East of Eden is, in my opinion, a masterpiece in literature. Spanning a period of over twenty years with look backs to the time of the civil war, it tells the story of the Hamilton and Trask families. Always interchanging the focus characters in between chapters, Steinbeck manages to create an incredible proximity between the reader and the people in the story. Without becoming cardboard characters, they all for one possess specific treats which make their actions credible. This doesn’t mean they don’t develop, though. We can follow Cal, for instance, fighting against his own badness. He wants to be good like his twin brother in order to gain his father’s love. Steinbeck smartly confronts us with the question if boundless goodness really is the best way to go.
And just like Cal, all of the characters have their hidden insecurities and weaknesses. Cathy, who is impersonated evil in this book, has her weak and fearful sides. Self-confident Will Hamilton eventually admits to himself he sought success as a businessman because he couldn’t just join the poor yet happy way of life his siblings and parents lived, but wanted to help them financially and save them. Aron is the widely loved angel who wouldn’t hurt a fly, but in fact lives in a fairy tale world because he wouldn’t be able to cope with the harshness of reality – and proves so by running away when he gets confronted with it against his will.
Samuel Hamilton, the good soul that would always be there to help others without asking anything in return but a friendly smile, has great presence throughout the book, even after his death. Lee always reminds him, tries to be like him. Sam’s fresh look onto the world and his urge for inventing things inspire Lee. And Lee in turn inspires others, Abra in particular.
This book gives a great, great view on interpersonal relationships, on personal development throughout the years and on the inevitability of life. It shows us what is really important instead of making lots of money or having lots of friends. It shows us that everything that happens in our lives will leave its traces and form us, but also that we can stand up against things and move on: Timschal.