Study Guide

East of Eden Chapter 40

By John Steinbeck

Chapter 40


  • After Cal's visit Kate is shaken up—he kind of reminded her of how Samuel Hamilton used to scare her.
  • Kate pulls out what has to be the most morbid necklace ever: it has two keys, a gold watch, and a metal tube filled with a capsule of morphine. For suicide. Yep.
  • Time for a flashback.


  • It was not long after Kate had collected Charles's money that she got a letter from someone named Ethel. Who the heck is Ethel you ask?
  • Apparently she knew Kate from way back when.
  • Well, Ethel comes to see Kate and she doesn't look so good. After Kate ran her out of the whorehouse she had some bad luck and couldn't get back into the whoring business again.
  • After giving Kate her whole sob story, Kate offers her forty dollars, but Ethel cuts to the chase: she was hoping that Kate would take care of her.
  • And why should Kate do that? Because Ethel has second sight. And one of the sights she secondly saw was a dream about Kate burying something out back the night Faye died. When she checked it out, she found some smashed bottles and an eye-dropper.
  • Kate doesn't miss a beat. She advises Ethel to have the bottles analyzed, and even offers to let Ethel help out around the brothel, but Ethel wants more than that: she wants one hundred dollars a month.
  • So Kate gives it to her, and promises to send it to her the first of every month. Ethel is overjoyed.
  • The next day Ethel finds herself in court accused of stealing one hundred dollars from a man; the judge runs her out of town and ignores her when she says that she was framed.
  • Afterward, the accusing witness heads in the direction of Kate's, then decides to get a haircut instead.


  • Kate doesn't give too much thought to the whole Ethel business, but suddenly she gets flashes of paranoia in which she imagines Charles's face looking over her shoulder.
  • It's a slow night at the house, and as Kate moves through inspecting things everyone can sense the tension.
  • After retiring to her room for the night, Kate imagines what she, a clever person, would have done if she had found the broken bottles. It wouldn't be terribly difficult to smell that something fishy was up.
  • Now Kate is paranoid and kicking herself for getting Ethel sent away where she can't keep an eye on her.
  • Kate starts going out less and less. Then she has the windowless lean-to built.
  • She even convinces herself that the light does hurt her eyes, but really the lean-to is a dark place for her to hide in.
  • That's why when Cal started following her, it scared her half to death.

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