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Free Study Guide for East of Eden by John Steinbeck

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CHAPTER SUMMARIES WITH NOTES


CHAPTER 39


Summary


Part 1

Salinas underwent a brief burst of morality, and gambling was targeted as the vice to be eradicated. The citizens targeted gambling for two reasons: it could be discussed in polite society, unlike prostitution; and since gambling was run by Chinese Americans, no whites would be hurt by an attack on it.

Cal often stood and watched the gambling when he wandered at night. One time he got caught up in a raid and ended up in jail. Adam was called and came to the jail to get Cal. When they got home, Aaron had left for school and Lee disappeared to let them have their privacy. As Father and son sat at the table in silence, Cal grew more and more nervous. Finally, he jumped up and told his father to do whatever he was going to do to him so that it would be over and done with. Adam answered quietly with a question: "Iíve failed you, havenít I?" Then he sadly said that he did not really know Cal. Cal wanted to throw his arms around Adam. Instead, he told his father he could ask him anything, and he would tell him all there was to tell. Adam said he was a bad father, just like his own father had been. Cal told him not to be sad, for he had already had enough of sorrow.

Cal asked if Adam was angry about his being in jail. Adam laughed and said that Cal was just in the wrong place at the wrong time. Adam then told Cal that he had been a prisoner for nearly a year for being in the wrong place. Cal found the news hard to believe, but he felt a new closeness to his father that he never wanted to lose. Next, Adam told Cal about Samuel Hamilton striking him for being a bad father to the twins. Cal told him that he and Aaron never thought he was a bad father.

Cal told Adam he was glad he had been thrown in jail, for it brought the two of them together. Adam laughed and said he was also glad. Adam then asked Cal to tell him about himself. When Cal had trouble expressing himself, Adam asked him to tell him what kind of boy Aaron was. Cal easily explained that Aaron was a good boy who never had bad thoughts. Cal then said he was not like Aaron, for he had bad thoughts and did bad things. Adam told Cal it was clear to him that Cal was at war with himself, as if he were ashamed of who he was. He asked if Cal thought Aaron was ever ashamed of himself. Cal said Aaron had nothing to be ashamed of. Adam asked if Cal would protect Aaron from anything bad or cruel or ugly that he knew. Cal said he would, for Aaron was good and needed protection. He then explained that he sometimes did mean things to his brother even though he truly loved him. Adam asked him if he was miserable about it afterwards. Cal said he always felt guilty. Adam then asked if Aaron was ever miserable. Cal could only think of two incidents. One was the time when Cal did not want to join the church with Aaron. The other was the time when Aaron thought of becoming a monk and Abra had gotten very angry with him.

Adam called Lee to make coffee, but Lee did not answer. Cal jumped up to make the coffee, eager to help his father. As he worked on the coffee, Cal felt that the poison of loneliness, hurt, and envy had gone out of him. He felt clean and sweet. While Cal was in the kitchen, Adam sat in the dining room and thought about his sons and the future. Returning with the coffee, Cal asked his father if he could run the ranch when he got out of school. Adam asked him what Aaron would think. Cal said Aaron wanted to go to the university, and he could help Aaron pay for his education by turning a profit on the ranch. Adam was amazed at Calís generosity.

Adam asked Cal if he ever disliked Aaron. Cal admitted that in the past there were times when he had hated Aaron and intentionally hurt him; but he felt that he would never hate him again. Cal added that he did not think he would ever hate anyone again, not even his mother. Adam calmly asked what Cal knew about his mother. Cal admitted that he knew all about her and had even seen her. He promised that he had never told Aaron about her and never would, for he had so much good in him that he would never be able to understand her. Adam told Cal he trusted him.


Part 2

The talk with Adam greatly affected Cal. He felt happy and smiled all the time. The talk also made him curious about his mother, so he decided to learn more about her. He watched Kateís house for weeks and found that she always went out at the same time and to the same places every Monday. One day she noticed that Cal was following her and asked why. When he told her he was her son, she asked him to come inside, where she led him to a dark room. She explained that the light bothered her eyes. When she took off her gloves, Cal noticed her hands were wrapped in bandages. She told him she had arthritis.

Kate asked him about Aaron. Cal explained that Aaron looked like her and that he wanted to be a minister. When she asked if Aaron was dull, Cal said he was good, not dull. When Kate asked about Adam, Cal answered that he would not talk about his father. When she realized how much Cal loved him, she was shaken by a spasm. After Kate regained control, Cal asked her why she had shot Adam and left. She explained that he had tried to keep her against her will.

Kate told Cal that everyone used to think they knew her, but she had fooled everyone. She then bragged about making people do what she wanted them to do, including Adam. She claimed that no one had been able to trap her and suggested that perhaps Cal was the same way. Cal asked Kate if she ever had the feeling she was missing something when she was little, as if other people knew something she did not. When she heard this, a funny look came across her face. Cal turned to leave, feeling glad that he was his own person and did not have to be like Kate. As he left the dark room, he realized that the light did not hurt her eyes. He told Kate that she avoided the light because she was afraid. Although he did not hate his mother, Cal was glad that she was fearful.


Notes

The novel reaches a turning point in this chapter. Wanting to be happy and feel good about himself, Cal confronts his mother and sees that he is not really like her. His movement towards goodness is caused by his fatherís interest in him and acceptance of who he is.

After Adam gets Cal out of jail, for being at the wrong place at the wrong time, the two of them have a long talk for the first time ever. The conversation accomplishes several things. First Adam admits his failure as a father, which makes Caleb see him as a real human being rather than as an aloof hero. Next, Adam recognizes Cal for who he is and accepts his uniqueness, not expecting him to be like Aaron; this acceptance releases Cal from his jealousy over Aaron and allows him to truly love his brother. Finally, Adam convinces Cal that he has goodness inside, just like Aaron, as proven by the fact that he has never told Aaron about Kate and by the fact that Cal wants to help Aaron pay for his university education. When Adam tells Cal that he trusts him, the dark twin suddenly become better and brighter, seeing himself in a new image of goodness.

With the new strength that Adam has given him, Cal feels prepared to meet and face his mother. For weeks, he watches her house and follows her when she goes out on errands each Monday. When she realizes she is being followed, she asks Cal what he wants and is surprised to learn that the boy is her son. She invites him back to her room. There in the darkness, Cal sees Kate for what she is - a degenerate and fearful woman who has lived her life evilly manipulating others. He, however, refuses to be manipulated by her. When he leaves her room, he knows that he will never allow himself to be evil like Kate. Unlike her, he has a conscience and knows how to love, just like Adam and Aaron.


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