Made You Think Podcast

Apr 2, 2024
Thou Mayest: East of Eden by John Steinbeck
Part of

“I believe that there is one story in the world, and only one. . . . Humans are caught—in their lives, in their thoughts, in their hungers and ambitions, in their avarice and cruelty, and in their kindness and generosity too—in a net of good and evil. . . . There is no other story. A man, after he has brushed off the dust and chips of his life, will have left only the hard, clean questions: Was it good or was it evil? Have I done well—or ill?”

Welcome back to another episode of Made You Think! In this episode, Nat, Neil and Adil dive into John Steinbeck's masterpiece, East of Eden. Following the lives of two families, the Trasks and the Hamiltons, this novel ultimately reflects on the timeless struggle between darkness and light within the human soul.

We cover a wide range of topics including:

  • The timeless battle between good and evil
  • Why having a fixed worldview can lead to hurt
  • Parallels between East of Eden and the story of Cain and Abel
  • A glimpse into what life was like at the start of the Great War
  • How parents' actions impact their children's lives

And much more. Please enjoy, and make sure to follow NatNeil, and Adil on Twitter and share your thoughts on the episode.

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(0:00) Today, we're diving into John Steinbeck's East of Eden, a novel that stood as a pinnacle in Steinbeck's illustrious career. We kick off the episode by exploring Steinbeck's candidness as shown in his accompanying journal.

(2:57) Nat, Neil, and Adil share their experience reading the book for the second time, each finding deeper connections to its major themes and characters this time around.

(6:27) We draw parallels between East of Eden and The Three-Body Problem contrasting their narrative styles. While East of Eden is emotionally impactful with rich characters, The Three-Body Problem unfolds in a flatter, more plot-driven world. Check out our episode on The Three-Body Problem if you haven't already!

(9:31) Discussing Steinbeck's immersive writing style, we explore how he vividly paints the environments and characters of the book, making us feel as though they are living within its pages.

(13:43) We delve into the characters of the novel, particularly Cathy, and how she shaped the narrative. Cathy doesn't always see the good, and often fails to take reponsibility for the things that happen to her. 

(16:04) The book follows two main families, the Trasks and the Hamiltons. There is a major parallel of "two sons" as Adam has two sons, Steinbeck has two sons, and Cain and Abel are two sons. 

(21:06) It wasn't the plot that drew us into the book, but rather the characters, and how they demonstrate the lessons taught in the novel. One of those lessons is the power of choice, and how you must take responsibility for your choices. 

(26:31) Listen in as we read an excerpt from Chapter 34 on the topic of good vs. evil, and how humans are caught in their lives, thoughts, ambitions. “Have I done well or ill?” 

(34:07) Adam has two sons, Aron and Caleb. Though theoretically, could Caleb be Charles’ son? We talk about the similarities between Charles and Caleb, and Adam and Aron. 

(37:38) Examining the allegory of Cain and Abel within the novel, we discuss how Steinbeck portrays the struggle between good and evil. Steinbeck presents a compelling argument for the power of choice, demonstrating that no matter how many times you choose evil, you always have the power to choose good. It's your reponsibility to make that choice.

(41:08) Nat, Neil, and Adil reflect on pivotal moments in the story, such as Cathy's final act of redemption and Caleb's sacrificial gesture for his father.

(49:51) Lee's character, and how relatable he is. It's often the ones that are selflessly giving of themselves that are living the richest lives. 

(53:31) There are many little instances of heartbreak throughout the book. East of Eden shows the clear impact that parents have on their kids, demonstrating that their actions have consequnces.

(55:47) We talk about Adam and Charles' father, Cyrus, his interesting character, and more about the parallels in the book between the families and generations. 

(1:02:46) The movie based off of East of Eden that came out in the 1950s and our thoughts on the Three-Body Problem TV series.

(1:06:38) Books that turn into shows or movies can be very hit or miss. Neil gives an example of a show based on a book that didn’t live up to his expectation. 

(1:10:14) How much input does an author have over a movie or TV series based on their book? We talk about the Harry Potter movie series, and how the wardrobe, casting, and scenery evolved throughout the series. 

(1:14:12) East of Eden serves not only as a compelling narrative, but also as a historical reflection of its time. From the impact of World War II to discussions on ice factories, Steinbeck weaves societal issues into the fabric of the story.

(1:19:07) Because we polluted the land and water so much, milk pasteurization became very common.

(1:22:18) Squatters rights, bankruptcy laws, and seeking asylum at the border. How does social media affect the visibility and knowledge on these topics?

(1:25:37) When you have a very fixed view on what the world should look like, it opens the door for that to be shattered down the line. Steinbeck made the point that you really should be more realistic about how you see the world.

(1:33:11) Steinbeck had a novel that flew under the radar around the time of WW2 where people had to distribute unauthorized copies throughout Europe. Plus, was Steinbeck an asset to the CIA during his time in Europe? 

(1:36:32) It's possible that Cathy's character was based on Steinbeck's ex-wife, which adds more power and meaning behind the family dynamic in the story. 

(1:39:54) Within the novel are moments of clarity, both sad and joyful. It reminds us that we all have those moments where it feels like we’re waking up from something. 

(1:43:05) We read an excerpt about Steinbeck’s ex-wife who was the mother to his two boys. Was Cathy's character based on her, and could that be why we see so many parallels between the book and Steinbeck's life? 

(1:50:53) Nat, Neil, and Adil read off some of their favorite lines from the book! Do you have any favorite Steinbeck lines? Send them to us!

(1:59:58) That wraps up this episode! Next on the Made You Think Podcast, we'll be reading Bad Therapy by Abigail Shrier. Also, make sure to check out our new instagram page- @madeyouthinkpodcast! Give us a follow to stay up-to-date with what's to come on the show.

If you enjoyed this episode, let us know by leaving a review on iTunes and tell a friend. As always, let us know if you have any book recommendations! You can say hi to us on Twitter @TheRealNeilS@adilmajid@nateliason and share your thoughts on this episode.

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Thanks for listening. See you next time!