In the classic novel East of Eden, John Steinbeck tells a multigenerational story mainly set in the Salinas Valley in central California. In a parallel to the story of Adam and Eve's children Cain and Abel, the main characters of the novel are two generations of fathers, each of whom have two sons, one of which the fathers show more affection to than the other. Significantly, the pairs of sons each have names that start with C and A, an obvious reference to Cain and Abel.
Cyrus Trask has sons named Charles and Adam. He favors Adam over Charles, and as a result, Charles is jealous of Adam. Adam Trask's children are named Caleb and Aaron. Aaron is his father's favorite, and Caleb desperately attempts to win his father's good will.
Steinbeck uses the Biblical story of Cain and Abel as a major theme in his story, especially in the relationships between the two pairs of brothers. You can find the story in the first book of the Bible, the book of Genesis, in chapter 4. Cain is Adam and Eve's firstborn. He is a farmer, who works hard to till the ground, and Abel is a shepherd, who takes care of flocks of sheep. They both sacrifice to the Lord, but the Lord accepts only Abel's sacrifice. In jealousy Cain kills his brother Abel, and as a result, God banishes Cain from his family and drives him away to be "a fugitive and a vagabond" upon the Earth. The title of the novel East of Eden refers to the place to which Cain is driven. Genesis 4:16 in the King James Version of the Bible says:
And Cain went out from the presence of the Lord, and dwelt in the land of Nod, on the east of Eden.
Eden is the paradise that God had originally created for Adam and Eve, Cain and Abel's parents. Their parents had been driven out for their own transgressions and disobedience to God's commandments.
In the biblical tale of Genesis, one of the children of Adam and Eve is exiled by God. The story of this exile is the story of Cain and Abel, a story that serves as the central reference for Steinbeck's novel. The title is drawn from this story, as Cain moves east of the Garden of Eden in his exile, cast out for the murder of his brother.
The title's significance in the novel is metaphorical on two levels.
First, Steinbeck creates numerous parallels between the figures of the bibical stoy and his characters in the novel.
...many of the main characters are linked by way of allegory to the Cain and Abel story in the Bible.
The novel can be seen as an allegorical re-interpretation and as a continuation of the Cain and Abel story.
Also, the Trask family experiences a number of exiles beginning with Cyrus Trask when he is forced to leave his childhood home and join the armed forces. The repeated episodes of exile resonate with the novel's title and the themes of the biblical story.