East of Eden Questions and Answers
by John Steinbeck

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What is the summary for Chapter 1 of East of Eden?

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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. 

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lisaanncampion | Student

I think the summary for Chapter 1 of East of Eden is describing the the Salinas Valley in Northern California where most of the story takes place.  The Gabilan Mountains and the Santa Lucias were also described in the first chapter.