Timshel and Three Characters in John Steinbeck’s ‘East of Eden’ Essay

The biblical story of Cain and Abel has been written in more than one way. The King James version of the Bible states that when God speaks to Cain after he had murdered his brother Abel, God said, “Thou shalt” overcome sin. In the standard American version of the Bible, God says “Do thou” which means Cain will certainly overcome sin. The Hebrew word ‘timshel’ means ‘thou mayest’ which is arguably the most important two words in John Steinbeck’s novel East of Eden. These two words change the meaning of what God said completely. ‘Thou mayest’ gives a person the gift of free will. It is not a promise or an order that people will overcome sin, timshel means that people are responsible for their own actions and decisions. It is the thoughts and actions of a person that determine how God will judge them, not fate or destiny. Three characters that portray the meaning of timshel are: Adam Trask, Cathy/Kate and Cal Trask. East of Eden supports the meaning for the Hebrew word ‘timshel’ through the actions of the diverse characters by giving them all the freedom of choice to decide between good and evil.

One of the characters in East of Eden who’s actions support timshel is Adam Trask. Adam is a representation of good in the novel. He is the Abel of the modern day biblical story of Cain and Abel and his brother Charles represents Cain. Adam has just had a fight with his stronger and angrier brother Charles. Charles beats Adam to a bloody pulp, enraged that their father Cyrus, loves Adam more than him. Adam hides when Charles comes back with a hatchet and the intention of killing his brother. When Adam drags himself home, at the sight of Adam all bloody and hurt Cyrus is fuming: “You’ll have to tell me. I’ll make you tell me! Go…

…not to be good or evil. Steinbeck has given Cal the most flexibility and therefore made him the most authentic character.In conclusion, East of Eden supports the meaning of timshel through the actions of it’s diverse characters by allowing them the freedom of choice. Adam portrays the meaning of timshel when he saves his son Cal from thinking he is evil and not being able to live life. Cathy exercises the meaning of timshel when she misuses her freedom of choice and makes all the wrong decisions, ultimately bringing about her own end. Cal defines the meaning of timshel because he is the living example of thou mayest overcome sin. He struggles to overcome sin and experiences both successes and failures. With his father’s blessing, Cal knows it is possible to overcome sin but he must use his power to choose to make the right choices because thou mayest.

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