East of Eden Chapter 39
by John Steinbeck

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Chapter 39

Cal continues his nightly wandering. One night, while watching a fan-tan game, he is scooped up in a raid on illegal gambling. Adam is called to retrieve him from the City Hall. He says nothing to his son as they walk the two blocks home. Lee, Cal, and Adam eat their breakfast in silence until Cal can no longer stand the tension. He yells at his father to “get it over with!” and say what he wants to say. Cal expects rage but what Adam says stuns him. His father asks a question that is actually more of a statement. As he looks directly into Cal’s eyes, and Cal into his, he says, “I’ve failed you, haven’t I?”

Cal cannot explain to his father what compelled him to do such a thing. He lamely offers that he simply gets restless at night. Adam wants to know if Aron knows about Cal’s activities. Cal denies it, explaining that his brother does not share his sense of restlessness. Adam confesses he does not know enough about either of the boys to know if that statement is true. In a statement that expresses Cal’s deep longing for his father’s love, Cal whispers, “I’d tell you if you’d ask.” Adam is humbled by his son’s revelation. He understands that he is unwittingly committing the sins of his own father.

Adam and Cal talk about Aron. Cal tells him his brother is good and that he has never done anything to be ashamed of. He also tells his father a secret, which he makes Adam promise not to reveal. He says Aron wants to go to college. Cal asks to stay and work on the ranch to help pay for his brother to do so. Despite this generosity, Adam senses something his son is not saying. He asks if Cal does not like or even hates his brother. Cal confesses that he has hated him in the past but that he he no longer hates anyone—not even, he lets slip, his mother.

Adam is taken aback momentarily. He reaffirms his son’s statement: “You know about your mother.” Cal confesses that he does know. Adam wants to know if he has told Aron or if he will do so. Cal says he would not dare tell him, because he could not handle it because, unlike himself, Aron does not possess “badness.” Both father and son then agree that sending Aron to college might keep him from discovering the truth by other means.

Cal decides that he needs to know everything about his mother. He reasons that, to be safe, one must know his enemy. By watching her house on a regular basis, he discovers that Cathy (Kate) ventures out every day at one-thirty in the afternoon. He follows her surreptitiously for several days until he knows her route. She goes about her tasks like any normal woman. The only odd thing about her...

(The entire section is 760 words.)