Good" and "Bad" in John Steinbeck's "East of Eden

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One of the central themes in John Steinbeck’s East of Eden is the idea of Good and Bad. In the novel, no character is inherently good or bad, but rather they each come in shades of grey. Cal, the main character, believes himself to be bad due to the results of his actions, but he doesn’t understand that he never intends for is actions to have such results. He has good intentions, but because he causes so much trouble, he believes he is just meant to be Bad. Similarly, his brother Aron believes himself to be the good guy and that he is the good son. With everything he does, he has his father’s approval, while Cal is always turned away. However, Aron’s “good guy” persona boosts his ego, and he starts to believe he can get away with everything because he is the “good son”.

Cal and Aron both have ideas in their head of what their mother was like, and these ideas are polar opposites. Aaron believes that his mother was a good person who died because she was “too good for this Earth”. Cal, on the other hand, believes that since their father is so good, Cal must have gotten his badness from his mother. When he finally meets his mother, he finds that his idea of her is more accurate that Aron’s. His mother tells Cal that she left his father because she felt he was too good, and she couldn’t stand it.

Aron’s girlfriend, Abra, doesn’t believe herself to be good or bad. Aron fell in love with her because he saw her as good and pure, like his concept of his mother. Abra doesn’t believe herself to be this person and begins to drift away from Aron, feeling she can’t live up to his standards, and she starts to fall for Cal.
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