Study Guide

East of Eden Chapter 50

By John Steinbeck

Chapter 50


  • Kate has been doing a lot of staring into space lately, and it's making Joe uncomfortable. He doesn't know what she's up to.
  • But Kate is actually thinking about the shocked face of her son when he saw her, and the way his dark brother had cruelly laughed.
  • One day Joe comes in with the tea as usual and says that he got a line on a guy in town who says that he knows Ethel.
  • Kate asks Joe if the name Faye means anything to him; Joe answers that it doesn't.
  • Oh, so Joe has never, ever heard that Faye used to own the whorehouse before Kate?
  • Oops—Joe just slipped up and Kate caught him in his lie.
  • Kate sends a visibly nervous Joe out. She writes a letter to the sheriff to check out Joe Valery's fingerprints. Looks like someone's in deep trouble.
  • She calls in one of the girls and sends her on some errands, including mailing the letter.
  • Well, that takes care of Joe, but Kate knows that there will always be Ethels; plus she can't keep avoiding thinking about her son's face when he saw her.
  • Kate remembers back to when she was a young girl. Sometimes she felt like the entire world was her enemy. Then she read Alice in Wonderland and really liked when Alice drinks a potion that makes her grow smaller and smaller. Kate loves to imagine that she too can hide that way.
  • But Kate never imagined herself growing so small that she would completely disappear. That was for emergencies only.
  • Kate feels alone and desolate. She knows that she is smarter than other people, but she realizes that they also have something that she lacks.
  • Once she realizes that, she knows she's ready.
  • Kate goes out and tells the girls not to disturb her. Then she goes back to her room and writes a quick note leaving everything to her son Aron Trask.
  • She heads to the grey room and swallows the capsule she keeps around her neck.
  • She sees the faces of her parents, Charles, Adam, Samuel, Aron, and Cal, and then she feels herself growing smaller and smaller.


  • Joe is really nervous, and it's a rough night at the whorehouse too. Nothing is going well for him.
  • After closing up the brothel and going to his room, Joe goes through all the things in his head that he could have done wrong with the whole Ethel business. He also thinks about what he should do now. Good idea to pack a suitcase, just in case.
  • The next morning he knocks on Kate's door and finds her dead.
  • Joe goes to work. He takes Kate's necklace with the safe-deposit keys, and he goes through and takes her envelopes of incriminating photos.
  • Then the cook comes to get him. There is someone at the house who wants a word with him. Bad timing.
  • The man says that the sheriff wants to see him.
  • On the way over Joe tries to make a break for it and gets shot. Looks like it's good-bye, Joe.

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