In East of Eden, John Steinbeck explores manâ€™s role in the battle of good versus evil. The story of the Trask family strongly mirrors the story of Cain and Abel in the Bible. Steinbeck questions throughout the novel whether or not the descendants of the Trask family, particularly Adamâ€™s son Cal, can escape the pattern. Steinbeck expresses his opinion through Adamâ€™s insightful Chinese servant, Lee. After much research, Lee tells Samuel Hamilton and Adam Trask:
Donâ€™t you see? The American Standard translation orders men to triumph over sin, and you call sin ignorance. The King James translation makes a promise in â€œThou shalt,â€ meaning that men will surely triumph over sin. But the Hebrew word, the word timshel --â€œThou mayestâ€ â€“ that gives a choice. It might be the most important word in the world. That says the way is open. That throws it right back on a man. For if â€œThou mayestâ€ â€“ it is also true that â€œThou mayest not.â€ Donâ€™t you see?
In this passage, Steinbeck explores manâ€™s role in the central theme of the novel, the battle between good and evil.
Leeâ€™s thoughts about the story of Cain and Abel contribute greatly to both the plot and the theme of the novel. His studies of the Hebrew word timshel provide hope to Adamâ€™s son Cal that he will be able to break the chain of the Trask family. It also foreshadows Cal success in completing the task. As far as theme is concerned, Leeâ€™s studies of the word timshel show that man can affect the battle between good and evil by his choice.
Steinbeck discovered through the novel the importance of choice in every man. Leeâ€™s exploration of the Hebrew word timshel shows that man can truly affect his life. The one flaw in East of Eden, as most critics agree, is Cathy. Steinbeck describes Cathy as being born evil, so she did not have a choice.