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Free Study Guide-East of Eden by John Steinbeck-Free Booknotes Summary
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Adam Trask

Sheriff Quinn calls Adam a man of such honesty that he cannot conceive of anything but goodness and truth. For that reason, Adam cannot understand evil or corruption and cannot fathom the likes of Charles or Cathy. When he is forced to look evil in the face, he literally becomes sick or depressed, as when Cathy shoots him and leaves and when Aaron is killed in the war.

Because Adam is so good himself, he naturally favors Aaron, the light-headed twin who is the picture of goodness, over Caleb, the dark, secretive twin. He is especially proud of Aaron for going to college and studying to be a minister. He challenges Cal to be as good a person as his brother.

Ironically, Aaron turns against Adam when he finds out that he has lied. When he learns the truth about his mother, Aaron is totally crushed about what she is; more importantly, he is crushed that his father has perpetuated a lie about her throughout his life. Aaron is incapable of understanding that Adam has lied to protect his children.

Lee, the kind servant, is a constant testimony of Adamís honesty and goodness. He repeatedly tells both Aaron and Caleb that their father is very special and can be totally trusted. Even though Lee counsels Adam to tell the boys the truth about their mother, he does not lose respect for him when he refuses; Lee understands that Adam is trying to do what he thinks is best for his sons. When Lee counsels Adam against giving Cathy half of Charlesí fortune, he knows that Adam is incapable of doing anything other than what the will says. If his brother intended his money to go to her, Adam will make certain that she gets her fair share.

Adam has little sense of the importance of material possessions. When he inherits the money from his father, he has no desire to hold it tightly. He would willingly spend it all on traveling. When he loses the money on the lettuce venture, he feels little disappointment. Even though his sons were crushed by the shame of the loss, Adam merely thought of it as an interesting proposition that had failed. Although the lettuce failure left him in a weak financial position, he did not act to make more money, for he was simply not concerned about wealth. When Cal gives him $15,000, Adam refuses to take it, for he feels it was not earned in an honorable way.


Adam is clearly an Abel figure from the Cain and Abel story. He is the one who gave his father a puppy -- a worthy gift in Cyrusí mind. He is also the one who incurs his brotherís jealousy. Charles, like Cain, tries to strike out at the goodness of his brother. He sleeps with Adamís wife on his wedding night and wills to Cathy/Kate half of his fortune.

Adamís only flaw is his inability to face the truth. Adam is so attached to the ideal that he ignores the real. Catherine tells him over and over that she does not want to go to California, yet he is convinced that she really does want to go since he wants her to be there. In California, she says over and over that she does not want to stay with him, but he does not hear her. He assumes she will settle into a life he creates for her. Unfortunately, his inability to face the truth blinds him to evil and sets him up for failure. He never fully accepts the reality of Cathy and even calls her a "poor darling" when he hears she has committed suicide. Adam is also blind about his sons. He sees Aaron as totally good and constantly challenges Caleb to try and live up to his brother. He does not see his favoritism as an imitation of what Cyrus had done to him and Charles. Once again, he is blinded by the truth. Even when Aaron tells Adam that he is going to quit college, Adam ignores his words and pushes his idealized vision onto his son.

In the end, Adam overcomes all of his weaknesses and flaws when he is willing to give Caleb the blessing that he has sought throughout his life. It is the ultimate act of generosity and goodness.

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