East of Eden Questions and Answers
by John Steinbeck

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What is the meaning behind the title of Steinbeck's East of Eden?

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Greg Jackson, M.A. eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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The title of East of Eden comes directly from the Bible: "And Cain went out from the presence of the Lord and dwelt in the land of Nod on the east of Eden" (Genesis 22.4.30). It refers to the place where Cain was banished after the murder of his brother. The land of Nod is a place outside of the paradise Eden, a garden to which mankind can no longer return.

Steinbeck models Adam, Catherine, Cal, and Aron on the biblical Adam, Eve, Cain, and Abel. East of Eden is a retelling of this story from Genesis but in the context of the odyssey of an American family. The title reminds us that the biblical first family was forced to reside outside of paradise, but also very close to it. We see this with the Trasks, who are so close to their imagined California paradise but are subjected to the less than ideal, and in fact quite cruel, nature of humanity. They try to create their own paradises, but through various decisions and circumstances, are forever outside of what they seek. Therefore, metaphorically, they all live "east of Eden," just as Cain was forced to.

However, we also must look at what is promised to Cain when he is banished to the land of Nod. Samuel, Adam, and Lee are drawn to the Bible passage in which God gives Cain the opportunity for redemption. This is a key passage for them as it provides them with the hope that they and others can take redemption into their own hands. Various times throughout this story, Steinbeck's characters find the possibility of redemption and this is a theme that is central to the story.

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Eleanora Howe eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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The title of John Steinbeck's East of Eden is an allusion to the Book of Genesis in the Bible. Genesis begins with the creation of the world and Adam and Eve's life in the Garden of Eden, a paradise of bliss and innocence. As you're no doubt aware, Adam and Eve sin and are thrown out of the garden. Following this experience, Eve gives birth to two sons, Cain and Abel, and Cain eventually murders Abel out of jealousy.

By making an explicit allusion to this classic Bible story, Steinbeck deliberately signals that he's going to parallel it. Adam and Cathy (later Kate) parallel Adam and Eve in some ways (often with a twist, especially in Cathy's case), while their sons, Cal and Aron, closely resemble Cain and Abel (also with a twist). Thus, Steinbeck turns his novel of the Trask family into an epic saga with moral and philosophical weight similar to the Bible's. Since the title of the book and the Biblical allusion in it is essential to signaling this intention, the title is a vital aspect of the book's central themes and meaning.

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