John Steinbeck used his childhood growing up in the Salinas Valley as the backdrop to his 1952 novel, East of Eden. Similar to the Garden of Eden, the Salinas Valley is lush and fertile in some places like the Trask ranch while other places are dry and barren like the Hamilton’s land. Steinbeck “wrote the story of good and evil, embracing love and hate, demonstrating their inseparability” (Krávlová 51). He creates an allegory for the story of Cain and Abel that follow three generations who, despite the fate given them, choose their own destiny. In spite of original sin, the recurring theme of timshel destroys the determinism of the Cain and Abel allegory in John Steinbeck’s novel, East of Eden.
The Hebrew word, timshel, plays a pivotal role in the primary theme of overcoming evil for good. Lee argues, “[i] t might be the most important word in the world” (301). It is the sole thing that gives the characters hope to turn out decent, despite all the terrible things they do. Timshel is the beginning and the end of this story.
“Steinbeck presents characters in pairs -- Adam and Charles, Aron and Caleb, Abra and Cathy -- using first initials to identify clearly which characters are inherently good and which must struggle to overcome the seeds of evil within them” (Strecker).
Charles and Adam Trask are first presented in Part One of the novel. They are the initial pair Steinbeck uses to present the Cain and Abel allegory. Charles (Cain) is a “destructive machine that chops down anything standing in his way” (44). Adam (Abel) is naturally kind and well liked by everyone, especially their father. Adam’s tragic flaw is that he trusts too easily and is not able to see people for who they truly are. Adam is “very real and believable but he is weak, with no fierceness, doesn’t know what he wants and allows people to trample all over him” (Gilmore 14).
Charles and Adam both grow up on a ranch with their father, Cyrus -- a brutal military man -- and their stepmother, Alice—the image of the ideal housewife, quiet and hardworking. Adam is the complete opposite of Charles. Like Cain, Charles nearly beats his brother to death after his father rejects his gift of a pocket knife he worked so hard to attain for him (Králová). Charles, unlike his brother, must work hard for affection and approval from his father. Since Charles is associated with Cain, he is immediately expected to live up to the expectations of being evil. Charles inflicts a scar on his forehead from trying and failing to move a rock off his land. In a letter to his brother, “he writes about the scar: “I don’t know why it bothers me. I got plenty other scars. It just seems like I was marked” (53-54). Charles’s words make the symbolic connection” (Krávlová 54) to the mark given Cain obvious. When Charles dies, he leaves all his property and money to Adam and his wife Cathy who actually fathered Charles’ two sons. Charles is incapable of feeling remorse. He is unable to embrace free will and choose...