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Free Study Guide for East of Eden by John Steinbeck

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CHAPTER SUMMARIES WITH NOTES


CHAPTER 51


Summary


Part 1

Horace Quinn became sheriff in 1903 and held the office until 1919. He had kept track of Kate over the years. He had suspected what had happened to Faye, but he did not do anything about it because he knew Kate was too clever to be convicted. When Joe was shot by the deputy, Sheriff Quinn went over the contents of his pockets. He found and read the will and studied the pictures that were there. He called someone on the phone and asked him to come to the office. When he arrived, the sheriff showed him the will and asked him if it was worth anything. The man said it was "as good as gold." Then he showed the man the pictures of the men at Kateís, including a picture of the visitor. The sheriff promised that he would burn the pictures.

Sheriff Quinn then went to the Trask place. As he waited for Adam, he thought of something a doctor had once told him: "I love to deliver a baby, because if I do my work well, thereís joy at the end of it." Quinn felt the opposite was true in his job. If he did his work well, there was sorrow at the end of it. As Quinn looked around him, he noticed that the Trask house was decorated as if a woman lived there. He knew Lee had done it to make it seem like a home for Adam, but the sheriff thought it looked too feminine and overdone.

Quinn remembered the day he had interviewed Adam after his wife had shot him. He had not seen him often after that day, for Adam built up a wall around himself. When Adam finally came in, Quinn gave him the news that Kate had died. Adam wept and said, "Oh, my poor darling!" Then Quinn showed Adam the will. Adam wanted to ignore it so he would not have to tell Aaron the truth about his mother, but Quinn told him that would be illegal. Adam asked Quinn what he should do. Quinn told him to call Aaron and tell him everything, even why he had never told him before.

Adam asked Lee where Aaron was, but he did not know. Adam then called Cal. When he came in, he looked wretched and had a crafty, mean expression on his face. When Adam asked him where Aaron was, Cal responded, "Am I supposed to look after him?" Suddenly Adam felt a jarring sensation in his body, saw an incredibly bright blue light, and felt fuzzy as though he could not talk.

After the sheriff had gone, Lee went into the kitchen and got out his copy of The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius. He read about the transitory nature of time and the lasting impression of memories. He read about the fact that change is present in every part of life and the idea that even in old age, a person has not achieved wisdom. Lee remembered he had stolen the book from Samuel Hamilton years before. He knew Samuel had known he had stolen it because no one else would have been interested in the book.


Part 2

Cal sat alone in his room, feeling sorrowful and ashamed. He also felt panicked about what had happened to Aaron, who had been gone for two days. Cal had never drunk alcohol before and felt miserable after having done so the night before. After spending Friday brooding, he had bought a bottle of whiskey and drank himself sick. He hated himself for what he had done and knew he had to confess to his father.

Cal started burning the money he had earned and given to his father. Lee came in and said he just wanted to sit with him. He watched as Cal burned the money and asked him if it was giving him pleasure. Then Lee told Cal a story about one time he had gotten drunk and tried to play tennis with bats. Cal laughed and told Lee he got drunk so he would not kill himself. Cal then said he did not know why he was so mean or why he had hurt Aaron. Lee said he was whipping himself and making himself into some kind of epic evil; instead, Lee said Cal was just a flawed, self-indulgent human. Cal felt his face relaxing.

Lee told Cal that Kate had committed suicide the night before. He then claimed that Americans were a violent people, who were over-brave, over-fearful, over-sentimental, and over-realistic.

Cal began to realize that he was just like other Americans, which again made him feel better.

After Lee left Calís room, he found Adam slumped over outside the front door. When he asked Adam what was wrong with him, he said he was tired. Lee then noticed a post card in Adamís hand. It was from Aaron saying he had enlisted.


Notes

Adam seems to have had a stroke right at the moment when Cal spoke the words of Cain. In the Biblical account, Cain killed Abel and then hid. When God asked Cain where his brother was, Cain answered, "Am I my brotherís keeper?" When Adam asks Cal where Aaron is, Calís words are almost exactly the same. Although he has not physically killed Aaron, Cal has murdered his brotherís innocence by taking him to meet Kate. There is a difference, however, for Cal has a conscience and is miserable about what he has done and panicky about what has happened to Aaron. Cal has thought about suicide and drunken himself into oblivion to ease his pain and guilt.

The wise Lee, sensing that something is wrong with Cal, comes to his room. He attempts to change Calís image of himself by talking about Americans in general and explaining to Cal that he is no different; he is simply a flawed human being, with both good and evil inside. He reminds Cal that he is in control of his destiny.

Through Leeís short speech, Steinbeck summarizes the novelís approach to the theme of good versus evil. Instead of regarding these categories as metaphysical realities, existing in ideal forms in different people, making some people naturally and irredeemably evil and some people naturally and incorruptibly good, Lee shows Cal a way to see that all people are mixed in their allocation of good and evil. It is in their power to choose between them.


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