John Steinbeck, in his novel East of Eden, explores the theme of human consciousness as it is related to an individuals taking moral responsibility for his actions. He makes this exploration in the context of Biblical references and other important considerations taken from other various religions and spiritual philosophies.
The story itself is advanced through the development and inter-relationships of characters who are clearly meant to be symbolic in their portrayal by the author. The story is about two families--the Hamiltons and the family of Adam Trask. The intertwined narratives of these two families is meant to show how an individual working on the raising of his moral and philosophical consciousness can take an important part in the making of a new world of sorts.
The Biblical importance underlying the story is made clear again and again: "Two stories have haunted us and followed us from our beginning," Samuel said. "We carry them along with us like invisible tails--the story of original sin and the story of Cain and Abel. And I don't understand either of them. I don't understand them at all but I feel them" (Steinbeck 350). The two families come to California in order to take part in the thriving economic boom which was the result of the exploitation of the fertile farmlands of California. The story carries the reader through the development of three generations of the families. Essentially, the story symbolically re-tells in fictional terms the Biblical myths of Adam (original sin) and Cain and Abel (the first murder). In other words, Steinbeck is trying to do many profound things with this single book, and it is no wonder that the work has been strongly criticized for the author's failure to successfully complete all of his very ambitious goals. The contrast between the more strait-laced Hamiltons and the more adventuresome Trasks is the heart of the story.
The story is symbolically carried, for ex...