The story revolves around two negative characters Kate and Cal. Kate is an embodiment of evil with no traces of good in her. She burns down her house with her parents, shoots a doting husband, and abandons twin boys. To top it all, she kills the head of a whorehouse who leaves all her property to Kate.
Cal, son of Kate, is a mix of good and bad. The badness in him comes out only when he is rejected by someone. And Cal is rejected by none other than his father Adam Trask who favors his other son Aron. What Cal does in revenge drives the story of East of Eden to its conclusion.
Steinbeck is a Nobel Prize winner and his brilliance with words pops out in several places of the book.
"Maybe the difference between the two boys can best be described in this way. If Aron should come upon an anthill in a little clearing in the brush, he would lie on his stomach and watch the complications of ant life -- he would see some of them bringing food in the ant roads and others carrying the white eggs. He would see how two members of the hill on meeting put their antennas together and talked. For hours he would lie absorbed in the economy of the ground.
If, on the other hand, Cal came upon the same anthill, he would kick it to pieces and watch while the frantic ants took care of their disaster. Aron was content to be a part of his world, but Cal must change it."
One philosophy that is oft repeated in the book is "Thou Mayest", the English equivalent of the Hebrew word Timshel. Steinbeck argues that Bible was originally written in Hebrew and the translations subtly changed the original meaning of few verses. The fourth chapter of Genesis in the King James version says, 'Sin lieth at your door and thou shalt rule over him.' In the American Standard Bible it says ' Do thou rule over him'.
'Thou shalt' leaves no choice to a human, and he or she will follow that which was predestined for him/her. So, a man can absolve himself of responsibility for his sins and blame destiny. 'Do thou rule' is a call for obedience. So, a man throws around his weight, flaunting his ability to obey God's word. However, 'Thou Mayest' gives a choice to man. He can choose his actions. So, he has the choice to come out of his weak, lazy, cowardly, and filthy nature and use the glory of free will.
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