him one of the photographs. He then admits that he knew Kate had the photograph.
In a trembling voice, the lawyer asks the sheriff what he plans to do with the image. Quinn replies that he will destroy it and all of the rest of the photographs as well. He drops the entire thing, including the negatives, into the stove.
Horace gives a list of names to the lawyer and asks him to contact all the men and tell them about the destruction of the evidence. Sadly, even though Quinn has done his friend an enormous favor, he realizes that the knowledge of his friend's private and perverse sexual proclivities will now forever be a barrier between them. Quinn also knows that his days as the sheriff are numbered; there are too many powerful men on that list who will feel the same way as the lawyer.
At the Trask home, Quinn must wait for Aron to arrive to give him the news about Kate's will. Lee brings him coffee. Adam comes in; Quinn tells him about Kate and that she died by her own hand. He shows Adam the blood-stained will.
Adam confesses that Aron does not know Kate was his mother. Adam asks Quinn to tear up the will, but the sheriff refuses. He tells Adam he has already been to the bank and inspected the contents of Kate's safety-deposit box and the thousands of dollars it contains. The only thing in it was the money—and a marriage certificate.
(The entire section is 886 words.)
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 writes.
Later Cal insists that Adam go to town for an eye test. Surprisingly, Lee does not want Adam to go. Lee says that he fears it is not really his eyesight that is troubling him but something far deeper and more complex.
Lee asks Cal to find Abra and tell her he wants to speak with her. Cal is reluctant but Lee tells him that he has to open up. Cal asks if Lee wants him to tell Adam that he revealed Kate's identity to Aron. Lee says that eventually he will have to do so. Again Lee reiterates his desire to talk to Abra; he misses her.
Cal finds Abra after school the following day. She talks easily with him. Cal asks her why she shunned him before; Abra says it was because he was mad and she did not want to speak with him when he was in that state of mind.
She offers to let Cal carry her books and he gladly does so. Cal tells her his father is ailing. He asks if Abra has heard from Aron; she has. She shows Cal a postcard she received telling her he has joined the army, does "not feel clean," and is "not fit for her." Finally, he commands her to "not go near his father."
Cal wants to know if Abra hates him. She says he does not. But he tells her he has hurt both his brother and herself because she is his brother's girl. Abra insists that she is "not his brother's girl."
Cal confesses his deed. He tells Abra that Aron went crazy when he found out that their mother was a whore and that their father had lied to them. He tells Abra that Kate has committed suicide. And now, he says, Abra knows the whole story and has reason to hate him.
Abra surprises Cal by telling him she has long known the truth about his mother. She also stuns...
(The entire section is 584 words.)
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 father had been.
Lee attempts to cheer his friend with the announcement of Abra's imminent arrival. Lee is not morose; in fact, he is filled with "the joy of change." Lee reflects on the irony of honest Adam living his entire life on the legacy of stolen money. He also thinks of self-righteous Aron, so sure that he is "good" but living on the money made from a whorehouse. His thoughts then turn to Samuel Hamilton, a man without a penny to his name but so rich in other ways.
Although the day is quite cold, Adam insists on going down to the draft board, so Lee bundles him up. Abra arrives just as Adam is leaving. Lee is thrilled to see her. He gets choked up and finally admits to Abra something for which he has long wished: that she were his daughter.
Lee is beyond gratified to learn that Abra too wishes he were her father. Lee goes to retrieve a gift for his "daughter." He hands her a small ebony box. Inside is a green jade button; on the button is carved a delicate female hand. Lee tells Abra it had been his mother's "only ornament." Abra is touched; she embraces Lee and kisses him.
Lee and Abra sit down with tea and tarts. Abra tells Lee that she knows about Kate and that she is in love with Cal. She says that her parents do not want her to come to the Trask house. Lee wonders if the knowledge that Aron was now very wealthy might ease that restriction. Abra, almost laughing, agrees that it would. Lee advises her not to say how Aron truly came into his fortune.
Cal comes home as Abra is about to leave. He asks her to wait for him while he deposits his books inside and then walks Abra to her house.
On his way back, Tom Meek, the constable,...
(The entire section is 499 words.)
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 promised her azaleas, and it will be another week or so before he can fulfill his promise.
Adam is on the mend and Lee is not surprised. He had studied his friend's condition for some time with the local doctor. At first, Doctor Murphy had been annoyed with Lee, regarding him as merely a meddlesome servant, but soon he came to respect Lee's sharp mind and tenacity.
Lee learned that Adam suffered a cerebral hemorrhage. While Adam's brain appears to have absorbed it, Lee fears another may occur. He commits himself to keeping Adam's blood pressure down by remaining calm and offering him daily "conversational therapy."
Things are improving on the war front as well. American troops have established a new line and successfully defeated two German counterattacks.
By the end of May, Cal receives the welcome news that the azaleas finally have blossomed. Through a series of signs and signals, Cal is able to capture Abra's attention. She catches up with him once they are beyond the sight and sound of the school. They decide to go right then to see the flowers instead of waiting until the next day. The pair run home to have Lee prepare their picnic.
Cal and Abra share an idyllic afternoon, gathering azalea branches and loading them in the back seat of the car. They stick their feet in the running brook and soak up the warm sun.
Suddenly Abra grabs Cal's hand, tired of waiting for him to make the move. Once again, both are comforted by knowing neither one is "good."
Abra has something to tell Adam. Her father is in trouble. She knows he is not sick, as he has been claiming; he is scared. From what Abra has overheard, she thinks he has been embezzling...
(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 aware that Adam has had smaller episodes in the past but says that this one was very bad. Doctor Murphy says he is unlikely to recover, that he will be all but helpless, and that Adam will require around-the-clock nursing care. He does not know how long Adam has to live; maybe a day, maybe a year or two.
Cal goes to his father's room and sees the great man now pale and expressionless. Cal sits at the side of his bed and manages to say, "I'm sorry, Father." Adam blinks in response.
Cal decides that Adam can hear him and confesses everything. He tells his father he does not know why he does bad things, that he does not want to do them but somehow ends up doing them anyway.
He looks to his father for some sort of forgiveness or understanding, but all he sees are Adam's blank "terrible eyes." Cal knows that his father's eyes will haunt him for the rest of his life.
Cal hears the doorbell and moments later a falsely cheerful nurse bursts into Adam's room. She immediately takes charge and begins ordering Lee around. She calls Adam "sugar" and treats him like a child. Cal and Lee exit the room.
Lee asks Cal if his father was able to speak to him. Cal shakes his head. Lee assures him they can get used to anything, but Cal says he cannot. He says his life will be horrible and that he will not be able to stand it. He implies that he might even take his own life.
This infuriates Lee, and he calls Cal a "mouse" and a "nasty cur," one who is unable to see "goodness all around" him. Cal retorts that he is a murderer; his actions got his brother killed. Furthermore, Adam knows it; his eyes accused him.
Lee reasons with Cal. He tells him his brain is...
(The entire section is 790 words.)