Defending Steinbeck: Morality, Philosophy, and Sentimentality in East of Eden

UNCA Author/Contributor (non-UNCA co-authors, if there are any, appear on document)
Hannah Noel, Student (Creator)
University of North Carolina Asheville (UNCA )
Web Site:
Merritt Moseley

Abstract: John Steinbeck’s novel East of Eden was published in 1952. Intended to be his magnum opus, the book received largely mixed reviews upon its release. The New York Times called it, “Clumsy in structure and defaced by excessive melodramatics and much cheap sensationalism,” and literary critic Arthur Mizener claimed that, with this novel, “[Steinbeck’s] insight and talent cease to work and he writes like the author of any third-rate best-seller.” Steinbeck’s literary reputation has long-suffered from reviews such as these, as well as from the accusation that he is a sentimentalist with a penchant for moralizing ethos which endows his work with ephemeral value. My thesis uses East of Eden to defend Steinbeck’s literary reputation. By analyzing Steinbeck’s exploration of the universal theme of good and evil, as well as his assertion that man may choose his own morality, I argue that East of Eden is representative of Steinbeck’s best work and his true capability as a writer. I also contest the accusation that East of Eden is an imperfectly structured novel with an inconsistent theme; I inspect the character of Cathy Ames Trask and through her, argue that Steinbeck’s structure for the novel is very intentional, and that his development of Cathy is not a contradictory element. Finally, my thesis evaluates the above-mentioned motifs to argue that sentimentality is not a detrimental quality to Steinbeck’s work, and that deep human emotion, such as is found in East of Eden, should be celebrated, not disregarded as manipulative or unnecessary.

Additional Information

Language: English
Date: 2015
John Steinbeck, East of Eden, American literature, morality, sentimentality

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