East of Eden: Novel by John Steinbeck

East of Eden

Novel by John Steinbeck****Film Directed by Elia Kazan  

East of Eden is a story of good versus evil, jealousy between brothers, and an individual’s capacity for forgiveness and redemption.  The 1956 film follows only the last few chapters of the novel.

1. What is the setting for the story?


2. What business does the woman in the green dress and hat conduct at the bank?


3. The large lady in the brown dress gives us a clue as to her own profession and the profession of the woman mentioned in question #2.  What profession might this be?


4. What message is the bouncer “Joe” supposed to give Kate, according to the teenage boy?


5. Why is the teenage boy upset when riding home on the train?


6. Cal’s dad is thinking about investing in a risky venture in 1917.  Explain.


7. Cal, being the most sensible family member, tells his dad what experts are predicting will be strong cash crops when America enters World War I.  Explain.


8. What scares Abra about Cal?


9. What plans do Abra and Aron have?  Do they have any specific dates set?


10. Adam tells Cal at the dinner table exactly what he thinks of his son. What does he say?


11. Adam tells Cal about his mother (Cathy/Kate).  How does Adam describe her?


12. How does Cal end up in the Salinas jail and meet the sheriff?


13. The sheriff reveals that who shot whom in the Trask household years before?


14. Cal feels true compassion for his dad and starts to work very hard.  Why?


15. Why did Abra throw away a $3000 ring 6 years ago and then “forgive” her dad for the deed?


16. What happens to the lettuce shipment?  How does Adam handle the news?


17. Why are the men exercising to music?


18. What does Mr. Hamilton suggest Cal do to make money?


19. Why does Cal want to make a lot of money?


20. How much money does Hamilton tell Cal he needs to start a farming venture?


21. Where does Cal get the money?


22. Kate reveals why she shot Adam years ago.  Explain.


23. What military action begins at predicted?


24. Why does Cal act so happy in the farm fields?


25. How does Cal “rescue” Abra ?


26. What concerns Abra about her relationship with Aron? She explains this while on the Ferris wheel with Cal.


27. What happens on the Ferris wheel that causes Abra to cry?


28. The moment Cal jumps into the Albrecht front yard mini-riot, the relationship between Cal and Aron changes forever.  What happens?


29. Cal later tells Abra that maybe he wasn’t trying to save Aron, maybe he was trying to _________.......


30. Where does Cal go to late that night after getting drunk? Why?


31. What is coming up on Thursday, and what does Cal plan to do?


32. At the party, what does each brother give Adam?


33. How does Adam react to each gift?


34. What does Adam claim he wants from Cal?


35. How does Cal react?


36. Who comforts Cal at the tree?  Why?


37. What terrible things does Aron say to Cal that night?


38. As revenge for the things Aron has just said after the birthday party, what revengeful thing does Cal do?


39. What “moment of truth” do the twins share in Salinas?


40. Cal confronts his dad and explains WHAT about his dad’s love and his own jealousy?


41. What does Aron decide to do in his drunken, reactionary state?


42. What does the sheriff tell Cal to do?


43. What happens to Adam as Aron leaves on the troop train?


44. Abra begs Cal to get through to his ill father somehow.  What does Cal tell his dad?


45. What does Abra plead with Adam to do?


46. When Cal bends low to Adam’s ear, what does his dad whisper?


47. How is this a gift to Cal?


48. In the book, the last words spoken are Adam’s words, “timshel” - Hebrew for “you may.”  What is the significance of this word to the story?


These questions are for classroom instructional use only
Cindy Adams, 2002.


  • All individuals are _______________________________ with both evil and  _________________________ inside them.  Each person must choose _________________________the two.


  • Life is always in a state of  _______________________ and moves through unending ______________________________ of life and death.


  • Battle between good and ______________________



In Salinas, looking to the East, one could see sunrises and ____________________ rising.  Looking west, one would see ____________________ mountains and, symbolically, the dark side of humanity.  Naming the book East of Eden,  allows Steinbeck to establish a setting just outside the perfect world of ________________________, where Adam and Eve have been banished for eating from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.

