East of Eden Review: 7 Life Lessons from the Book

The title of the post says East of Eden review. However, what you are about to read is how subtly and profoundly this book teaches us about life lessons, mistakes, human psychology, and the consequences of your actions. 

So, is East of Eden a good book?

East of Eden is one of my favorite books of all time. It is a classic fiction book, and I will recommend it to anyone who thinks fiction books have less intellectual value. This book will teach you about humans, history, and how our backgrounds influence us. The best part is that it really doesn’t mean to do it, but it does it flawlessly.

Unlike all the books I have ever read, East of Eden by John Steinbeck is the best when it comes to character development. The author gives us all the details and backstory we need. He went as far as generations to bring us details that are very important to the story.

Characters In East of Eden

It’s basically about the Trask family, especially two brothers, Adam and Charles Trask, who had similar lives as the children of Adam (or Charles, depending on how you see it), Cal and Aaron. It’s like these children mirror the lives their father and uncle had.

We get to meet Adam and Charles Trask as kids. Their father, Cyrus Trask, likes one of them more and makes it obvious. This starts a kind of rivalry between the two brothers.

In the later part, they became adult. Things have changed, and many things have happened that will be too long to mention in this post. The most significant thing is that the reader follows the lives of Adam’s kids, just like we followed Adam and Charles’s childhood.

Adam and Charles have similar motivations and ideas about life as Cal and Aron. 

Of course, the book has other unique characters, such as Cathy Ames and Lee, who play essential roles in how the story pans out.

Something to pay attention to as you start reading

The story starts in Salinas Valley in Northern California. It is set in the twentieth century, but sometimes, the backstory chapters go back to the Civil War to give the details of some places and characters’ lives. As you read, you will notice Steinbeck continues to put the idea of good and evil side by side throughout the book. First, we read about Samuel Hamilton, who does not support cheating and isn’t rich. Then, on the other end, there is Cyprus Trask, who is a thief and teaches his kids to be tough and cruel. Then, you continue reading about Cypru’s sons, Adams and Charles, and you can say one represents good and the other is somewhat evil. This happens again when you read about Aron and Cal, Adams’ children. Even when you look at it, Cathy Ames represents evil in a way if you look at her life as Adam’s wife.

Preview this book.

Review of East of Eden: 7 Lessons from The Book

We are doing a book review of East of Eden and looking at some lessons you can reflect on if you have already read the book.

#1. Understand your beliefs and how it’s influencing your decision

Everyone believes in something, and these things move us.

  • Charles Trask believes that life is tough, and when you want something, you take it. 
  • Adam Trask believes life is tough but can’t understand why. He wishes everyone could stay calm and smile. 

In the book, we consciously follow how the characters’ beliefs influence their decisions. The author deeply dives into why they have these beliefs. Then, we see the consequences as we read.

#2. You can tame a fish, but it won’t live on grass

My favorite character from the book is Cathy. We learn that she wants to be free and do things from the start. She could not be “tamed.” But she was a woman. The story was set in the past when women had limited options regarding what they could do for a living or opportunities. 

Cathy did many things to show her desire to be free. First, she burnt down a house to fake her death. Then she left town, never to be heard of again. 

When she met two brothers, she was interested in one of them, Charles. 

Charles understood her personality. He knows she is the type of woman who wants to be free, so it’s best to let her be or do her thing.

But the other brother, Adam, is all over her, like a boy with a new toy. 

Cathy had sex with Charles, married Adam, and gave birth to twins. After giving birth, she wanted to leave her husband, but Adam tried to change her mind. Eventually, she shot him in the arm and left. 

You can capture a fish, but it won’t live on grass.

#3. Everyone has a priority, something they live for

Your actions and decisions say otherwise, even if you say you don’t know what you live for.

It’s hard for someone who — deep down — stands for freedom and independence to settle for certain things like a regular job or marriage. I mean, look at Cathy. (We can write an entire review on her character instead of this East of Eden book review.)

