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Free Study Guide for East of Eden by John Steinbeck

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CHAPTER SUMMARIES WITH NOTES


CHAPTER 6


Summary


Part 1

After Adam joined the army and Cyrus moved to Washington, Charles settled into running the farm and living an isolated life. He was so shy that he would not dare make contact with the women of the region; instead, he visited prostitutes twice a month at an inn near his house. The prostitutes were managed by Mr. Edwards, who rotated them among several small towns.

One day Charles was clearing the land of stones and struggling with a large boulder. He became enraged when he could not move it; therefore, he strained against it with an iron bar. It fell back on him and cut his forehead. When the wound healed, he had a black scar, which looked like a tattoo of a long fingermark. He was so ashamed of the scar that he resisted going in to town, for people would stare at him.


Part 2

Adam was discharged from the army in 1885, but he did not want to go home to Charles. Instead, he wandered for awhile from town to town and ended up in Niagara Falls. One night in a bar, he realized that he missed barracks life, especially the close contact with other men. As a result, he went back to Chicago and re-enlisted. He then received a message ordering him to report to Washington D.C. to the office of the Secretary of War. When Adam arrived at the secretaryís office, he was surprised to see a changed Cyrus enter the room. His clothing was immaculate and rich; he had new teeth; and he had a new mechanical leg to replace the wooden stump. As he watched his father, Adam felt estranged from the man; it was like his father was play-acting. When Adam insisted that he should follow his orders and report to Colonel Wells, his father was pleased, for he saw his son as "a man and a soldier." When the two of them arrived at the Colonelís office, Adam noticed that everyone was very respectful towards his father. Cyrus, however, did not reveal his new position; instead, he repeated several times that he was only a private, like his son. Adam corrected him, stating that he was discharged as a corporal.


Back at the hotel where Cyrus lived, Adam noticed that everyone treated his father as if he were a very powerful man. When they got to his room, Cyrus took off his leg, and Adam began to feel that his father was himself again. He immediately regained the "childhood fear and respect and animosity" towards his father. When Cyrus asked Adam why he re-enlisted, he explained that he did not want to go home. Cyrus said he could get him into West Point, but Adam refused the offer. When Cyrus suggested that he get Adam an assignment in Washington, Adam said he wanted to go back to his regiment. Cyrus looked hurt and disappointed and said the army had ruined Adam, teaching him the "dumb resistance of a soldier." Adam asked why Cyrus had not brought Charles to Washington. He answered that Charles was better off on the farm.


Part 3

Charles looked forward to Adamís return. He hired an old woman to clean the house and ignored her grumbling about the pig-like qualities of men who live in filth. While she cleaned, Charles stayed in the barn. After she finished cleaning, Charles stayed on in the barn because he did not want to dirty the house before Adam returned. When Cyrus told Charles that Adam had re-enlisted and would not be coming home, Charles was disappointed. He moved back into the house, living in "savage filth," and worked the land with vigor. He also began to keep one woman after another in the house. The neighbors tolerated him because the farm was very well run.

After a year, Adam wrote a contrite letter of explanation to Charles. Charles did respond. Adam wrote four more letters before he heard from his brother. Once they began to correspond, they had little to say in their letters, for they had grown apart.


Notes

In this chapter, Steinbeck places the Trask men in their varied destinies: Adam in the army, Cyrus in public life, and Charles on the farm. It is clear that Charles missed Adam, for he thought about their youth with a nostalgia that erased all the ugliness of his rivalry with his brother. He also was eager for Adam to return to the farm and was very disappointed to learn that he had re-enlisted instead of coming home. To make certain that the reader does not feel sympathetic toward the lonely and isolated Charles, the narrator recalls how Charles brutalized Adam earlier in the book.

The narrator also ensures that the reader will not feel too much pity for Charles by giving him slovenly and immoral traits. In contrast, the author builds sympathy for Adam. His displacement as a soldier, his inability to find a place for himself outside the service, his continued fear of his father, and his steady statements of what he wants when his father tries to bully him make him an object of the readerís respect.


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