East of Eden is considered to be a part of the literary canon and therefore a literary classic because it tells a familiar story, perhaps the most familiar story of all, in a new way. It tells one of the oldest stories ever written and comes bearing new perspective, therefore provoking completely new critical analysis. Any writer will tell you that this is no easy feat.
East of Eden parallels many of the stories from the Biblical book of Genesis, most predominately the story of Cain and Abel. Steinbeck weaves an epic of love, betrayal, and the struggle for acceptance, bringing about fresh emotion to one of the rawest of biblical stories. Steinbeck himself seemed to agree with the general assessment of the book. He is credited as saying that everything he had ever written was practice for East of Eden.