Free Study Guide for East of Eden by John Steinbeck|
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CHARACTER ANALYSIS (Continued)
Rising above the stereotypic picture of a Chinese servant, Lee
emerges as the strongest and most realistic character in the novel. He is the
observer, philosopher, healer, and peacemaker of the book.
remarkably progressive in his thinking about Chinese Americans. He recognizes
the constant and unremitting racism of most Californians towards Orientals at
mid century. He has various characters call Lee a "chink," "Ching
Chong," and "Charley." In addition, Adamís nurse clearly states
that she will not take orders from a Chinese man. Lee reacts by sometimes playing
the role of a subservient oriental, resorting to talking in pidgin, wearing a
queue, and acting like a well-trained monkey. He explains to Samuel Hamilton that
if he does not act like an obsequious Chinaman, he will be threatened with violence.
Lee becomes the center of the Trask family, acting like a wife to Adam
and mother to his sons. He decorates Adamís house, organizes Adamís finances,
engages in long discussions with Adam over his emotional life and his obligations
toward his sons, protects Adam from harm, nurse him back to health, and counsels
him about telling Caleb and Aaron the truth. Similarly with Cal and Aaron, Lee
acts as a parent, teaching them moral discipline, feeding them, clothing them,
urging them on a path toward a good life. Lee even befriends Aaronís girlfriend,
who will become Calebís wife.
Leeís ultimate gift is what he does for
Cal at the end of the novel. Realizing that the boy is destroying himself with
guilt after Aaronís death and Adamís stroke, he takes Caleb into his fatherís
room and has Adam give him a blessing. The blessing, in turn, gives Cal the freedom
to choose goodness over evil, insuring that he can lead a normal and happy life.
At the end of the book, Cal stands as the symbol of hope and goodness for the
Caleb "Cal" Trask
the Biblical character, Caleb, who finally gets to the Promised Land, Cal symbolically
comes to the Promised Land at the end of the novel when he receives his fatherís
blessing. It is what he has been searching for throughout his life.
is a Cain figure. Like Cain, he is jealous of his brother because he has received
his fatherís blessings. It is clear to Cal that Aaron is the favorite son. As
a result, he wants to strike out at Aaron and hurt him. Through most of the novel,
he tries to hold himself back. In the end, however, when his father rejects his
sacrificial offering of $15,000 and admonishes him to be good like his brother,
Cal can hold back to longer. He retaliates by taking Aaron, the good son, to see
their mother and accept the truth about her. He laughs as he watches Aaron scream
in horror at Kate. Aaron reacts to the truth by retreating from it, much like
his father has always done. He joins the military and goes to war. When he is
killed, Cal blames himself. Lee becomes his savior by forcing Adam to speak a
blessing to Cal. When Adam indicates to his remaining son that he has the choice
of goodness over evil, Calís life is positively changed forever.
the beginning, Cal and Aaron are very different. While Aaron is light-haired,
Cal is dark-haired. While Aaron is innocent, Cal is clever and knowing. While
Aaron is open and honest, Cal is secretive and manipulative. While Aaron is good,
Cal is bad. Cal acts out his evil side by various means. The first time it comes
out is when Cal and Aaron are out shooting rabbits. When Aaron shoots one, Cal
tries to manipulate him into sharing the credit since it was his arrow that actually
killed the rabbit. The second piece of meanness is what Cal does to Aaron and
Abraís newfound friendship. He convinces Abra that Aaron will put a snake in the
box instead of the rabbit; he also tells her she has wet her pants. When Aaron
asks his brother why he is so mean, Cal promises to try harder to be good; however,
it seems to be a constant struggle for him.
Calís salvation comes at the
hands of Lee, who guides him morally and teaches him that he has freedom of choice
in life. Appropriately, when Cal is avoiding goodness, he also avoids Lee. When
he is striving for the good, he seeks Lee out. Lee always helps him get through
his rage and shame and orchestrates the final reconciliation between Cal and Adam.
Lee also helps to nurture the budding romance between Cal and Abra. At the end
of the book, Cal has become the good son and the hope for the Trask future.
Aaron "Aron" Trask
Aaron is named after the Biblical
character who did not get to the Promised Land. Just like the Biblical character,
Aaron Trask dies before his time, killed during World War I. Aaron is also similar
to the Biblical character of Abel. He is the fair-haired, good son who always
tries to please his father. As a result, he is his fatherís favorite, just like
Abel. The favoritism causes Cal to hate Aaron through much of the novel, just
like Cain hated Abel.
Although Cal does not literally kill Aaron, he indirectly
causes his death. When his father rejects his sacrificial offering of $15,000
and suggests that Cal become more like Aaron, Cal retaliates by taking his brother
to meet their mother. Aaron is horrified to learn the truth. In order not to face
it, he escapes by joining the military and going to war. When Aaron is killed,
Cal blames himself.
Throughout the novel, Aaron is the handsome son, loved
immediately by everyone who sees him. In the first part of his life, he represents
the unaffected, natural goodness of mankind. By the end of the novel, he is so
caught up in his image of goodness that he represents self-indulgent purity. He
has joined the Episcopal Church, taken his minister, Mr. Rolfe, as his mentor,
decided to become a pastor of a high church, and pledged to remain celibate.
His relationship with Abra reveals the direction of Aaronís moral life. He has
adopted the element of Adamís character that opened him to the machinations of
Cathy and made him blind to the needs of his sons. As Abra puts it, Aaron has
created an idealized story for himself and refuses to leave it in order to embrace
the realities of life. She feels that he has never grown up, for he constantly
twists the world to fit his ideal image. In his relationship with her, he has
put her on an unrealistic pedestal, making her a vision of perfect purity. When
he writes love letters to her from college, he is obviously speaking to his ideal
of Abra rather than the real girl who loves him. When college does not turn out
to be the ideal place he had imagined it would be, Aaron immediately wants to
give it up and retreat to the idealized life of a farmer. Finally, Adam is incapable
of accepting the reality of his mother. Although he has heard rumors about her
all his life, he has willfully denied them, consistently holding to the belief
that she had died and gone to heaven. When he comes face to face with his mother,
he still refuses to accept reality. He runs to war and gets himself killed, never
reaching the Promised Land, just as his namesake never reached the Promised Land
in the Bible.
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