Study Guide

East of Eden Chapter 21

By John Steinbeck

Chapter 21


  • Kate is in no hurry, and she takes her sweet time with her master plan.
  • First she tricks the cook into thinking that he told one of the other girls about how he witnessed the will. Then all the girls are asking about it, so they go to Faye and she shows it to them.
  • Then Kate falls sick, but tries to hide it from Faye. But the girls find out about it and send for a doctor, who prescribes Kate some pills for a kidney flushing. When it flares up again, she offers to go to the doctor to get more.


  • Dr. Wilde maintains his own drug dispensary. Kate gets there before his office hours.
  • At 9:30 that morning Dr. Wilde comes in, bleary-eyed and tired because he had been attending to the death of an old woman. When he tries to unlock his office door the key won't turn.
  • The door opens from the inside and Kate is standing there. She tells him that she came early to wait and found the door unlocked. Dr. Wilde finds nothing weird about this.
  • He gets Kate her pills from his dispensary while she tells him that Faye has been having health problems. She leaves, and in the outer office she pushes back a book that is out of line in the bookshelf.
  • When she gets home she dumps out five small bottles and a scribbled-on piece of paper.


  • Things start to change at Faye's. At first everyone is in a bad mood, but then Kate starts to do little things that make them all happy. In fact, they are beyond happy—everything is clean and wonderful and everyone is grand and business is great.
  • But Faye is depressed after her illness. She is a little wary of Kate and suggests that they both go to Europe the following summer. Kate agrees.
  • Kate also has a suggestion: Why doesn't the house save money on food by preserving it themselves? It was the cook's suggestion—or at least, he thought it was.
  • Fay is so impressed by all the things Kate does.


  • While Kate is preparing Faye's medicine, she slips out to the kitchen and puts in a few drops of nux vomica, a poison.
  • At dinner Faye's face is all flushed, and she says that she suddenly feels her heart pounding; that night Faye doesn't feel very good.
  • The next day Kate makes Faye some soup and string bean salad, and she puts some different drugs in the food while preparing it.
  • During the meal Kate doubles up in pain. Soon Faye feels it too. When Dr. Wilde comes he attributes it to botulism in the home-canned string beans.
  • Both women are seriously affected, but Faye is clearly dying and Dr. Wilde tells Kate that she's nearing the end.
  • While Kate is in Faye's room bathing her, she gives her some warm milk and something from two little bottles in her pocket. Then Kate goes outside and buries some bottles and an eyedropper.
  • After Faye dies, Kate has to be held down for fear of hurting herself. Afterwards she gets depressed and forgets all about the will until one of the girls conveniently brings it up.