The Great Divide Essay

1328 words - 6 pages

John Steinbeck’s, East of Eden, is set in the Salinas Valley, a secluded area of Northern California. The Salinas River runs through this beautiful, yet unforgiving land and provides fertility to the dry land. While the valley has a rich geographical history spanning from sea, to forest, and then to the present day valley, it is a difficult destination to find prosperity. Two dramatic mountain ranges form the landscape of the valley that the author uses to exemplify the idea of good and evil. This theme is further outlined by the strong personalities of characters Cathy, Aron, and Cal. Cathy and Aron have opposing dispositions, similarly to Steinbeck’s descriptions of the Santa Lucias and the Gabilan mountains. In between the two peaks is the valley, where both good and evil preside. Cal’s personality mirrors this setting as he struggles internally between being good and evil for most of his life. Steinbeck’s emphasis on dramatic setting correlates directly to the personalities of the main characters in order to outline the theme of conflict between good and evil in East of Eden.
Evilness and its conflict with goodness in East of Eden is emphasized in setting by the Santa Lucia Mountains and in character by Cathy Ames. The mountains provoke a sense of fright and terror in Steinbeck as he remarks, “The Santa Lucias stood up against the sky to the west and kept the valley from the open sea, and they were dark and brooding-- unfriendly and dangerous… I always found myself a dread of the west” (Steinbeck 3). The author uses words like “dark”, “brooding” and “dangerous” to acknowledge his fear and hatred towards the Santa Lucias that form the western barrier of the Salinas Valley. Cathy Ames’s evil nature parallels that of the setting. She is purely evil in every sense and has no regards for the value of human life. Steinbeck describes this woman as a monster, exclaiming, “I believe there are monsters born in the world to human parents… It is my belief that Cathy Ames was born with the tendencies, or lack of them, which drove and forced her all of her life… Using her difference, make a painful and bewildering stir in her world” (Steinbeck 71-72). Her monstrous personality drives her to almost murder her unborn sons, leave her husband and two babies, and start a brothel where she openly manipulates men with sex in cruel ways for the rest of her life. Steinbeck describes this woman as someone who is innately malicious and lives to makes those around her miserable. Throughout the novel Cathy transforms into a devilish character. Her malicious nature is a direct reflection of the sinister Santa Lucias. Together the setting and the characterization remarks on the evil portion of the theme.
In contrast, the conflict between good and evil is highlighted through the pure nature of the Gabilan Mountains and Aron Trask because they represent goodness in East of Eden. When Steinbeck first introduces the setting, he speaks fondly of the Salinas Valley, in...

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