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Free Study Guide for East of Eden by John Steinbeck

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CHAPTER SUMMARIES WITH NOTES


CHAPTER 17


Summary


Part 1

The narrator questioned if Cathy was really a monster. He thought perhaps that no one understood her motivations or fears. During her pregnancy, Cathy stayed still and watched her stomach grow abnormally large. It was as if she had vacated her body, becoming "a breathing doll." Even though she said little to Adam, he told Cathy everything that was going on with the wells and the windmills. He also told the Hamiltons everything that was going on with Cathy’s pregnancy. It was a good time for Adam. He felt like a king.


Part 2

As the Hamiltons dug into the ground for the second well, the drilling stopped when their bit was damaged. When they brought the drill up, they found the bit mangled by something it had struck. Samuel grew excited, wondering what it might be. He guessed it might be nickel or silver. In truth, it was the remains of a meteor, and they would have to do more work to determine its proportions.

Suddenly Lee came riding up, telling Samuel to come quickly because Mrs. Trask had gone into labor and seemed to be engaged in a bitter, deadly combat rather than a birth. Samuel tried to calm the man down, explaining that labor always took longer than expected. He also told Lee that he did not have to talk pidgin around his sons. Lee then confessed that he felt there was something very strange about Mrs. Trask, which he could not explain rationally. Samuel told him that he felt the same way.


Part 3

When Samuel arrived at the house, Cathy and Adam were in the bedroom in the dark. Samuel tried to open the curtains to let in some light, but Cathy insisted that they stay closed. Samuel said that if they did not let him do what he needed to do that he would leave. He then sent Adam out of the room, telling him not to come back. When he turned to Cathy, he saw that she was looking at him with a vicious hatred. He told her it would not take long and asked her questions to get his bearings on the situation, but she refused to answer. He reminded her that he would leave if she did not cooperate, but if he stayed he could save her some pain. Cathy’s face changed almost instantly, and Samuel shivered at her sudden transformation to the appearance of a young and innocent girl. She told him her water had broken at dawn and that she had been in hard labor since then. When he put his hand on her forehead to check her temperature, he asked her how she got the scar. In response, she bit his hand so hard he could not get her to release it. He cut off her breath with his other hand until she had no choice but to release her bite. She then returned to her innocent look and apologized. He poured whiskey on the bite mark and wrapped it up.


After she had given birth, Samuel told Adam that Cathy must be made of whalebone, for the delivery was easy. He sent Adam to the kitchen to boil water and make coffee, and he called for Lee. Suddenly Samuel realized there was another baby coming. The twins were boys, which would not be identical since they were born in separate sacks. Samuel tried to avoid looking at Cathy’s face, but when he did, he saw it was stony and expressionless. He was also amazed that she refused to look at the babies. When he told her she would change, she told Samuel to leave, "take the light away," and send Adam in. The truthful Samuel told Cathy he did not like her. He then took the babies and left the room.

When Samuel went out, he and Lee cleaned the babies and put them down in the living room. Lee then helped Samuel with his hand. They cut the flesh around the puncture marks and poured medicine on the wound. Lee confessed to Samuel that he was thinking about going away, for something was not right at the Trasks. Samuel understood his concern, for he also felt a dreadfulness coming on. He wished his practical wife were present, for if Liza sensed anything wrong, she would know what to do.

Adam entered Cathy’s room and turned on the lights. Cathy protested and told him that he had to turn off the lights and be quiet if he wanted to stay with her.

After checking on the sleeping babies, Samuel went outside. He saw Rabbit, one of the workers, who inquired about Mrs. Trask. Samuel explained that she had given birth to twins. He then told Rabbit about the meteor they had found.

Liza Hamilton arrived at the Trasks at four o’clock in the morning. She told her husband to get the doctor from King City and then go back home to rest. She then announced which of her sons would stay with their father and which would stay at the ranch with her. Samuel departed, happy to have Liza’s practicality that helped to dispel his bad feelings. At home, Samuel fell into a fever for three days. His son Tom took care of him.


Part 4

Liza stayed a week at the Trasks, cleaning the house from top to bottom. Although she thought Cathy was lazy, she also believed that she was a sensible girl. When she returned home, she told Samuel that it was clear that Adam had some kind of spell cast over him by Cathy. She added that it was a good thing they were rich because they would probably starve otherwise. Liza then told Samuel about Lee. She was amazed to learn that he was a Presbyterian. She was also amazed that he took such good care of the twins, who were both thriving under his care.


Part 5

Cathy rested for a week. On Saturday of the second week of October, she stayed in her bedroom all morning with the door locked. When she came out, she was dressed for traveling. Adam imagined she was just going somewhere for a short visit. He ignored Lee’s looks and told him to obey Cathy’s requests. Adam then noticed that Cathy had all her things packed. She announced she was going away, as she had previously told him. She stated that she did not care what he did with the babies, adding that he could throw them down a well if he wanted to. She then called Adam a fool. This slur got through the fog in Adam’s mind. He pushed Cathy back into her room and locked the door. In a moment, he heard a voice that was full of contrition. When he opened the door, she had a gun pointed at him. As he went towards her, she shot him. She then tossed the gun on the floor and left. As Adam lay wounded on the floor, he heard the pathetic sound of the twins crying from hunger.


Notes

At the beginning of this chapter, the narrator questions if Cathy is really an evil monster, suggesting she may just be misunderstood. By the end of the chapter, there is no doubt about the depth of her evil, as she tells her husband she does not care if he kills the twins and then proceeds to shoot him.

Like Samuel, Lee has sensed Cathy’s evil nature and thinks about leaving the Trasks, even though he is working for the richest family in the region. When he tells Samuel about Chinese demonology, he implies that Cathy may be a demon. When she bites Samuel’s hand while he is trying to help her during labor, she certainly appears demonic. The wound she inflicts is so bad that the flesh must be cut away. Samuel also gets sick for several days.

Adam’s infatuation with Cathy is finally punctured by the reality of Cathy’s departure. His attempt to lock her into the home so that she can be a mother to the twins brings out the worst in Cathy. In her true manipulative fashion, she pretends that she is filled with contrition for the things she has said, but in reality, she is readying her gun. When the gullible Adam opens the door, she shoots him and leaves. Cathy’s violence towards Adam should not shock the reader. When she departed from her parents’ home, she locked them inside and burned the house to kill them.

The end of the chapter contains a powerful sensory image. Adam Trask is lying wounded on the floor, having been shot by his wife. In the background, he hears the hungry wails of his infant twins; but with Cathy gone forever, there is no one to give them physical sustenance.


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