East of Eden Commentary

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In the passage at the beginning of chapter 16, Steinbeck uses color and dehumanization to show different points and make comparisons. Light vs. Dark is one of the oldest symbols of Good vs. Evil, and Steinbeck uses this to create a mood and to steer the reader’s thoughts subconsciously towards darkness and the differences between Samuel and Cathy. Steinbeck’s animalization of Cathy shows her characterization as sly and untrustworthy. Also due to his description of the scene it seems mystical and almost disconnected to the rest of the novel. This creates a paradoxical effect since it is such a pivotal moment in the novel. Steinbeck’s dramatic irony also pulls the reader into the text and makes them feel an almost kinship towards Samuel as he tries to figure out what the reader already knows: Cathy is not normal. The relations between Cathy and the golden man gives the reader something to compare Cathy to, which stands in stark contrast to Samuel’s kind, expressive eyes.

The observation of color has an underlying symbolism of good and evil, the darkness of night sets the stage, however Samuel’s white beard and hair makes it seem like there is an aureole surrounding him, which gives him a distinction from the darkness and symbolizes him as a good figure. This shows how he sticks out from those around him. The colors also illuminate the differences between Cathy and Samuel. While Samuel is light and can get along with anyone, and is forgiving and lenient, Cathy is cold, sharp, calculating and only uses people to her benefit. Steinbeck shows this in this scene through the contrasting light and dark.

The passage has a very mystical feel to it. Steinbeck paints a picture for the reader, saying the night was “so flooded with moonlight that the hills took on the quality of the white and dusty moon. The trees and earth were moon-dry, silent and airless and dead. The shadows were black without shading and the open places white without color.” (176) The excerpt creates...
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