The protagonist of the entire novel is "goodness", represented by Adam Trask in the first generation and Caleb Trask in the second generation. In the first generation, Adam is the protagonist. He represents the good son, the Abel figure in the Cain and Abel dynamic. He is beset by the forces of evil, first in the form of his brother, Charles, then in the form of his wife, Cathy. In the second generation, the protagonist is Caleb "Cal" Trask. He represents the bad son turned good. At first cast as a Cain figure, he learns that he can choose goodness over evil.


The antagonist of the entire novel is "evil," represented primarily by Cathy Trask, who is later known as Kate, the madam of a brothel. She serves as a force of evil in both her husband's life and in her sons' lives. She is the personification of evil as she burns her parents to death, deserts her infant sons, and kills her employer. She drives Adam into a sort of catatonic shock when she violently escapes confinement as his wife, leaving the twins behind for him to raise. Adam gains ascendancy over her when he honors Charles' will that grants a fortune to Kate. In the second-generation portion of the novel, Kate becomes the hidden force of evil that threatens Aaron and Cal. When Cal confronts her, he is repulsed and rejects her. When Aaron comes face to face with her, he is destroyed. He joins the military and dies soon after.


The key climax of the plot occurs when goodness defeats evil. It happens after Cal rejects his mother and decides he can choose to live a life of goodness. He refuses to tell Aaron about Kate, knowing he would be unable to handle the news. He also tries to honor Adam, who he feels is a good man and father, by earning a fortune to present to him. There are many other smaller climaxes in the novel that lead to the ultimate triumph of good over evil.


Despite many tragic occurrences in the novel, the plot is resolved as a comedy, with goodness triumphing over evil. The novel's resolution occurs with Cal's recognition that he can choose to act for the good, overcoming his negative emotions of rage and jealousy. He receives his father's blessing and wins the love of Abra. There is an irony in the outcome, for Aaron, not Cal, was always noted as the good son.

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East of Eden Free BookNotes Summary-John Steinbeck
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