1. 4.Identifying “East of Eden”: Language and Symbols in Steinbeck

4.Identifying “East of Eden”: Language and Symbols in Steinbeck

Randy Kay Checketts 秋田経済法科大学


John Steinbeck was very interested in the control that religion can have over the minds of men and women. So in East of Eden he analyzed “morality” (in western thought) by viewing the present and historical fallout created by believers of the Judeo-Christian “creation” myth found in the Old Testament of the Bible. But he calls his novel “the story of my county (not “country”, author) and the story of me”, thereby personalizing a (biblical) drama that has had far-reaching implications in the history of western man. He once intended to call his novel Cain Sign, stressing an association with the theme of “good and evil” found in the Garden of Eden/Adam and Eve/Cain and Abel chronicle.

In part, this presentation will address the issue of how to consider what is meant by the terms “east” and “Eden”. It will be shown how these terms are confusing when used together. Steinbeck may have been aware of the confusion; indeed he may also have been confused, having been born in America where, certainly, many ideas (especially those regarding the Bible) are given an innate, sacrosanct value (especially in religious circles).

But when one scrutinizes the biblical version of the Cain and Abel story in relation to the Garden of Eden fable, many interesting word associations and meanings emerge. For example, after Cain killed his brother he was expelled from Eden and banished to the “Land of Nod” (again, in the “east”). What does this mean? What did it mean to Steinbeck when he, at one time, stated “Surely Salinas (his birthplace, author) is “’East’ of Eden”? And then after his banishment from Eden, Cain was “protected” from harm and death. Why? These and other ideas surely inspired Steinbeck who, himself, was the father of two boys. We may thus be encouraged to believe that the meaning of words and terms that the writer used in the novel have significance. This will also be considered in the presentation.

The writer has said that he had been writing on this novel all of his life, and yet he called it his “first book”. He also stated that the book was his “magnum opus.” At one time he wrote “I’ve been practicing for a book for 35 years and this is it.” By studying the words used in both the title and in the text of the novel we can begin to understand how the writer perceived the greatest story that has plagued the western mind since time immemorial.