When discussing John Steinbeck’s “Great American Novel,” East of Eden, many obvious topics come to mind. Steinbeck’s many biblical allegories to Genesis, more specifically “Adam and Eve”, “Cain and Abel”, and even “Pandora’s Box” come to mind. But, if a reader really wants Steinbeck’s story to come alive, it is important to not look past the allegories and Steinbeck’s running themes of good overcoming evil, but to look deeper into how he used them to develop his story in a non conventional way. To do this, it is important to look at how Steinbeck was classified as a writer and how he took his classification and challenged his readers to see through and look further in to the text. Throughout the next few pages, I will explain, using Steinbeck’s novel, East of Eden, his own words about the text, and outside scholars to show that Eden was not a naturalist prose but actually Steinbeck’s response to naturalistic writing. By first discussing naturalism, I will show through Steinbeck’s Eden, that it is unfair to classify Steinbeck himself as a naturalistic writer and explain how he exposes this throughout the text. Using biblical allegories, and most importantly his running theme of good overcoming evil, Steinbeck breaks his naturalistic stereotype and shows that fate is not predestined but that many characters throughout his text are able to overcome their destinies and choose their own paths.
Before discussing how Steinbeck’s Eden in un-naturalistic, it is important to first examine naturalism as a movement of literature. Once naturalism is defined, it will be able to be compared to Steinbeck’s Eden. Naturalism spanned with American authors between the years of 1890 and 1920, some dates vary as some naturalistic authors emerged after these years. Naturalism’s main concern was with the shaping of human character. Naturalist focused on social conditions, heredity, and environment as being at the forefront of planning a person’s destiny. Naturalism focused on extreme and ugly aspects of the human condition. Panaser writes this of naturalism, which sums up the beliefs of naturalist in an easy to define nutshell:
Put simply, the naturalists believed that individuals’ lives and characters are governed and determined by impersonal natural laws and forces, such as social conditions, the environment, and heredity. They took their cue from Darwin and played up the biological and hereditary factors that constrained individuals as well as the idea that life is a struggle and only the fittest survive (Panaser 59).
One of the most important books to come out of the Naturalism movement was Stephen Crane’s short novel, Maggie: A Girl of the Streets. Crane goes into long detail about the slums of New York City. Maggie, a young, poor girl is forced into prostitution because of her surroundings; her family, her lack of wealth, and the setting of where she is brought up. Crane does not give Maggie a chance to succeed, she is predestined to live...