es way in which Cain fought with Abel
es East Eden EssaysReligious References in East of Eden
Religion constantly appears throughout Steinbeck’s East of Eden. Among these religious appearances are the similarities between the Cain and Abel story and the characters, the Hebrew word timshel, and the presence of God/Fate in the novel.
First, East of Eden is a reenactment of the Cain and Abel tale. Many similarities are seen between the two. The title East of Eden comes from the biblical tale when ” ‘Cain went out from the presence of the Lord and dwelt in the land of Nod on the east of Eden’ ” (Steinbeck 352). The relationship between Abel and Cain, who killed Abel, is similar to those of Adam and Charles, who once tried to kill Adam, and Aron and Caleb, who informed Aron of their mother’s profession, an act which led to Aron’s death in World War I. Charles and Caleb fight for their fathers’ affections in the same way in which Cain fought with Abel over the Lord’s attention. Also in the novel, “the Cain characters … are identified by names beginning with “C” (Cyrus, Charles, Cathy, Caleb) and the Abel characters … with “A” (Alice, Adam, Aron, Abra)” (Lisca 269).
Next is the word timshel– thou mayest– a Hebrew word spoken to Cain by the Lord: ” ‘if thou doest not well, sin lieth at the door. And unto thee shall be his desire, and thou shalt rule over him’ ” (Steinbeck 351). Lee discovers that the verb in this passage has been translated as both thou shalt rule over evil and do thou rule over evil.With the help of his Chinese elders and a Jewish Rabbi, Lee determines that the original meaning is thou mayest–
“the word timshel … gives a choice” (398) or free will to mankind to commit good or evil acts. This word appears often in the novel and is important at the very end where Adam’s final timshel blesses and forgives Caleb and reminds him that even after his “murder of his brother … he can still choose his course and fight it through and win”, meaning Caleb still has the chance to overcome the tendency for evil which he believes he has inherited form his mother. (Gribben 96)
One of the novel’s epiphanies is Lee’s translation of timshel to thou mayest. This translation puts choice into man’s destiny. According to this view, we are not condemned; we have a choice between good and evil. It is a very liberating concept– as Lee and Samuel discover. Lee’s translation of timshel as thou mayest, gives people hope that everyone is not corrupted because they are descended from Adam and Eve. Timshel explains that everyone has a choice to be either good or evil.
There are many lengthy descriptions of the land which describe nature, created by God, in its harshness and its beauty. Especially in Salinas Valley is the whim of God/Fate seen when the fruitful and prosperous seasons turn into desolate periods in which the water dries up, vegetation dies, and animals starve. Then there is Samuel Hamilton’s wife Liza, who has “a dour Presbyterian mind and a code of morals that … beat the brains out of nearly everything pleasant do to” (Steinbeck 11). She strongly believes in God and reads the Bible every night, her belief in God and Heaven so unyielding that she thinks everything she does in life is just a “stage on the way to Heaven” (384).
Through references to religion, Steinbeck draws similarities between Cain and Abel and his own characters, puts a powerful impact in the final scene with the word timshel, and stresses the power of God/Fate over the existence of everyone.