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Free Study Guide-East of Eden by John Steinbeck-Free Booknotes Summary
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Chapter 36

Summary

Part 1

Aaron and Cal enrolled in the West End School in Salinas. They were placed in the seventh grade because of their age. Cal told Aaron during the first week that they should practice a technique to deal with the teacher calling on them. If they studied very hard the first week and did not raise their hands, the teacher would call on them, and they would always have the right answers. In the second week, they would not waste their time studying, but they would raise their hands to answer all the questions. The teacher, thinking they knew the answers, would not call on them. After that, the teacher would leave them alone. The strategy worked, but it was unnecessary since the boys learned easily and were quickly recognized as intelligent and good students.

Everyone remarked on the difference between the twins. Cal was dark, and Aaron was light. Cal was self-assured, quick, clever, and secretive, concealing both his ingenuity and his hurts. He frightened the adults and bullied his way into leadership on the schoolyard. Aaron was determined, steady, straightforward, and fearless. Everyone trusted and loved him. Cal also succeeded in keeping Aaron off balance by constantly changing direction.

Part 2

On his first day of school, Aaron looked for Abra. When he spied her after school, he followed her home. When she acknowledged his presence, he told her he wanted to marry her in the future and asked if she was engaged to anyone. She responded by leading him to a hiding place, a house of leaves. Abra said they could practice being married there. Aaron asked her if she would also pretend to be his mother. She agreed and told him to lay his head in her lap. When she comforted him, he started crying, which made him feel better.


Abra asked him about his mother. Aaron said he knew nothing about her, not even what she looked like. She then asked if he had any secrets. When he said he did, she told him to tell her one of them. When Aaron got angry and said he would never tell a secret, Abra said she was just testing him. She then told Aaron she would tell him a secret. She said the day her family had visited them in the country, she had overheard her parents talking while they were riding back home. They said that Aaron’s mother was still alive and had just gone away. When Aaron insisted that his mother was dead, Abra said it would be nicer if she were alive. Before leaving, Abra gave Aaron a kiss.

Part 3

Feeling confused, Aaron stayed in the hiding place for awhile and thought of all that had happened between him and Abra. He wondered what it would be like to have a mother and hoped that Abra’s secret was true. Then, however, he realized that if his mother were alive, his father and Lee would be liars. He decided his mother had to be dead.

Notes

Both Cal and Aaron prove themselves to be good students at the West End School in Salinas; but their differences are also apparent to both teachers and students. Cal tries to do as little work as possible. He plans, schemes, and manipulates his way out of things. He also bullies his way into leadership on the schoolyard. Everyone seems to be a bit frightened of this dark, secretive, and clever boy. In contrast to Cal, Aaron is light in color and personality. He is hardworking, straightforward, predictable, and steady. Everyone loves and trusts Aaron. Even Abra, who threw out the box fearing that Aaron had put a snake inside, invites Aaron to go to her secret hiding place, where they can practice being married. She also tells him that she has heard that his mother is alive, but swears him to secrecy about the information.

Steinbeck is carefully unfolding the plot to the point when Aaron will actually know for sure that his mother is alive. In this chapter he is already struggling over the issue. Although he hopes his mother is not dead, Aaron also realizes that if Abra’s secret is truthful, then Adam and Lee are liars. This thought greatly troubles Aaron. Since he sees things as black or white, he will never be able to understand the morally complex notion that his father lied as a way to protect the twins from emotional hurt.

Steinbeck draws Aaron’s motherlessness with great poignancy. When Abra holds Aaron in her lap and comforts him as if she were a mother, Aaron weeps. The crying is cathartic for him; it is a step on his way to wholeness.

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