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East of Eden by John Steinbeck – Book Review

Timshell! Thou Mayest.

            That’s the word that shall always ring in my head because of this book. East of Eden is a book which takes the old story of Cain and Abel from the Bible and puts it in the modern day. It is an epic about good and evil, about being a father and opportunity. It is one of those books that is nearly indescribable, and I won’t do justice to this masterpiece in this article.

            I read Of Mice and Men before and I was intrigued by the simplicity of that story. It wasn’t a long story (only about 100 pages) but it captured a certain message beautifully. East of Eden is longer, much longer (about 600 pages), but it needs every page for the story. There aren’t any unnecessary parts in this book, even though it might seem that way at first. Everything falls into place.

            The story is about the life of Adam Trask and the life in Salinas Valley between the American Civil War and the First World War. It is about the good and the evil that is inside all of us and the book shows this sometimes straightforwardly but also sometimes more obscure and sinister. Why? Because you can see evil when you look at it easily. An evil act is easy to spot. But the inherent evil inside someone; that might be hidden away. Hidden deep and nearly invisible. But if you look carefully, you’ll see the evil inside a person.

            The book makes the suggestion that evil also seduces even the best people and it is only those who have evil inside them who can see the elusiveness of evil, just because they have been touched by it. It does this in the form of Cathy, a pure psychopath with gorgeous looks. This is the most obvious example.

            I also found a new interpretation into the story of Cain and Abel. I’m not a religious person but old stories always intrigued me, mostly mythology; but if it’s a story with a great message I won’t pass it up. Cain and Abel are both competing for the favor of God. Abel is a shepherd and he gets God’s grace without any problem. God thanks him. But Cain, oh Cain is a farmer and when he sacrifices to God, God doesn’t think that’s enough. In rage of this rejection and in jealousy of his brother, Cain kills his own brother Abel.

            Now why did God say to Cain that his sacrifice wasn’t enough? I think because God thought Cain could do better. Even though Cain might think he was doing his best, he wasn’t living up to his ideal (what God is). And his ideal knew this and said that he could do better. But instead of listening and putting in more effort and sacrifice, he rather wallowed into self-misery and envied his brother who was putting in the work, who was living up to his potential. And of jealousy killed him. But there is always a way out. We always have a choice. We might have evil in ourselves, but we can overcome it. We might not live up to our potential, but we can become better.

            Timshell! Thou Mayest.

            Honestly there is so much to tell about this book, but then I’ll have to spoil the story and truly I do not want to spoil this masterpiece for you. If you want to read one book this year, I suggest reading this book. You will not be disappointed. I changed my book ranking system because of this book, because I needed a higher standard to put this book on top. That should say something.

            Timshell! Thou Mayest

By elenchusphilosophy

I'm a Philosophy student in Belgium, trying to talk and write about ideas of all kinds of sorts.

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