East of Eden
Why East of Eden and Mt. Rose
John Steinbeck is one of my favorite writers and East of Eden is my favorite Steinbeck book. It is only appropriate that while hiking in the Sierras of Northern California, I select a book by this great American writer who centered so many of his stories in California, especially the Salinas Valley area. This is a sprawling novel that deals with the complexities and heartbreak of two families. I think it clearly is an example of what one would consider to be the great American novel. This was a pick in Oprah’s book club so you know it’s good. The 1955 Elia Kazan movie starring James Dean is also a remarkable film which really showcases the great talent Dean had as an actor.
More About East of Eden
In his journal, Nobel Prize winner John Steinbeck called East of Eden “the first book,” and indeed it has the primordial power and simplicity of myth. Set in the rich farmland of California’s Salinas Valley, this sprawling and often brutal novel follows the intertwined destinies of two families—the Trasks and the Hamiltons—whose generations helplessly reenact the fall of Adam and Eve and the poisonous rivalry of Cain and Abel. Steinbeck considered this book his magnum opus.
The masterpiece of Steinbeck’s later years (published in 1952), East of Eden is a work in which Steinbeck created his most mesmerizing characters and explored his most enduring themes: the mystery of identity, the inexplicability of love, and the murderous consequences of love’s absence. Adapted for the 1955 film directed by Elia Kazan introducing James Dean and read by thousands as the book that brought Oprah’s Book Club back, East of Eden has remained vitally present in American culture for over half a century.
The book explores themes of depravity, beneficence, love, and the struggle for acceptance, greatness, and the capacity for self-destruction and especially of guilt and freedom. It ties these themes together with references to and many parallels with the biblical Book of Genesis (especially Genesis Chapter 4, the story of Cain and Abel). The title, East of Eden, was chosen by Steinbeck from Genesis, Chapter 4, verse 16: “And Cain went out from the presence of the Lord, and dwelt in the Land of Nod, on the east of Eden” (King James Version).
East of Eden became an instant bestseller in November 1952, a month after it was released, and is now considered one of Steinbeck’s finest achievements. About 50,000 copies of the novel are sold each year, yet its popularity skyrocketed once again in 2003 after being named Oprah’s Book Club pick.
John Ernst Steinbeck, Jr. (February 27, 1902 – December 20, 1968) was an American author of 27 books, including 16 novels, six non-fiction books, and five collections of short stories. He is widely known for the comic novels Tortilla Flat (1935) and Cannery Row (1945), the multi-generation epic East of Eden (1952), and the novellas Of Mice and Men (1937) and The Red Pony (1937). The Pulitzer Prize-winning The Grapes of Wrath (1939).
The winner of the 1962 Nobel Prize in Literature, he has been called “a giant of American letters”. His works are widely read abroad and many of his works are considered classics of Western literature.
Most of Steinbeck’s work is set in southern and central California, particularly in the Salinas Valley and the California Coast Ranges region. His works frequently explored the themes of fate and injustice, especially as applied to downtrodden or everyman protagonists.