#4. Humans don’t change at the core

Our natures have been different and the same since the beginning of time. On the surface, we need food, water, and accommodation. 

On a deeper level, we seek freedom, respect, community, adventure, and other intangible things. It is in our nature.

Many years ago, the bible told a story of two brothers, Cain and Abel. Cain killed Abel because he couldn’t understand why their “father” liked his brother more. Cain wanted to be loved as much as his brother or even more. So he ended up killing Abel.

In East of Eden, Cal Trask indirectly killed his brother, Aaron Trask, for a similar reason. He wanted to be in his father’s good book but was not getting that attention. 

These things still happen today in our society. Although people don’t go about killing others for being liked or favored as often, people still want something like to fall in love, acceptance, recognition, etc. If they can’t get it, they can resort to many things, from hatred and murder to even suicide. 

Another example from the East of Eden book is CATHY Ames. She showed that she couldn’t change her nature. Not by marriage, moving to a new city, having kids, or old age. 

Your personality has been built since childhood and for life, but you can work on it. However, it doesn’t mean that part of you will go away.

This point is one of the beauties of the East of Eden book — seeing the characters holding on to their true nature till the end or, as we notice in Cal — consciously choosing a different path. 

Many of us may have yet to have that opportunity in real life.

If you are still wondering if East of Eden is a good book, you should stop and get a copy already.

#5. You are consciously choosing who you want to become

You hurt your brother today. Tomorrow, you burn down a house. The day after, you rob someone on the road. These are thought-out actions, a reflection of who you will eventually become. 

It could be the other way around. Today, you leave a gift for someone without telling them you are the one. Next, you show empathy to your stepmother, and the next. Finally, you write letters to your brother weekly even though they don’t write back. 

You are consciously becoming the person you want to be. 

#6. Many of us are just replicas of our forefathers or mothers, but we are another generation, and time

In this book, we see a similar sibling rivalry — Cal Vs. Aaron and Adam Vs. Charles. 

We started with Adam and Charles. Many years later, we read about their kids and can’t help but notice how Cal and Aaron have similar characteristics and behaviors as Adam and Charles.

If we all could watch the lives of our fathers, grandmothers, or great-grandmothers closely through their lives, we would see that we have a lot of similarities with them. It’s like they all came back in different times and generations through their kids. (Yeah, East of Eden got me thinking that way.)

#7. Our personality and beliefs can make it difficult for us to understand others

People like Aaron find it hard to deal with the reality of life. They struggle to understand why people are cruel, angry, or fighting. 

As a boy, I struggled to understand why people would put a gun on another man’s head and ask them to let go of what clearly belonged to them. 

In this book (and in real life), we see this happen many times. For example, we see other characters looking at different characters and asking questions, like why are they that way?

Adam: Why is my stepmother so calm and forgiving and so helpless in her marriage?

Cathy: Why is Adam so calm and easy to fool and wouldn’t listen despite how often I showed him I didn’t care?

Aaron: Why did our mother choose to be like that?

So why is East of Eden a good book?

For one, it’s literary fiction. It doesn’t belong to one genre. It portrays life as it is.

But that’s me. I love fiction that covers all the intricacies of life —- marriage, work, given birth, identity, fate, parenting — you name it. East of Eden covers all of these things in many directions and dimensions. For instance, if we look at ‘sibling relationships.’ It covers Adam and Charles Trask’s relationship — different mothers, the same father, and fighting about who has their father’s love. Then, in another generation and the later part of the book, we read about another sibling relationship, Aaron and Cal — the same mother, but the mother is on the loose. We are not even sure if their birth father is raising them. 

So why is East of Eden a good book? The simple is that it uniquely covers the complexities of life and shows different sides of the same topic without boring you.

John Steinbeck wrote other great books such as Of Mice and Men and The Grapes of Wrath.

If you like romantic suspense books, you can buy my book The Devil’s Ex-fiancee. Read an Excerpt here.

Further readings: