umang's Reviews > East of Eden

East of Eden by John Steinbeck
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did not like it
bookshelves: loathsome

This is a long, long sermon masquerading as a novel. Its aim seems clear- to be the great American novel. In spite of, or maybe because of this overreach, it is completely unsatisfying. The characters are mere symbols. Most of the themes pertain to the characters’ moral dilemmas, but it is difficult to be drawn into these since the characters lack any real complexity. The men are various superlatives (greatest, kindest, wisest). There are two women characters, one evil and exaggerated to the point of absurdity, and the other just a plot device. And the ‘chinaman’ has to be one of the most ridiculous characters in all of literature.

The weak characters are further undermined by the stilted and unnatural dialogue, which in no way resembles conversation as I have experienced it. The characters take turns giving soulful, melodramatic speeches on the human condition. The ‘chinaman’ is especially painful in this regard.
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Reading Progress

Started Reading
December 1, 2007 – Finished Reading
January 2, 2008 – Shelved
May 30, 2008 – Shelved as: loathsome

Comments Showing 1-14 of 14 (14 new)

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Larry Hilarious about the 'Chinaman.' I respect this book but I don't feel it's his best.


TheJoobs bang on.


Ryan Nailed it.


message 4: by Chloe (new) - added it

Chloe Rust The reason for all the ridiculous characters is because the story is based off of stories in the bible. That's why there are only two women and the three men that are the "greatest, kindest, wisest." They're the three wise men.


Kelli Thanks for this review. While perusing the many accolades written here about the perfection of this novel,I began to wonder if I missed something. It was years ago that I read East of Eden. I remember spending the first half convinced that it would get better and the second half just wanting it to end. Your review brings back those details about how I felt about the characters. My guilt for giving it one star is eased.


Dana This is by far his best book. I believe the Biblical references above are overdrawn. This was about as close to an autobiography as Steinbeck got. If you doubt that, then you should read the journal he kept during the writing of this book.

Some of what is off-putting to modern readers is the differences in our society and culture. Like John O'Hara, Steinbeck was writing about his time (which is, after all, the writer's job. Nobody reads John O'hara anymore and it is a great pity, because the development of his characters is outstanding. When Steinbeck won the Nobel Prize he thought John O'hara should have received it instead.

As for Steinbeck's other works: Cannery Row is awesome. The Pearl sucks enormously, The Grapes of Wrath is poorly written social commentary (talk about unbelievable characters!), Of Mice and Men is just awful and unbelievable. Stick with Cannery Row and East of Eden. There you have a real writer at work. OH, and you might read a little John O'Hara while you're at it. Everyone thinks Updike was the man--but it was O'Hara who really captured that era.


Gawon Kim Why do you think Lee is a ridiculous character, may I ask?


Greg I have nothing insightful to add other than I liked your take on this book. I found the characters Adam and Aaron Trask to be unbearable (my memory of Aaron was him always getting upset, bawling, and running away with his fists in the air...even in his late teens. Jesus, what a gaylord). I was rooting for both of the "A" Trasks to die at the end of the book, so there was some satisfaction at finishing.


Cuykendall I liked this book, but agree with you on the dialogue. Convoluted, pretentious, and dense. Nobody in the history of the world ever had an actual conversation like some in this book. I started to run out of patience with the whole thing.


Joseph Sames I'm glad I'm not the only one who disliked this novel with its overwrought dialogue and one dimensional characters. For a truly great American novel, i would have to go with Huck Finn, to kill a mockingbird, Go tell it on the mountain by Baldwin or even something by Saul Bellow.

i enjoy epics and family sagas. i loved 100 years of solitude, we the drowned by carsten jensen and midnights children by salman rushdy as well as house of the spirits by allende. all of these books happen to be national sagas as well as family sagas. i just didnt get the same magic with E of E. I liked the part with the trask brothers growing up and their father, hated any mention of cathy, and promptly went to sleep with the attempts at vague, bible-esque dialogue trying to be epic and deep but just falling into impossible generalities on the human condition.

if the book is about the importance of free will to rise over evil, as ive heard some suggest, then why include so many one dimensional characters.

maybe i just resent the heavy use of biblical inspiration. but i couldnt even finish this book.


message 11: by Sanjay (new)

Sanjay I'd give this book 3 stars and even recommend it, but I basically agree with your critique.


Rebecca I'm 3 chapters in and I don't see how East of Eden qualifies as a novel. The characters feel like symbols rather than real people and I've yet to feel an actual plot developing


message 13: by Lucy (new) - rated it 2 stars

Lucy Takeda I absolutely agree with your evaluation! Repetition of the same lessons are the entire book.


Chrystal I agree 100% with you umang. I'm so glad I'm not the only one.


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