Wrapping up the story.............What Kazan leaves out, Steinbeck supplied.......

  • Aron is killed while serving in World War I
  • Story ends with the idea that Abra and Cal will marry and live happily ever after because  they have been kind and honest with each other
  • Adam has little time left to live


Cyrus Trask:   the first Cain figure who represents evil in his family.  He makes money  illegally during Civil War and his boys, Adam and Charles inherit it. Charles knows it is ill-gotten money, but Adam doesn’t believe his father would be dishonest.   Cyrus always loved Adam more than Charles, and the boys              understood who was the favorite son. Not seen in film.

Adam Trask:a man of such honesty and conscience that the sheriff thinks Adam cannot think of anything but what is good and truthful.  Doesn’t understand evil or corruption.  When he is forced to look evil in the face, he gets seriously sick or depressed. Marries young Cathy Ames, but she later shoots him and runs away leaving him with month old twin sons.  Money never really matters to Adam.

Charles Trask:  Adam’s  brother not seen in film.  He is mean-spirited and jealous that Cyrus loves Adam more than himself.  He loves his dad more than Adam does.  He wants to kill Adam, just as Cain killed Abel.  On Adam and Cathy’s wedding night, he sleeps with his brother’s bride and violates his brother’s trust (revenge).  When he dies (right before start of film), he leaves 50% of his fortune to Cathy and 50% to his brother Adam. Each get $50,000 in 1917.

Cathy/Kate:  truly an evil woman.  She cannot understand goodness in others and sees it as weakness.   She attacks anyone who tries to exert control over her.  As a teenager, she kills any inconvenient lovers and kills her parents when she wants to leave home.  She marries Adam, but drugs him on their wedding night and sleeps with his brother, Charles.  She gets pregnant and tries to abort her twin babies but does not succeed.  When the (un-named) babies are a month old, she shoots Adam and runs away, leaving her sons behind.  She becomes a prostitute named Kate, goes into business with Faye, another madam, and poisons her to gain financial control of the brothel.  After Faye’s death,  she also inherits Charles’ money.  Wealth and power are important to her.  She extorts money  by blackmailing customers who have political influence.  She has arthritis in her hands by the time we meet her in the film and likes morphine.

Caleb Trask: symbolic both of Caleb in the Bible who wants to reach the Promised Land of happiness and prosperity, and needs  his father’s blessing.  Also symbolic of Cain, the unfavored son.  He grows jealous of his “good brother” Aaron and acts crazy and violent sometimes because he wants his father’s attention.  Cal struggles with the idea Adam has told him over the years, that each individual must choose goodness over evil.  Cal worries that he is more like his evil mother than his righteous father.

Aron Trask: Symbolic of the Biblical character who did NOT get to the Promised Land.  He is also similar to Abel in the Bible.  He is Adam’s favored son.  He is loved by everyone in town and even considers becoming a minister. He wants the perfect wife at some point in the future who will be like the perfect mother he never had but has imagined.  Aaron believes the story that his mother died when he was born.  Aaron runs away, escapes reality when times get tough.

Abra Bacon: another “A” person - but one who believes she is not “good enough.”  Her real mother is dead, and her father remarried when Abra was 13.  She feels abandoned by her father and lonely, but she hopes to find honest love when it is time for her to marry.  She dates Aron and worries that she cannot live up to his expectations for a perfect wife. 

Need more help? Read questions and answers from fellow students below. If you're question hasn't already been asked, ask it now.

Report This

Lee is one of the most remarkable characters in American literature, a philosopher trapped by the racial expectations of his time. He is the essence of compassion, erudition, and calm, serving the Trasks while retaining a complex interior and emotional life. Do you understand why he speaks in pidgin, as he explains it to Sam Hamilton? How does his character change—in dress, speech, and action—over the course of the book? And why do you think Lee stays with the Trasks, instead of living on his own in San Francisco and pursuing his dream?