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Free Study Guide for East of Eden by John Steinbeck

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CHAPTER SUMMARIES WITH NOTES


CHAPTER 20


Summary


Part 1

Faye was in her room and heard the blind piano player, named Cotton Eye, knocking at the door. He came in and asked her if he could take the night off because he was feeling bad. Kate came in and told him he should stop smoking opium. At first, he denied smoking, but then admitted that he would stop. When he left, Faye told Kate she was just like a daughter to her and did not want her to be a prostitute any longer. Kate said she had to work, for she needed the money. She said even if Faye would take care of her now, she would not live forever and then Kate would be without any security again. Kate then told Faye she had five regulars coming that night. Faye was shocked that Kate saw so many men. She tried to convince her not to see any of them, but Kate would not agree. Faye then told Kate to come to her room at the end of the night because she had a surprise for her. When Kate left the room, she leaned against the door and yawned luxuriously.


Part 2

There were few customers that night because the Woodmen of the World, a group of men who were supposed to come to Faye’s after their meeting, were detained when one of their members had a heart attack and died. The women were bored and wanted to go to bed. When they urged Kate to let them lock up, Kate said that they would close at two o’clock, as always. Then Kate told the other women that Faye had not been feeling well lately and had fainted one day. She warned them not to tell Faye she had said anything to them. One of the other women said she also had noticed Faye looking flushed. Finally, Kate told them to lock up. Then she went upstairs and changed into a dress that made her look like a girl. She took out a gold watch and wrapped it up.

Kate went to Faye’s room and found that Faye had set it up for a party, with champagne and cake. Kate gave Faye the watch as a present. It was inscribed, "To C. with all my heart from A." She told Faye it had been her mother’s watch, and it was her mother’s last gift to her. Now she wanted her new mother to have it. Faye told Kate she had a present for her too. Kate opened a piece of rolled paper and found Faye’s will. It gave everything unconditionally to Kate at her death. As Kate relished the news quietly, Faye wanted to know what was keeping her so solemn. Kate told her she had never thought people could be so good. She told Faye she was sure that Faye’s relatives would come and contest the will, but Faye assured her that she had no relatives and that she was not even using her real name.

Faye insisted that Kate open the champagne and drink. Kate was afraid, remembering the time she drank wine and revealed all her intentions to Mr. Edwards. Faye, however, insisted. When she drank the wine, Kate suddenly lost all her inhibitions and started telling Faye mean things. She called her a fat worm and revealed she was never going to give up prostitution because she got more money than Faye knew about by practicing sadomasochism on the men with razors and whips. Faye screamed in horror and told Kate she wanted her to leave. Kate gave Faye a glass full of paregoric, putting her to sleep.



Part 3

Kate felt a dread come over her when she realized what she had said and done. She tried to go over all that had happened during the evening and figure out what to do to remedy the damage she had caused to Faye’s trust. First she went to the kitchen and drank a mustard mixture to help her vomit the alcohol out of her stomach. Then she went to Faye’s room and looked in her medicine chest. She found ammonia and dampened a handkerchief with it. She held it over Faye’s face, making her wake half-way. When Faye groaned, Kate told Faye she must be having a nightmare; then she let her go back to sleep.

As Faye slept, Kate straightened the room up and carried the glasses to the kitchen. She then went back to Faye’s room and repeated the procedure with the ammonia three times. She next took a crochet hook and poked Faye’s body in all its most sensitive places, bringing her nearly to a waking state. She whispered to Faye that she was having a bad dream. Kate opened the door, went back to the bed, and poured water in Faye’s ear, making her scream. Kate rushed out the door and then re-entered, acting as if she were just coming in. Hearing the scream, Ethel, one of the prostitutes, opened her door in alarm and the cook came in. Kate told them that Faye was having bad dreams and she was taking care of her. She ordered the cook to bring tea. As all of the prostitutes gathered, they spoke about Kate’s devotion to Faye. When Faye woke up, Kate asked her what her dreams were about, but Faye would not tell her because they were so bad.


Notes

Although the reader senses that Kate is planning on doing something to Faye, the narrator is not able to reveal her thoughts; however, when she drinks the champagne, Kate reveals her own evil intentions. It is a useful device for Steinbeck to employ because it lets him reveal the private life of a character that is so guarded with her emotions and plans that she tells no one. In order to give the reader information on such a closed character, the writer must reveal the character’s thoughts, something that is closed to a first-person narration, or make the character reveal her thoughts to others. Kate reveals her secrets only when drunk. Steinbeck has used this technique two times in the novel.

Steinbeck adds another feature to Kate’s degenerate nature--sadomasochism. Since Kate killed her own parents, was precociously sexual by the time she was ten, became a prostitute, shot her husband, and abandoned her infant children two weeks after birth, it is not shocking that she also is a sadomasochist. Neither is it shocking that she tries to manipulate Faye into believing that she has dreamed the whole thing. Still, her meticulous and cold calculation is disturbing. It is also ironic that the other prostitutes comment on Kate’s devotion to Faye.


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