Study Guide

East of Eden Chapter 15

By John Steinbeck

Chapter 15


  • Adam sets about building his little piece of paradise. He spares no expense, plans on refitting the original house, and wants everything done slowly and perfectly because he envisions that his family will be permanently established there.
  • Adam isn't unique in this either, and people all over are looking forward to better futures. Everyone has all these optimistic visions of how—maybe even in their lifetime—there will be railroads everywhere, nice roads, and maybe even refrigeration.
  • Samuel Hamilton wonders if all these great things will really bring anybody happiness.
  • Adam is really darn happy with his situation and with Cathy, but Cathy is lying in wait. She didn't want her pregnancy, and she is simply waiting it out because she has to. She plays the game and pretends to be interested when Adam talks about the land.
  • In addition, she is suspicious of Lee, their Chinese cook, because
    she can't read his desires.


  • Summer comes along and Adam worries about water because, being from the East, he has never experienced a dry California summer. So he sends Lee to bring Samuel over.
  • On the way, Lee and Samuel get to talking. When Samuel asks Lee how he can have such a strong accent even though he was born in the United States, Lee stops talking in pidgin and speaks impeccable English. He says that he speaks in pidgin because it is expected of him, and that people wouldn't understand a Chinese person speaking to them in perfect English.
  • Unlike Samuel, who though he was born in Ireland can be recognized as an American after a few years of living there, Lee will always be seen as a foreigner even though he went to the University of California. But in China he is just as much a foreigner too, so it just sucks to be him.
  • Samuel then asks why Lee is content to be a servant. Lee answers that despite the reputation of a servant, it is a cushy and easy job with a lot of perks.
  • As they near the Trask place, Lee takes up the pidgin again.


  • Samuel and Adam ride over Adam's land and talk about the soil and planting trees and whatnot. Adam dreams of planting alfalfa and raising cows.
  • Samuel uses a divining rod to look for water; there appears to be a good deal of it on Adam's land.
  • Adam wants wells, he wants them immediately, and he is willing to pay for them. So it looks like Samuel is hired.
  • Adam wants his Eden now that he has an Eve. He tells Samuel the story of his life: his fearful relationship with Cyrus, his time killing Indians, his farm, his brother, and Cathy.
  • Adam glorifies Cathy as the best thing to ever happen to him, and Samuel recognizes Adam's feeling of blind adoration. He warns Adam that as a good friend, he should show Adam that all of his dreams about a perfect life with Cathy are false and that he should go back to his old life and be glad about it. The same thing happened to Samuel once.
  • But instead the two men go back to the house for dinner. Samuel sees Cathy from afar and comments on how beautiful she is.


  • It's an awkward dinner, and Samuel realizes that he is speaking so much because he is afraid of the silence that will ensue if he doesn't.
  • Samuel shivers when he looks at the coldness in Cathy's eyes, and tries to brush it off by joking about a goose walking over his grave.
  • But he feels tense around Cathy's silence. He looks at the way Adam stares lovingly at her and realizes that Adam does not notice it at all. 
  • Something is wrong about the whole thing.
  • Samuel eventually gives up when he realizes that neither Adam nor Cathy are listening to anything he says; he excuses himself and shivers again.
  • On his way out he meets Lee, who asks when he is coming back. Samuel answers in a week or so, and then asks about what the heck just happened at dinner. Lee claims a servant's ignorance, but before Samuel leaves, he asks offhand if he happens to need a new cook.


  • Back with Adam and Cathy, Adam talks about hiring Samuel as a superintendent and about how great the land is going to be.
  • Cathy tells Adam that she doesn't want to be there and that she is going to leave as soon as she can, but Adam laughs at her silliness and tells her that she is homesick. She'll love it after the baby is born, he promises.