Defying domesticity: Steinbeck's critique of gender politics of the postwar generation in East of Eden

UNCW Author/Contributor (non-UNCW co-authors, if there are any, appear on document)
Danielle Woods (Creator)
The University of North Carolina Wilmington (UNCW )
Web Site:
Tiffany Gilbert

Abstract: By setting East of Eden approximately fifty years before its publishing date, John Steinbeck takes a retrospective approach to critiquing contemporary gender politics in the United States. While the nation was attempting to forget the chaos of its past and look forward to the future and its promise of progress, Steinbeck took a look backwards. By setting his novel in the past, Steinbeck disguises his critique of contemporary lifestyle, which makes his novel more acceptable to contemporary readers. This thesis explores the gender politics in America throughout the 1950s while paying particular attention to the roles of women during this time period. This examination of Cathy Trask, Liza Hamilton, and Abra Bacon reveals sexual tensions and cultural dynamics as well as how these particular tensions and dynamics affected women of the post-World War II era. While Liza Hamilton represents the traditional domestic figure, Cathy Trask represents a deviant woman who refuses to accept the roles of wife and mother. Ultimately, Cathy Trask, the woman who deviates from the cultural norm in East of Eden, is punished. Rather than illustrating the idea that women who stray from traditional gender roles deserve to suffer the consequences, Steinbeck is actually portraying the limitations of postwar American society. Steinbeck offers the character of Abra Bacon as an alternative type of female who defines a new idea of femininity. While Abra observes traditional gender roles and maintains a domestic profile, at the same time, she is assertive and does not allow her femininity to be defined by domesticity.

Additional Information

A Thesis Submitted to the University of North Carolina Wilmington in Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements for the Degree of Master of Arts
Language: English
Date: 2009
Steinbeck John 1902-1968 East of Eden--Criticism and interpretation, Sex role in literature
Sex role in literature
Steinbeck, John, 1902-1968. East of Eden -- Criticism and interpretation

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