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The main theme of the novel is stated directly at the opening of Part IV. It is the battle between good and evil. The narrator believes this conflict is the basis of every good story ever written. It is wonderfully illustrated in the Cain and Abel story, which becomes the basis of the novel. For two generations, the Trask family was divided between Cains and Abels. Adam was clearly an Abel, good to the core; in contrast, Charles, his jealous brother, was a Cain figure. Adamís twins also took on characteristics of good and evil. Aaron, the fair-haired child, was considered the good son through most of the novel. He was his fatherís favorite and Abraís true love. The dark Cal, on the other hand, was jealous and mean; he also believed throughout most of the novel that he was incapable of goodness. Ironically, by the end of the novel, Cal became a good son and received his fatherís blessings. Through the teachings of Lee, Cal had learned that he had the freedom to choose goodness over evil. Cathy (alias Kate) also had that freedom of choice, but she always made the wrong decision and remained the totally evil character throughout the novel.
The minor theme of the novel is that mankind enjoys reflecting on the past with nostalgia but looks with hope to the future. The glory of the past is represented in the character of Samuel Hamilton, who embodies the ingenuity, philosophy, and warm spirit of a former age. The future is represented by the children of Samuel Hamilton and their interest in business and technological advances. At the end of the novel, Cal stands as the hope of the future for the Trask family. He has already proven his ability as a businessman and his capability of choosing goodness over evil.
The main mood of the novel is dark and somber as the variations on the Cain and Abel story unfold. Kate, in particular, deepens the darkness, as she burns her parents to death, shoots Adam, becomes a prostitute, kills Faye, plots to kill Ethel, and finally commits suicide. Cal also stoops to a level of darkness when he takes Aaron to Kateís house of prostitution and forces him to face the truth about their mother.
The mood of the novel is also nostalgic towards the past and hopeful of the future. This mood is greatly influenced by the position of the narrator. He was a young boy when the events of the novel took place and is, therefore, remembering an idealized childhood. He writes of the heroes of his familyís folklore, especially his maternal grandfather, Samuel Hamilton. He also talks about the great technological advances that he has seen reshaping the west.