Study Guide

East of Eden Chapter 38

By John Steinbeck

Chapter 38


  • Cal is so used to people inexplicably liking Aron more than him that he has developed a defensive complex, but at the same time the one thing he craves more than anything is Adam's affection.
  • In Salinas, like in King City, Cal is alone and friendless. Poor Cal.


  • One night Cal is wandering the streets, as he does, and he comes across the friendly drunk Rabbit Holman.
  • Over the years Cal has heard a lot of things about his mother, and he knows that she is not dead—and that she's not exactly in the most virtuous line of business.
  • Rabbit has just come into some money and he's going to celebrate it at the whorehouses. Cal buys him some more whiskey, and when Rabbit is good and drunk he invites Cal to come with him to Kate's place. They have some sort of crazy sexual circus there.
  • Cal is less disgusted by the things that they do at Kate's than he is by the men who watch it, but he goes along with Rabbit nonetheless.


  • After the visit to Kate's, Cal needs some guidance. So naturally, he goes to see Lee.
  • Right off the bat he tells Lee that he saw Kate. Lee is honest with him and answers all of his questions. Yes, Adam knows about Kate. Yes, Kate shot Adam. No, Lee doesn't know why she did it.
  • Then Cal asks about Kate's personality. Lee is honest about this too: Kate was a mystery, but she seemed to be full of hatred.
  • And what was Adam like, Cal asks? Adam was like the opposite of Kate. He was all goodness to a fault.
  • Cal admits to Lee that he loves his father.
  • Lee tells Cal that if Aron ever finds out about Kate, Cal needs to stand by to help him.
  • But Cal knows why Kate left—he understands her, because he's got a part of her in him, and that scares him.
  • Well Lee nips that notion in the bud. If Cal has Kate in him, he has Adam too. Cal's actions, he says, are not dictated by his ancestry, and he'd better not use it as an excuse for the person he becomes.


  • To top it all off, in addition to verifying the truth about his mother (which he suspected all along anyways), Cal is also going through puberty. So he's got a lot of mixed emotions.
  • But knowing the truth makes Cal want to protect Adam. One time Cal accidentally walks in on Adam in the bathroom and sees his bullet scar. When he asks Adam how he got it, Adam lies and tells him that it was when he was fighting the Indians; Cal goes along with it.
  • Aron, though, deals with puberty by wanting to become a clergyman. His mentor is Mr. Rolf, a man just as inexperienced about the world as he is. It's a case of the naïve teaching the naïve, which is always a recipe for success.
  • Abra goes along with Aron's conversion, but she doesn't take it seriously. She hopes that it's just a phase—especially when it comes to abstinence.
  • Sometimes Cal considers telling Aron about their mother just to see what would happen, but he knows that Aron wouldn't be able to handle it.

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