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East Of Eden Self Knowledge

1193 words - 5 pages

Several characters through the course of Steinbeck's novel East of Eden demonstrate a lack of self-knowledge or corruption of the soul. A gap is created between some the character's actions and their true essence as a person. The disparity between a character's conduct and their identity as a human being is often a demonstration of the fight between good and evil within the character's own soul. Caleb, one of Adam Trask's twin boys embodies this struggle vividly throughout his life. This search for self-identity plays into a key theme of the novel, which is that of free will. Despite the fact that there is a variance in the way a character wants to act or the person who they truly are at heart and the way that they actually carry out their lives, free will offers hope. Steinbeck pushes the idea that a person's life and fate is never out of their control and that it is never too late to change the road that you are on. It can be argued either way that this break up of fundamental identity, expression and self-knowledge is the nature of man or simply provoked by the events in the character's lives. It becomes apparent through Caleb's life that the nurture of the individual seems to be the larger factor in causing this separation. Caleb Trask's character demonstrates how the struggle between good and evil within an individual can affect one's self-knowledge, which is catalyzed mainly by the nurture of the character and, ultimately, is amendable through free will.

The disparity that develops between Cal's actions and his essence as a person is very much a struggle between wanting to do good and the temptations of evil. From early on in Cal's life he is characterized as a manipulative and almost evil person, always jealous of his brother, Aron. One such demonstration of Cal's ill-hearted behavior is when he lies to Abra, a girl that Cal and Aron have just met, so that she will no longer like Aron. Aron offers to give her a rabbit he has killed as a present, however, when Aron goes to get the rabbit Cal makes up lies, saying that Aron is going to put something else in the box instead. But there is more to Cal than just plain evil, his "emotions hid deep in him and peered out, ready to retreat or attack" (345). When Cal discovers the truth about his mother he could easily tell his brother what he knows but instead chooses to protect him from the evils of the truth, knowing that it would destroy Aron. The narrator points out Cal's struggles with his identity noting that "one moment he was dedicated and pure and devoted; the next he wallowed in filth" (446). What is going on inside of Cal's mind and what he displays to the world are two adversely different personalities. Cal confides in the family servent, a Chinaman named Lee, about his knowledge of his mother and his struggle with the temptations of evil. Lee demands that Cal recognize that he has free will and that his ancestry cannot define who he is as a person.

The notion of free will offers...

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