Free Study Guide for East of Eden by John Steinbeck|
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CHAPTER SUMMARIES WITH NOTES
boys noticed a change in their father at supper. He usually ate in silence, but
now he was asking them questions about their day. They answered cautiously until
they realized he was not going to be mean to them. Aaron explained how they had
shot a rabbit. When Adam asked which one shot it, Aaron said they both did. Cal
added that the rabbit was killed with his arrow, but that Aaron had probably shot
it. Adam praised them for handling the situation well. Aaron then explained how
he had given the dead rabbit to Abra in a box, but she had thrown it away. He
added that he wanted to marry Abra. Cal then switched the subject, asking where
their mother was buried. Adam lied and said that her body had been shipped back
to her home for burial. He also hinted that there was a possibility of their moving
When the boys had gone to bed, Lee
told Adam it was a mistake to lie to them since they would one day find out the
truth; then they would not trust anything Adam told them. Adam said he would think
about it. Lee then told Adam about his own mother. His parents had come to the
United States as workers on the railroad. His father had a debt to pay in China
and had been forced to sign up as a laborer so he could repay the debt. Since
he had just been married, he was sad to leave his wife. When he got to the hold
of the ship, he discovered that his wife had dressed as a man and boarded the
ship. After they got to California, she worked on the railroad with him. When
she discovered she was pregnant, they planned to escape to the mountains where
she would live. Before they could depart, he broke his leg in an accident and
was separated from his wife. When she went into early labor, the men on the railroad
found out that she was a woman. Since Chinese women were not allowed to come to
the U.S., the men punished her by attacking and raping her. Lee’s father got to
her after the attack and pulled Lee from her womb before she died. Ironically,
the men on the railroad adopted Lee as a son, serving as mother and father to
Adam wrote a letter to Charles and asked
him to come visit. He told Charles that he missed him and loved him. He told him
the boys’ mother lived in town and that he saw her occasionally.
In this chapter, there is an obvious change in Adam. He writes to
Charles, stating that he loves him and wants him to come for a visit. He also
begins to develop a relationship with his sons, treating them with care and concern.
He even praises them for handling the rabbit incident well. The boys are surprised
to see the change. Once they trust his motives, they talk to Adam freely, especially
the sensitive Aaron. He even tells his father that some day he hopes to marry
Abra. Caleb, on the other hand, challenges his father by asking where their mother
is buried. When Adams lies to them, Lee warns him that he should only speak the
truth to his sons. Lee then tells Adam the tragic story of his own mother.
The history of the U.S. includes the wretched exploitation of cheap labor. Chinese
were brought in at the end of the nineteenth century to build the railroad, which
was grueling and dangerous work and caused many deaths. Chinese women were not
given visas, for the American government did not want Chinese families to permanently
settle in the U.S. Congress even passed the Chinese Exclusion Act, prohibiting
settlement. As Lee describes what happened to his mother, Steinbeck creates a
sense of deep emotion. He even attempts to avoid demonizing the men on the railroad
for their vicious murder of Lee’s mother by showing their remorse afterwards and
their attempts at making amends by being surrogate parents to the infant Lee.
anxious to receive a reply from Charles and worried that he had made a mistake
in sending the letter. He was also anxious to know more about his sons. He talked
to them about what they were learning in school and tried to teach them how to
make a whistle.
One day, Will Hamilton arrived with the new Ford car and
explained to Adam how to operate it. When he could not get it started again, he
said he would send his mechanic out the next day.
When the mechanic came out to start the car and explain its operation
to Adam, he acted rudely, pretending to know more than he did. He also called
Lee a "Chink." Later he said there are some good Chinese among all the
bad ones, and he considered Lee to be one of the good ones.
In this chapter, it is clear that automobile ownership is rare.
The arrival of the new Ford is a thing of great excitement. In addition, neither
Will nor the mechanic can satisfactorily explain the car’s operation. The chapter
also includes another racial slur against Lee, who is called a "Chink"
by the mechanic.
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