John Steinbeck's East of Eden has been called an allegorical novel.  The story of Cain and Abel is obviously an example.  What might be some other examples of allegory?

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vangoghfan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

John Steinbeck’s East of Eden is obviously and unapologetically an allegorical novel, and indeed the allegory has often been considered too heavy-handed and unsubtle. Steinbeck himself took great pride in this work (considering it better, even, than The Grapes of Wrath – a book that also had some allegorical overtones but in which the allegory was not nearly as obvious or overbearing).  The Cain and Abel story clearly lies behind much of the complicated plot and enormous length of East of Eden, and Steinbeck makes certain that this archetypal story is never forgotten, partly by giving a succession of characters names beginning with the letters C and A.

However, Steinbeck’s novel has also been called allegorical in a number of other ways, including the following:

  • The book has been seen as an allegory of good vs. evil (see an article by John Clark Pratt in A John Steinbeck Encyclopedia, by Brian Railsback and Michael Meyer, p. 189).
  • According to Pratt, the novel reveals Steinbeck’s technique of

syncretic allegory, by which he uses precise literary and other recorded references in a distinctly untraditional way. (p. 189)

  • For example, Pratt argues that the character of Cathy Trask can be compared to Catherine the Great, Cain, Satan, and Alice in Wonderland (p. 189).
  • Steinbeck himself is quoted by Pratt as having called the Cain and Abel story an allegory of the “basis of all human neurosis” (p. 190).
  • Louis Owens, in an overview of the novel in A New Study Guide to Steinbeck’s Major Works, with Explications (edited by Tetsumaro Hayashi), sees the novel as an “overarching allegory of light and dark, good and evil” (p. 73). Owens also suggests that the novel is an allegory of issues of free choice in which

we are all given responsibilities for our own destinies (p. 73).

  • Owens also suggests that in some respects the novel is an allegory of Steinbeck’s own family history (p. 75).
  • In another article in a different book, Owens argues that Adam Trask is Steinbeck’s “American Adam” (see Bloom’s Modern Critical Interpretations; The Grapes of Wrath, ed. Harold Bloom [2006], pp. 70-71).
  • David Jasper, in his book A Short Introduction to Hermeneutics, says that Steinbeck’s novel

is an allegory that retells some of the stories of the early chapters of Genesis in the context of settlers in California,

and he specifically mentions not only the Cain and Abel story but also the story of Jacob and Esau (p. 122).