Study Guide

East of Eden Chapter 39

By John Steinbeck

Chapter 39


  • Every now and again Salinas decides that it's more moral than it really is and decides to do random police raids on the gambling houses.
  • The whole thing is kind of racist, because it's an excuse to arrest the Chinese people who run them.
  • Anyway, Cal, who on his night wanderings sometimes watches the fan-tan games at said houses, gets caught in one of the raids and is booked into jail.
  • Adam has to go pick up his son from the jail—he hardly says anything about it, but Cal is really ashamed of himself.
  • He doesn't go to school with Aron, and he waits for his father to get mad at him. But Adam doesn't, and finally Cal can't take it anymore and just yells at Adam to punish him.
  • But Adam is angrier at himself for being a bad father and not getting to know his own son. He asks Cal about himself, and even tells him about his own relationship with Cyrus and the time he spent on the chain gang.
  • It's a good and honest father-son talk. Next Adam asks Cal about Aron, and if Cal protects him (which he does); he also learns about Aron's desire to become a celibate priest, and how Abra hates the idea.
  • While Cal goes to make coffee for Adam, he feels awake with the new love that Adam has shown to him.
  • Now it's time for talk of the future. Aron wants to go to college, but Cal wants to run the ranch, even offering to pay for Aron's college.
  • But then Cal lets it slip that he knows about Kate—all about her.
  • Adam wants to know if Aron knows too. Cal worries that Aron doesn't know enough about badness to be able to handle the information.
  • Adam tells Cal that he trusts him to make sure that Aron doesn't find out.


  • Cal is elated that he now has some sort of relationship with his dad, and there is a noticeable change about him.
  • But he also decides that in order to protect Adam, he needs to learn more about Kate… so he starts to regularly follow her.
  • Finally, after a few months, they confront one another. When Cal tells her who he is, she tells him to come inside the (whore)house.
  • Kate leads him into a room with grey walls and no windows. When she catches him staring at her bandaged hands, she shows him her arthritis.
  • She also insists that the room is grey because the light hurts her eyes.
  • Now that Cal has seen Kate, which is apparently all he wanted to do, she asks about his brother. He looks more like her, except for the whole priesthood thing.
  • Next Cal asks Kate why she shot Adam and left. Kate sneers at people who think they know who she is—she can fool anybody.
  • Kate left because Adam tried to tie her down, and nobody tells her what to do. She tells Cal that he seems to be like her.
  • But then Cal asks her if, when she was younger, she ever felt like she was missing something.
  • This makes Kate mad, and she decides that she is wasting her time talking to some snot-nosed kid.
  • But Cal is excited, because now he knows that he doesn't really have Kate in him. And he knows that she has that dark room because she is afraid. Kate tells him to get out.
  • The house pimp Joe and one of the girls hear someone leave, and they muse to each other that it's better the less they know.

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