Study Guide

East of Eden Chapter 14

By John Steinbeck

Chapter 14


  • Tangent alert. In those days, the country schools were the center of social life in the towns, and the teacher was a hot commodity.
  • Samuel's daughters were classy and well-educated gals, and Olive Hamilton became a teacher. It was a darn difficult job that required her to deal with all levels and ages at once. She had to run pretty much everything, and she was constantly getting marriage proposals too.
  • But Olive, wanting to live in town, eventually married a rich mill owner in King City.
  • Oh, and also in those days, people were mistrustful of education. They thought that you needed just enough education to get by, but too much and you would get too big for your bootstraps.
  • Olive's theology was all over the place, and she dealt with life by refusing to believe in anything that might be irreconcilable or frustrating.
  • She also did things to cover all her bases like, when our narrator contracted pneumonia at age sixteen, go to all the denominations—Episcopalian, Catholic, Christian Science—to have them pray for her son.
  • And for Olive, debt was the worst thing in the world, which meant that her family was always lagging behind their neighbors when it came to getting new household gadgets.


  • But for all her oddities Olive was also courageous.
  • At first, when World War One breaks out, Olive refuses to really believe in it because it is too far away to concern her.
  • But then when their neighbor Martin Hopps is killed in the war, Olive makes it her mission to personally avenge his death by selling Liberty bonds.
  • She does such a good job at it that she wins the prize of a ride in an army airplane.
  • Olive doesn't quite believe in airplanes either, but she can't say no, so she makes her will and prepares to die in a horrible plane crash.
  • So they all go to the racetrack and Olive gets suited and goggled up. The plane takes off, and not only does it fly around, but it also does a ton of crazy loops and tricks.
  • After the plane lands, the pilot gets out and shakes his head at Olive's nerve.
  • Olive, though, is rigid and stays in bed for two days. Eventually it comes out that while up in the air the pilot had asked Olive as a joke if she wanted him to do a stunt. Over the noise Olive had just heard stuck, and she had automatically assumed that something was wrong and that they were going to die. So she tried to be brave for the pilot's sake and just kept smiling and nodding her head so that he would be brave, too. 
  • Every time he asked if she wanted more, she would just nod.