What happens in East of Eden?

In East of Eden, the lives of the Trask brothers are forever changed when the evil Cathy appears on their farm one day. Adam marries her and moves to Salinas, California, where she abandons him and their twin sons. She dies a wealthy but still evil prostitute, and Adam dies shortly after news reaches him that his son Aron has died in battle.

  • Adam and Charles Trask are the sons of a rigid disciplinarian. Charles takes over for Mr. Trask on the farm, and Adam joins the cavalry. Eventually, both sons, made rich by their father's death, settle on the farm.

  • Their world is turned upside down when the evil young Cathy crawls onto their property after being beaten by a former lover. She seduces and marries Adam, bears his twin sons, and then abandons them after they move to Salinas, California.

  • Kate schemes her way into owning a brothel. Adam raises their sons. Kate later commits suicide, and Adam dies after learning that his son Aron has died in France during the war.

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Summary

(Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

The soil of the Salinas Valley in California is rich, although the surrounding foothills are poor and life shrivels during the long dry spells. The Irish-born Hamiltons, arriving after American settlers displaced the Mexicans, settle on the barren hillside. Sam Hamilton, full of talk, glory, and improvident inventions, and Liza, his dourly religious wife, bring up their nine children there.

In Connecticut, Adam Trask and his half brother Charles grow up in harmony despite the differences in their natures. Adam is gentle and good; Charles is roughly handsome and has a streak of wild violence. After Adam’s mother commits suicide, his father marries the docile woman who becomes Charles’s mother. Adam loves his stepmother but hates his father, a rigid disciplinarian whose fanatic militarism begins with a fictitious account of his own war career and whose dream is to have a son in the army. He hopes to fulfill his dream through Adam. Charles, whose passionate love for his father goes continually unnoticed, cannot understand this rejection of himself. In despair, he beats Adam almost to death.

Adam serves in the cavalry for five years. Then, although he hates regimentation and violence, he reenlists, for he can neither accept help from his father, who became an important figure in Washington, nor return to the farm Charles now runs alone. Afterward, Adam wanders through the West and the South, serving time for vagrancy, and finally comes home to find that his father has died, making him and Charles rich. In the years that follow, the two brothers live together on the farm. Their bickering and inbred solitude drives Adam to periodic wanderings. Feeling that their life is one of pointless industry, he talks of moving west but he does not do anything about it.

Meanwhile, Cathy Ames is growing up in Massachusetts. She is born unable to comprehend goodness, but she has a sublimely innocent face and a consummate knowledge of how to manipulate and deceive others to serve her own ends. After a thwarted attempt to leave home, she burns down her parents’ house, killing them, and leaves evidence to indicate that she was murdered. She becomes the mistress of a man who runs a string of brothels and uses his love for her against him. When he realizes her true nature, he takes her to a deserted spot and beats her savagely. Near death, she crawls to the nearest house—the Trasks’—where Adam and Charles care for her. Adam thinks her innocent and beautiful; Charles, who has an empathetic knowledge of evil, wants her to leave. Cathy, who knows she temporarily needs protection, entices Adam into marrying her. On their wedding night, she gives him a sleeping draught and goes to Charles.

Aware that Charles disapproves of Cathy, Adam decides to carry out his dream of going west. He is so transfigured by his happiness that he ignores Cathy’s protests; since she is his ideal of love and purity, he thinks that she cannot disagree with him. Adam buys a ranch in the...

(The entire section is 2,608 words.)