East of Eden East of Eden question

Do you need to be familiar with the Book of Genesis to fully appreciate this book?
Paul Paul Jul 30, 2014 08:05PM
I had a Catholic upbringing, so was fairly familiar with the story of Cain and Abel when I read it reenacted twice in this Steinbeck novel. My stepson, who has no religious training whatsoever, is reading it for school, and is only vaguely aware of the Cain and Abel narrative ("I know it wasn't good -- one killed the other, right?"). Does he need to understand all the symbolism to grasp the themes of this novel?

Speaking as a person who has never set foot in a church except to attend weddings and funeral services, no you don't need to be familiar with the book of genesis at all. I read this book for the first time in a high school Nobel Prize Authors class. This was my favorite book of all the books we read. Steinbeck does assume basic knowledge of the Cain/Abel myth, but also explains the complexity of the question of free will. This is a concept for all of humanity, not just those who believe the bible.

Elisha Brazeale I completely agree, I was just about to say something similar; although I did have an intensive, Christian-based religious upbringing.
I think the sto
Aug 07, 2014 09:00AM · flag

I love Steinbeck but as someone brought up as Catholic and disgusted by it as an adult, this book is as confusing as the intent of many parables I sat through in church. It feels like a forced interpretation of human behaviour to fulfill the biblical context.

I would say that Steinbeck assumes that a knowledge of Genesis is part of the Western Christian Lexicon just as the book assumes a basic knowledge of Freud and psychoanalysis.

Cal has a desperate need for his father's love and attention but shares his mother's lack of moral compass. To the mother-son the end justifies the means, to his father money attained by dubious means is tainted, a concept his son is incapable of understanding.

If you don't buy Judeo-Christian philosophy you'll probably miss the point of the whole story and find it boring. The morality of the situation is the point of the story. If the point of the parable escapes you then the story has no meaning. He who has ears to hear let him hear.

If this sounds judgmental it is no more so than the book itself.

Carolyn Time to remember that Steinbeck wrote at a time when thinking outside of the Western tradition would have been unusual. I agree with you. He knows his ...more
Oct 27, 2014 12:23PM · flag

I agree with Kirk: reading the Cain & Abel portion of Genesis is not going to take you too long! And I do think it helps to understand what Steinbeck is laying out for you in the 'analogous' story in his book. But all analogies break down at some point; you can't be too literal with it. If you don't read the Cain & Abel segment from Genesis, the book is still going to be phenomenal. Perhaps just a bit less layered. As someone has mentioned, the complexity of free will; of choice...is what is being examined in this novel. Probably my favorite book of all time.

You could read the Cain & Abel portion of Genesis in 20 minutes if you wanted to.

It saddens me sometimes to realise that what we once though of as the Canon--the things that everyone knew--can no longer be counted on. But, no, I don't think you HAVE to know the story of Cain and Abel to read East of Eden--but if you did know it, and I did, maybe you can't really judge. We read the stories of ancient Greece and Rome without really understanding the spiritual world of the people who wrote them, though, and that seems to me to be much the same thing. And more recently we can read and enjoy the Canterbury Tales without being able to get inside the head of the Wife of Bath or the Miller.


My initial thought was no but I was familiar with the cain and abel story when I read "east of eden". I've never liked the tag that east of eden is the modern telling of the cain and abel story. Seems to sell my favorite book short.

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