Study Guide

East of Eden Chapter 3

By John Steinbeck

Chapter 3


  • Jump to Connecticut, where Adam is born to a soldier named Cyrus who served just long enough in the Civil War to come home with a missing leg and a bad case of gonorrhea.
  • Cyrus Trask is kind enough to pass said gonorrhea onto his wife, a religious woman who sees everything that happens to her as punishment—even if it means making up sins she hasn't committed. She commits suicide by holding her head under water.
  • But Cyrus doesn't let a little thing like his wife's suicide get him down. Being Father of the Year and all, he gives baby Adam some whiskey so he'll stop crying. Then, wasting no time at all, he marries seventeen-year-old Alice and gets her pregnant.
  • Alice doesn't talk much, which is great for Cyrus because he starts reading up on soldiering matters and makes sure that his family knows all about his military exploits, real and otherwise.
  • Cyrus writes about the military, catches the attention of people in Washington, and runs his farm and his family with a military discipline. He wants his kids to be little soldiers.


  • But at a certain point Adam is having none of it. He sees right through his father and knows that really Cyrus does everything he does because he wants to think of himself as this great amazing man.
  • Not so with Charles, Adam's younger half-brother—he wants to be a mini Cyrus. Oh yeah, and he's the athletic son.
  • Adam is kept in the dark about his mother, but he likes to spy on Alice to catch a glimpse of her smiling. He even leaves her little gifts anonymously, which she never mentions.
  • Adam dreads the day when he will be enlisted in the army, and that day is coming up fast: he is already sixteen.


  • The brothers have affection between them, and Charles is a bit protective, though he can also be kind of mean and jealous.
  • One day the boys are playing a game and Adam actually out-performs his brother for once. Charles's response? To beat up his brother and leave.
  • No one in the family talks about the beating, but Cyrus starts to be a lot nicer towards Adam, and even gives him soldier-talks without Charles.
  • One day Cyrus takes a walk with Adam and gives him The Talk about joining the army. Adam confesses that he doesn't want to, but Cyrus isn't really interested in what Adam thinks.
  • Cyrus also says that he won't let Charles be a soldier, even though he seems to be better cut out for it than Adam is.
  • Before they get to the house, Cyrus tells Adam that the reason he wants him in the army instead of Charles is because Adam is weaker, less clever, and worse at everything. Oh, and Cyrus loves Adam better. There's that too.


  • It's an awkward dinner after that talk. Adam gets up to go for a walk and Charles insists on going with him.
  • Charles keeps demanding that Adam tell him what he and Cyrus talked about, and Adam keeps being vague about it, which riles Charles up.
  • Charles doesn't understand why he doesn't have his father's love. After all, for his birthday he got him this expensive knife from Germany and Cyrus never even uses it. On the other hand, Adam got Cyrus a puppy, and now that puppy is Cyrus's best friend.
  • So Charles does what Charles does best: he beats the living tar out of Adam. When it's over, Adam drags himself out of the road into a ditch. 
  • He sees Charles come back looking for him, and he's carrying an axe. Yikes.
  • After Charles finally goes away, Adam hobbles home. When Cyrus sees his son, he demands to know why Charles did it, and after trying to avoid answering, Adam finally tells him that it was because Charles thinks Cyrus doesn't love him.
  • Cyrus goes out with a shotgun while Alice dresses Adam's wounds. She talks about how Charles is a strange boy, but he always leaves her little gifts. Then she smiles.