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Free Study Guide-East of Eden by John Steinbeck-Free Booknotes Summary
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OVERALL ANALYSES

CHARACTERS

Samuel Hamilton

Samuel is the patriarch of the Hamilton family and the embodiment of the American spirit, as Steinbeck conceives it. He is a man of all trades from carpentry to blacksmithing to well digging to midwifery. He is also a man of all ideas. He reads in his spare time, being sure to keep his reading from his anti-intellectual and Puritanical wife. Comfortable with emotions, Samuel tends toward the humorous, laughing at himself and playing the comic for others’ amusement, but he can also exercise deeper feelings. When he meets Cathy Trask, he expresses great despair over her inhumanity. He recognizes the problem with Cathy intuitively even before she shows him her true colors when he is helping her give birth to her twins.

Samuel Hamilton is also a highly social person. He recognizes his place in the social world, building friendships with his fellow farmers with his humor and help. He is also a family man. He is tied by blood and duty to his family and recognizes his wife Liza’s superior ability to maintain family cohesion with her strict moral code. He submits to her strict rule and exercises his mercurial spirit on the sly, as if he was a child and she was his mother. He recognizes the importance of intervening when he sees that Adam Trask is sinking into despair to the detriment of his sons. In truth, Samuel is the glue of his community. Everyone knows him and regards him with great admiration and familiarity. Samuel also regards others with the democratic assumption that all people are equal. This element of his character is best brought out in his relationship with Lee. During their first meeting, Samuel asks Lee why he uses pidgin if he has been living in the United States all his life. He brings Lee to trust him by his straightforward questions and unassuming curiosity. Lee begins to become himself around Samuel, finding in him a fellow intellectual and an unwavering friend. Lee considers Samuel to be one of the wisest and finest men he has ever known.

Charles Trask

Charles begins as a simplistic character, an ideologue for the Cain figure and the representative of evil or destruction in the family. He ends with the same mean-spiritedness, for in his will he forces Adam to share his inheritance with Cathy, his ex-wife turned prostitute.


At an early age, Charles realizes that his father does not love him. He tries to win the love of Cyrus by being totally devoted to his father; but Cyrus always loves Adam more. When Charles gives his father a pocketknife as a gift, Cyrus barely acknowledges it; but Cyrus loves the puppy that Adam gives him as a gift. Charles’ response to his father’s unequal love is to develop a jealousy and hatred of Adam. He wants to kill Adam, just as Cain killed Abel.

The complexity of Charles character comes in two aspects. Although he hates Adam, he also loves him and longs to be his friend. Had it not been for Cyrus’ favoritism, the brothers probably would have had a normal sibling relationship. When Cyrus dies, Charles changes. He sinks into the mundane reality of farming and hopes that his brother will return to live with him. Since Charles is a good farmer, the community respects him. When Adam returns and questions his unvarying schedule of work and sleep, Charles tells him if they are to have a good farm they must work hard. He comes across as the stable brother, while Adam seems immature. He wants to spend his inheritance on luxuries and travels and encourages Charles to do the same.

Charles’ evil side appears two more times in the novel, and both instances result from the jealousy he feels for his brother. Charles totally violates Adam’s trust when he allows him to be seduced by Cathy on Adam’s wedding night. He also shows his evil tendency in his will, giving half of his fortune to Cathy Trask.

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