East of Eden - Short Answer Study Questions

  1. Mr. Ames always suspected his daughter Cathy was capable of evil, yet kept his suspicions to himself.  Do you think Cathy’s life may have been different had he attempted to intervene? Is there any reason to believe Cathy could have been anything but a “monster”?
  2. How does Cyrus Trask manage to become an influential military strategist for the United States government?
  3. Why does Cyrus Trask insist Adam join the military?  Why is Adam reluctant to join?
  4. How does war function as a backdrop for East of Eden?  Which characters and events in the novel are most significantly impacted by war?
  5. As an adult, Charles longs for his brother’s companionship even though Charles and Adam are not close.  Why do you believe Charles tries to preserve a relationship with his brother despite their violent history?
  6. Why doesn’t Adam want to return home after he is discharged from the military?  Why would he rather reenlist, even though he detests violence?
  7. What do Samuel Hamilton’s intellectual curiosity and creativity reveal about his character in the novel?
  8. How is Samuel Hamilton so successful at locating water on other people’s property although he is never able to bore a successful well on his own?
  9. Adam moved to California with the ambitious intent of establishing a new “Eden,” a beautiful garden in which he can raise up his descendants.  What is wrong with Adam’s plan?
  10. How does Adam come to be so easily deluded by Cathy?  Why does he fall into such a paralyzed stupor after he is shot by her?  How is he eventually roused from his lingering state of shock and self-pity?
  11. Do you think there is sufficient evidence in the novel to suggest Charles is actually the father of Cal and Aron?  Would it matter if he was?  Why or why not?
  12. Lee contemplates leaving the Trask family to open a bookstore in San Francisco several times in the story.  At one point he even leaves for a few days.  Why does Lee return?  Ultimately, why is he unable to part ways with the Trask family?
  13. Why is Aron so distressed by his father’s failed attempt to transport refrigerated lettuce across the country?  Why do you think Cal is not so deeply affected by the failed venture?
  14. Why do you think Aron is so attracted to the Episcopalian ministry?  What is he hoping to accomplish by joining the priesthood?  Do you think his interest is genuine?  Why or why not?
  15. Why does Charles wish to give his father a gift of money?  Are his motives genuine or not? Why does Adam ultimately refuse the money?
  16. Adam is surprised to learn after Samuel Hamilton’s death that Samuel’s son William is critical of his father’s lifestyle and somewhat resentful of his father’s lack of financial success in life.  Is William’s criticism of his father fair?  Why or why not?
  17. Explain Aron’s reaction to meeting his mother.  Why can’t he face the reality of her shocking existence?
  18. What does Cal hope will be the result of his burning the $15,000 dollars he attempted to give to his father?  Why does he do it?  Ultimately, does that action help Cal’s situation?
  19. Why, after many years of seemingly contented, faithful service, does Joe Valery attempt a plan to outwit and take advantage of Kate? Why does his plan backfire?
  20. Explain Kate’s perspective of people’s propensity for evil.  Why does she feel compelled to manipulate people as a form of self-protection? Why does she fail to see any potential for good in humanity?
  21. Do you think Kate feels any remorse about her actions prior to committing suicide towards the end of the novel? Why or why not?
  22. Toward the end of the novel, Lee confesses to Abra that he wishes she were his daughter.  Abra then admits to Lee that she wishes he were her father.  How does Lee come to form such a close bond with Abra? Why do you believe Abra sees Lee as a father figure and not Adam?