[Essay in My Heart] East of Eden - English Book Review


[Essay in My Heart]

East of Eden

East of Eden is a novel by the famous American novelist John Steinbeck, first published in 1952 by The Viking Press. John Steinbeck's representative novel, this novel, which was also made into a movie, was widely known. 

This story is thought to be a story created by mobilizing the author's own creativity and imagination to the story of Cain and Abel in Genesis in the Old Testament and weaving it together with Steinbeck's own family story.

In Steinbeck's family, Steinbeck's mother Olive's father, i.e., his maternal grandfather Samuel Hamilton, appears in the first half of the novel as the main character. He is a typical Irish immigrant, who runs a farm in California's Salinas Valley, and is creative, dexterous, literary, and has a strong personality.

Meanwhile, the Trask family, who lived in the eastern countryside near Boston, had two brothers, Charles, and Adam. After their father's death, Charles enlisted in the military, and Adam dreamed of making his own farm in California's Salinas Valley across the continent. Their personalities are very contrasting: Charles is harsh and masculine, and Adam is delicate and feminine. Charles and Adam grew up thinking that their military father treated them differently. The two later go their separate ways. Adam, who was trying to make his dream farm in California beautiful, later learns that Charles has died and has already inherited the enormous fortune his father had left, and even Charles' share.

Adam later married a woman named Katie, who had twin sons, Aron, and Cal. And not long after, Katie ends up having a violent argument with Adam, injuring Adam, leaving her house alone, and hiding. She later becomes engaged in prostitution, where her husband, Adam, later inquiries about her whereabouts and meets her, and later her two sons are also secretly visiting her mother's place of work. Katie suffers a lot, both mentally and physically, and when the owner of the business where she works suddenly dies, Katie takes over her estate alone. As a result, Katie faces lifelong charges of poisoning her and she eventually ends her life tragically alone, leaving her fortune to her beloved son, Aron, whom she loves most.

The twins Aron and Cal are very, very contrasting physically and mentally. Cal is wild and aggressive, and Aron is quiet, academic, and deeply religious, having dreams of becoming a pastor. Later, Adam goes to college and returns home from a semester. Shocked by the meeting with his mother, Katie, and her unexpected death, Aron lies about his age and enlists in the military. After he had the courage to meet the mother who gave birth to him, he thought about it a lot, and then he decided on his own. Father Adam's wish was for Aron to complete his studies successfully, but that did not go his way.

Meanwhile, Cal wants to help his father on his own, so he took advantage of the situation where food was scarce when World War I broke out in order to win his favor and make money. However, his father does not take his money, and Cal burns all his money later.

After a sudden breakup with Katie against his will, Adam has been struggling both mentally and physically for a long time. During this time, he interacted with Steinbeck's maternal grandfather Samuel Hamilton, receiving much comfort from him, and attended Samuel's funeral after his death. After that, Adam gradually gains the will to deal with the many problems that he has to solve in his own life. In addition, he gets the help of his faithful Chinese butler, Lee, to run his farm, and he raises two sons Aron and Cal without a mother.

Prior to her enlistment, Aron had promised to marry and dated her maiden name, Abra, but his sudden military enlistment left her alone. Her parents were friends with Aron's father, Adam, so Aron and Abra became friends naturally as the family visited Adam's farm from time to time. However, when Adam receives the news of his son Aron's sudden death, he is traumatized, resulting in a rapid loss of vision and a rapidly weakening of his brain's function, requiring the help of a nurse at home.

Adam had always questioned the legitimacy and morals of the legacy his father, who was a soldier, had automatically inherited after his death, working for a veterans-related government agency in the capital, Washington. Personality conflict, his wife Katie's incomprehensible behavior and bitterness towards him, his considerable expectations and disappointment for his two sons, Aron and Cal, and jealousy between them, the invisible relationship conflict between the two sons envying each other, etc. combined and piled up, heightening the mental pressure on him, which always tormented Adam.

In the home bed where he lies, the Chinese butler Lee, along with his son Cal and Aron's girlfriend Abra, asks Adam to forgive his son Aron, set his soul free, and plead with Adam to call his name.

And the final scene of the novel ends with the following sentence:

Adam looked up with sick weariness. His lips parted and failed and tried again. Then his lungs filled. He expelled the air and his lips combed the rushing sigh. His whispered word seemed to hang in the air :


His eyes closed and he slept.

The keyword in this novel is ‘Timshel (טימשל),’ which appears all three times in the novel. Timshel is Hebrew, which translates as “Thou Mayest (You May).” This, I understand, means that we will live with the consequences of our actions according to our own free will.

Actually, before reading this novel, I had certain expectations of my own that were completely different from the atmosphere of the stories described in the novel. Through this novel, I was given an opportunity to look inside American culture (the structure of consciousness of Americans), and in particular, I had fun comparing the differences between Eastern and Western cultures and ideas through conversations with Chinese butler Lee and Adam.

Through this novel, I learned about the American view of life, family dynamics and love, education, occupational and career choices, violence and military heritage, mental health, worldview, professionalism and practicality, pioneering spirit, rural life, historical curiosity, and pride about immigrant ancestors or concerns about one's identity, and the rapid development of material civilization and attitudes toward money, especially parents' heritage, and the financial inheritance in an interesting way.

Steinbeck is also a gifted storyteller. The personal reasons I was interested were my memories of living in northern California for a few years and visiting his hometowns of Salinas and Monterey frequently.

In his novels, John Steinbeck offers each of his readers the freedom to judge the fundamental question of the existence of God and offers a wonderful opportunity for in-depth reflection.

His novels do not offer any stereotyped and banal conclusions, so the echoes of his novels come closer and more, and the plot and afterglow of the novel are engraved more deeply in my mind. 

One question: Why named John Steinbeck the title of his novel 'Esat of Eden?'

Why did he choose the ‘East’ out of the four directions?

He is said to have initially suggested the following five as the titles of his novel.

The Salinas Valley

My Valley

Valley to the Sea

Cain Sign

East of Eden. 




Easter Sunday

April 17, 2022

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