Repeated through the two generations the novel ps are three examples of this, patterned first by Charles and his brother Adam, then through Adam and his troubled wife Cathy, and finally through the aforementioned couples offspring Aron and the controversial character Caleb (Cal). The vicious cycle of Cain against Abel, Brother against Brother, in the Trask family destroys these generations and yet a glimmer of hope remains through the idea of “Timshel”.
Moving chronologically, Adam and Charles are the first Cain and Abel pairing in the novel. Logically, they show the closest parallelism to the original story; this parallelism can be drawn down to three main events in the storyline. The first of these events is the acceptance and denial, respectively, of gifts presented by Adam and Charles to their father, the god figure in their version of the story. This event is followed by the attempted murder of Adam by his own brother Charles, as a direct result of the previous incident.
The third event is much later in the story, as Charles is trying to move a large boulder with a crowbar he slips and cuts his forehead, an injury that will leave a large scar symbolic of the mark the Lord put upon Cain after Abels murder. The second pairing in the symbolic Cain and Abel trio is that of Cathy and Adam. Cathy and Adam are an unusual Cain and Able pairing in East of Eden but are important nonetheless. The pairing of Cathy and Adam does not express its symbolisms through key events like the other two do; instead they are expressed more through their personalities then their actions.
Cathy symbolizes all the most evil parts of the biblical Cain, all the evil and malice that he possessed is expressed through Cathys malicious personality. Meanwhile the innocent and happily-in-love Adam is symbolic of the purity and contentment of the Abel; that is, up until the climactic shooting of Adam by Cathy marking the end of this Cain and Abel pairing. Before introducing the third pairing there is an important character that must be analyzed. Known simply as Lee, Adams highly educated Chinese manservant is a key character in the symbolic Cain and Able cycle.
After being assaulted by his wife, Adam is bedridden and empty; at this point Lee begins to act as a caretaker for his employer, looking after him and caring for his twin sons Cal and Aron. Thus it is fitting that Lee should be the one to counsel Cal in his most vulnerable moment, and plant the seed of hope in his mind. In respect to the novel, Lee serves primarily as a physical embodiment of the idea of individual ability and freedom, he preaches this to Cal through the idea of “Timshel”, a Hebrew word meaning “thou mayest”.
Lee believes that Cal is not inherently evil, is not destined to follow the same path as his ancestors, and has a choice as to how he will lead his life. The third Cain and Abel pairing and perhaps the most important one is, ironically, that of Adams twin boys, Caleb and Aron. The biblical symbolism of Cal and Arons generation is simultaneously the most unusual and the most significant to the novel. With this third example returns three symbols of the original story.
First is the two gifts, and once again the symbolic Abels gift is accepted while the symbolic Cains is denied, a repetition of Adams fathers favoritism. Following this event Caleb is so enraged he tells the emotionally fragile Aron of their mothers’ true identity, a whore employed in a brothel. So emotionally affected by this is Aron that he runs away and joins the army the following day. Aron is later killed in the war thus fulfilling the second symbolic Cain and Abel event.
The final and most significant event in the novel is the next step in the Cain and Abel story, the marking of Cain. Cal is horribly disturbed by what he has caused his brother to do, and he is convinced that he has inherited his mothers’ evil blood and is destined for a life of evil. However through the timely and wise council of Lee, he is made to ask his father, his god, for a blessing. To which Adam responds with a single word, Timshel, symbolically breaking the families’ vicious cycle of Cain and Abel pairings. If you do not do what is right, sin is crouched at your door; it desires to have you, but you must master it. ” (Genesis 4, Verse 7). Thus ends the cruel cycle of blood and malcontent that plagued the Trask family. Armed with the belief of Timshel given to Cal by Lee one may see that there is hope for the final Cain character in the book, that he may not be bound by blood and by history to be evil and that he may gain the freedom to blaze his own path into a future unmarred by his past.