Newsletter: East Of Eden
We're heading into the home stretch: Cal confronts his mother, Cathy, face-to-face; Aron leaves for Stanford; Abra moves into a much more significant role; Lee's wisdom continues to be the guiding light of the book as the nation slides into war and we enter the final years of the Trask and Hamilton family sagas this week.
Of this phase of the novel Steinbeck wrote in Journal of a Novel, "Our timeless principles must face a new set of facts and react to them." *
As Salinas is swept with a wave of morality and reform, Cal, Aron, Abra and even Adam are evolving into their truest selves. In every sense, the tapestry of good and evil is even more intricately woven in this week's chapters.
Cal is continually drawn to the whorehouse he has learned is his mother's. He stalks her for weeks until she suddenly confronts him. Cal reveals that he is Cathy's son, and again the clash between good and evil unfolds. Faced with Cathy's cruelty, Cal protects Adam and Aron. Enraged by Cal's love and loyalty, Cathy attempts to manipulate Cal, insinuating that he is like her. In this moment, the power of timshel is crystallized. We hear Lee's wisdom echoing, as Cal answers her, "I'm my own. I don't have to be you. I don't hate you, but I'm glad you're afraid." ** It is truly the beginning of the end for Cathy...
...And a new beginning for Cal. He is literally becoming "his brother's keeper," convincing Aron to finish high school early and go to college to stay out of the war. Devising a business plan to export beans, a high commodity in the wartime economy, Cal plans to restore Adam's lost fortune and pay for Aron to attend college; yet Trask family history repeats itself. Adam seems to care little for Cal's efforts, and wants only to reward Aron for his hard work in school. Ironically, Aron (much like the younger Adam himself) wants no part of his father's world. He says, "I want to go away. It's a dirty town. ... I don't belong here."
Aron leaves for Stanford—and even as he writes Abra love letters—he plans to become a clergyman. His simple goodness, his need to withdraw from the real complexities of life, comes into sharp contrast to his brother and his beloved Abra. While Cal and Abra are learning to live with the truth of evil and ambiguity, Aron must be shielded. Abra, who Steinbeck considered "terribly important," admits to Lee that she cannot be as good as Aron imagines her. "He doesn't know me," she tells Lee. "He doesn't even want to know me. He wants that—white—ghost."