East of Eden

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John Steinbeck, one of America's favorite authors, wrote the novel East of Eden in 1952. The story takes place in Salinas, California, where Steinbeck was born and raised. His mother's family name, Hamilton, is one of the names used in his novel. According to Riddel, East of Eden is "a symbolic story about the need for brotherhood." Joseph Fontenrose, one of Steinbeck's critics, states, "The design and magnitude of East of Eden, and Steinbeck's own remarks about it, indicate that it was meant to be a climactic work, his greatest achievement, for which every earlier book was practice." (126) Warren French notes that East of Eden's "most conspicuous and provocative figure" (54) is Cathy Ames Trask. She is, he says, the wayward wife and successful brothelkeeper single-mindedly bent on exercising [her] will, ready to destroy anything that stands in [her] way, and will scruple nothing to achieve [her] end. [She is] also clever enough to manipulate other people in order to achieve [her] purpose, and is responsible for [her] own destruction. (56) The character of Cathy, as seen in her behavior in childhood, young adult years, and adult life, reveals her totally evil nature and its effect on others. Judging from Steinbeck's description, Cathy Ames is a beautiful yet demonlike child. She has an innocent heart-shaped face, golden hair, wide-set hazel eyes, a delicate and thin nose and high wide cheekbones. She has a child's figure--narrow hips, straight legs, delicate arms, and tiny hands. Her voice is "soft and husky--so sweet as to become irresistible, fascinating, and horrible."l According to Lisca, her beauty seems angelic in this sense, but "Cathy is often described in the terms of a serpent" (Wide World 268). She "has a preference for dark dens and the colors of a rattlesnake (rust and yellow)" (Nature and Myth 168). Her angelic looks are very deceiving. She is not an angel. She is a devil. __________ Despite Cathy's childlike physical appearance, her emotional mentality is that of a much older, vindictive person. Many of Steinbeck's critics go so far as to compare her mental state to that of a monster. Steinbeck himself says, And just as there are physical monsters, can there not be mental or psychic monsters born? The face and body may be perfect, but if a twisted gene or a malformed egg can produce physical monsters, may not the same process produce a malformed soul? (Eden 72) Cathy is "not like other people, never was from birth" (Eden 72). She seems to have no love or conscience. Hayashi observes that she is "a consummate liar and learns to use selfishness, lust, and fear to manipulate people" (Dictionary 28). However, she never feels as though she is different, even though she wants to be: Cathy had some quality that made people look at her, then look away, then look back at her, troubled at something foreign. Something looked out of her eyes, and was never there when one looked again. She moved quickly and talked little, but she could enter no room without causing everyone to turn toward her. (Eden 73) But even though she makes people uneasy, they want to stay by her and find out the cause of this "disturbance she gives out" (Eden 73). Cathy uses this power to get the things she wants. Steinbeck says she has this power "because she has simplified [people's] weaknesses and has no feeling about their strengths and goodness" (Journal 44). This might be explained by the fact that "to a monster, everyone else is a monster.... Once you know Cathy is a monster then nothing she does can be unusual" (Journal 44). Because of her power," Cathy is going to worry a lot of children, and a lot of parents about their children" (Journal 46). She tells so many lies that "you can believe her lies, but when she tells the truth, it is not credible" (Journal 60). Steinbeck explains that Cathy's life is "one of revenge on other people because of a vague feeling of her own lack" (Journal 124). He also justifies her monstrous...
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