I finished reading “East of Eden” by John Steinbeck today. It’s the first time I’ve read the book and it was a deeply moving experience. Isn’t it C.S. Lewis who said that it’s a bad book if it doesn’t have bad characters in it? “East of Eden” has nothing but bad characters. It has characters who are aware of the snaking and living roots of good and evil and the consequences of living with our physical and spiritual heritage.
It’s no secret that the book is based on the history of Cain and Abel from the Bible. I wondered if there would be a murder and if I’d feel sorry for Cain. It seems plain in the Bible that Cain, Esau, and the prodigal son’s brother are not meant to gain our sympathies but I confess that I was used to pity those three. After studying the parable of the prodigal son, I no longer feel sorry for the son that stayed home and didn’t seem to be loved by his father. And I get why Cain and Esau were punished and did not have reconciled relationships with God. But, Esau’s cry of “Bless me, even me also, O my father!” is, nonetheless,terrible to read.
Cain/Cal Trask was a thorough mix of good and evil, and just about the only character that Steinbeck allowed to struggle with active awareness against his sin nature. He was one of only two characters that I truly liked. Cal Trask has no excuse, although his reasons are understandable. However, that only partly explains why I pitied the destructive Cal Trask. It’s hard to help it when you have some Cain in you.