Study Guide

East of Eden Love

By John Steinbeck

Love

"Maybe if I had loved him I would have been jealous of him. You were. Maybe—maybe love makes you suspicious and doubting. Is it true that when you love a woman you are never sure—never sure of her because you aren't sure of yourself? I can see it pretty clearly. I can see how you loved him and what it did to you. I did not love him. Maybe he loved me. He tested me and hurt me and punished me and finally he sent me out like a sacrifice, maybe to make up for something. But he did not love you, and so he had faith in you." (7.3.177)

Welcome to Opposite World, where nothing makes sense. Seriously, trying to figure out love makes our brain hurt. Okay, so Adam didn't love Cyrus; but Cyrus loved Adam and therefore paid more attention to him, which for Adam was a negative thing. Cyrus didn't love Charles, but that meant that he could rely on him because he didn't care what he did. And finally, Charles loved Cyrus, which made him doubt himself when that love wasn't returned. Now things are starting to become clearer—namely, that love triangles are the worst.

"I can't understand why a girl like you—" he began, and fell right into the oldest conviction in the world—that the girl you are in love with can't possibly be anything but true and honest. (9.1.11)

This is going to be a theme in this book: men thinking that their beloved lady-friend is the purest of pure virgins, even though all signs say otherwise. Mr. Edwards is just the first in a long line—actually, that line just includes Adam and Aron. Still though, Steinbeck calls it the oldest conviction in the world for a reason—he means that people have been making this mistake for a long time, and presumably, they are going to keep on making it.

Perhaps Adam did not see Cathy at all, so lighted was she by his eyes. Burned in his mind was an image of beauty and tenderness, a sweet and holy girl, precious beyond thinking, clean and loving, and that image was Cathy to her husband, and nothing Cathy did or said could warp Adam's Cathy. (13.2.4)

Here is a question for the ages: If love makes you see what you want to see, then what do you fall in love with to begin with? Was it Cathy's (fake) stunning personality? Was it her looks? Was it good ole' sex? Or was Adam just happy not to be alone in Eden anymore? Remember, this story is an allegory, which means that Adam has to behave similarly to how the biblical Adam would. And it looks like, to Adam Trask, Cathy is (almost literally) the only woman for him in the world—in spite of, you know, everything about her.

"The greatest terror a child can have is that he is not loved, and rejection is the hell he fears. I think everyone in the world to a large or small extent has felt rejection. And with rejection comes anger, and with anger some kind of crime in revenge for the rejection, and with the crime guilt—and there is the story of mankind." (22.4.64)

Well Lee, thank you for your Jedi wisdom. But this is a pretty pessimistic view of things, don't you think? Sure, rejection is a deeply embedded human fear, and it leads to a whole host of other issues, but to call it the story of mankind? That kind of implies that it's pretty miserable to be human. But we think that what Lee is really getting at is this: behind every crime of jealousy is the simple fear of not being loved. Everybody understands this fear, even if they don't think about it. So it's really not about hate, but about love. Duh.

"Do you know, I loved you better than anything in the world? I did. It was so strong that it took quite the killing." (25.3.170)

Contrast what Adam says to Kate here with how he was idealizing her earlier. Before, his head was totally in the clouds with all his you'll-love-it-in-California talk and not actually listening to what she was saying. Now though, it's like Adam sees things as they are for the first time. He sounds grounded and down-to-earth, like all the love has been leeched out of him (or shot, as it were). Also note that he uses the past tense: loved instead of love. Meaning he doesn't love Kate anymore. Things look different without love-goggles on, don't they?

A pain pierced Cal's heart. His planning suddenly seemed mean and dirty to him. He knew that his brother had found him out. And he felt a longing for Aron to love him. He felt lost and hungry and he didn't know what to do. (30.1.79)

Occasionally Cal will get some perspective and realize what he really wants, which is just a little bit of love and recognition. But most of the time, he's too busy trying to take Aron (and anyone who likes Aron) down a notch. We're talking motivations here, and usually motivations aren't obvious—sometimes they're even counterintuitive. After all, it doesn't make a whole lot of sense to be mean to someone who you actually want to love you.

In uncertainty I am certain that underneath their topmost layers of frailty men want to be good and want to be loved. Indeed, most of their vices are attempted short cuts to love. (34.1.10)

Let's think about the short cuts to love bit. What comes to mind for us is Cal's attempt to buy Adam's love by giving him fifteen thousand dollars. While we can totally get behind the idea that money can't buy love, we're not entirely sure what Cal could do differently to gain Adam's affection. If your dad's withholding his love from you, and you try to buy it from him, are you really taking a short cut if you never reach your goal? What do you think?

The poison of loneliness and the gnawing envy of the unlonely had gone out of him, and his person was clean and sweet, and he knew it was. He dredged up an old hatred to test himself, and he found the hatred gone. He wanted to serve his father, to give him some great gift, to perform some huge good task in honor of his father. (39.1.108)

Does this sound like Cal to you? When Cal momentarily has his father's affection, he becomes transformed into a completely different person. Love is like a super-medicine here—it's no wonder he would do anything for it.

[…] well, of Abra he made his immaculate dream and, having created her, fell in love with her. (47. 3.3)

We feel pretty bad for Abra and the ridiculous standard Aron has set for her. It's a lot easier for a not-so-clever person like Aron to just make up the perfect girlfriend who doesn't have any pesky ambiguities or imperfections. Remember, Aron doesn't do ambiguities very well; it's either all good or all bad with him. Oh—and he's doing the same thing his father did with Cathy. We're just saying.

"Why am I giving the money to my father? Is it for his good? No. It's for my good. Will Hamilton said it—I'm trying to buy him. There's not one decent thing about it. There's not one decent thing about me." (49.2.62)

You know how they say that there is no such thing as a selfless good deed? We haven't found one yet either. Yet despite Cal's motivations, we can see from this passage that he is trying really hard to be genuinely good and loving. Cal knows that he has taken the "easy" route in his attempts to win over his father, but all other roads seem to be blocked off. How are you supposed to just conjure up love in a person? The point is that you can't. So the ball is in Cal's court as to how he is going to deal with that rejection of love.