Adam is appointed head of the draft board. Although he had seen war in his youth, warfare has changed. It has become more brutal with improved weaponry and tactics. More young men die, and with every boy Adam sends to the front, he feels as if he is signing his death warrant.
Adam is filled with sadness. He worries about how much longer the war will last and whether his own sons will be called upon to serve and, perhaps, to die. Talking about the possibility with his colleague, Henry Stanton, Adam muses that should his boys come before him at the draft board, he would have to resign. Henry understands; a man would be too tempted to give his own blood a pass. Adam says no, it is just the opposite; he would feel compelled to send his sons whether his boys were fit to go to war or not because so many others had met their fates because of his decisions.
Henry remarks that he has seen Cal walking the streets at night and thinks Cal is a "smart boy." Dismissive of Cal as always, Adam replies that Cal did not go to college a year early as had Aron. Henry tries to argue that people have different interests and strengths. He points out that neither he nor Adam went to college and both of them had done all right in life. Adam says nothing in reply other than bid goodnight to his coworker.
Back home, the weight of his responsibilities continues to press on Adam's mind. He finds Lee in the kitchen and seeks his advice. Adam wants to know how much he is to blame for doing his job and sending young men to die. Lee asks what exactly is bothering him: the deaths or the resulting blame. Adam believes it to be the blame that upsets him the most. Lee finds this to be the easier burden as responsibility "doesn't carry any pleasant egotism."
Adam brings up a concept taught to him by the late Sam Hamilton that he has long pondered. It is the Hebraic word "timshel" and means "thou mayest." It is a crucial theme and concept of East of Eden for it takes away fate and predestination and places responsibility firmly in the hands of the living to make their own choices and accept the resulting rewards or consequences.
After the talk with Lee, Adam looks forward to Aron's homecoming. He imagines a son who is happy and bright, pursuing his academic goals with gusto. In reality, Aron is miserable at Stanford. His ideal is not living up to his imagination. More than anything else, Aron is desperately homesick. The dream of the ideal academic life shattered, Aron returns to another idealized vision—his love for Abra.