Robin's Reviews > East of Eden

East of Eden by John Steinbeck
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Apr 22, 2016

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bookshelves: history-california, classics
Read from June 23 to 27, 2010 , read count: 2

This classic saga of life in the Salinas Valley throughout the 19th and early 20th centuries also reflects the values and concerns from 1952 in which it was written. Steinbeck is, of course, intimately familiar with this area and involves his own family in the plot, though what is depicted might not be strictly factual. His grandfather, an Irish immigrant, plays a pivotal role and is one of the most delightful characters.

Steinbeck tells the cultural and natural history of the Salinas Valley in addition to developing a complex plot involving multiple generations. Much of the plot centers around the idea of good vs. evil, as several characters struggle to be good and feel guilty when they’re evil. This “black and white” way of characterizing good and evil seems very much a part of the 1950s and makes the book seem a bit dated. The concept of “timshel,” in this case free will to choose between good and evil actions in the moment, is explored as if it were a recent and revolutionary finding.

The plot reflects the Biblical story of Cain and Abel, as two generations of brothers struggle with some serious sibling rivalry while competing for their fathers’ attention. The long descriptions of these men’s inner conflicts seems characteristic of 1950s writing as well. Though the male characters are well developed, as usual Steinbeck gives little depth to the female characters. In this book as in others the women act as foils for the men—perhaps a sign of the 1950s as well. The purely evil woman is an interesting character, but so one-dimensional that she is not quite believable.

I did enjoy this book, particularly the descriptions of the Salinas Valley throughout the years. The plot, characters, and the way Steinbeck unfolds the story drew me in despite my finding the style of the book a bit dated, and I finished it in a few days. It definitely deserves its reputation as a classic.
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