Cain & Abel

East of Eden“I think this is the best-known story in the world because it’s everybody’s story. I think it is the symbol story of the human soul. I’m feeling my way now—don’t jump on me if I’m not clear. The greatest terror a child can have is that he is not loved, and rejection is the hell he fears.

“I think everyone in the world to a large or small extent has felt rejection. And with rejection comes anger, and with anger some kind of crime in revenge for rejection, and with the crime guilt—and there is the story of mankind.

“I think that if rejection could be amputated, the human would not be what he is. Maybe there would be fewer crazy people. I am sure in myself there would not be many jails.

“It is all there—the start, the beginning. One child, refused the love he craves, kicks the cat and hides his secret guilt; and another steals so that money will make him loved; and a third conquers the world—and always the guilt and revenge and more guilt. The human is the only guilty animal.

“Now wait! Therefore I think this old and terrible story is important because it is a chart of the soul—the secret, rejected, guilty soul.”

—John Steinbeck, East of Eden


  1. Nothing more to add.

  2. The only thing I would add is, that Jesus showed us a very different way of handling rejection.

    Cain asked, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” Jesus answered, “yes”.

  3. East of Eden was one of the transformative reads of my life. A great, powerful, fantasia of our moral and physical landscape. Timshel!

  4. About a year ago I came across Arta Romney Ballif’s (sister to Prsident Marion G. Romney) attempt to capture Eve’s perspective on this episode. Her poem is called “Lamentation”. Apologies for the lengthy post but I found this profoundly moving and wanted to share it if people are not familiar with this:

    by Arta Romney Ballif

    And God said, “BE FRUITFUL, AND MULTIPLY –“
    Multiply, multiply – echoes multiply

    Thy sorrow, sorrow, sorrow –

    I have gotten a man from the Lord
    I have traded the fruit of the garden for fruit of my body
    For a laughing bundle of humanity.

    And now another one who looks like Adam
    We shall call this one, “Abel.”
    It is a lovely name“Abel.”

    Cain, Abel, the world is yours.
    God set the sun in the heaven to light your days
    To warm the flocks, to kernel the grain
    He illuminated your nights with stars

    He made the trees and the fruit thereof yielding seed
    He made every living thing, the wheat, the sheep, the cattle
    For your enjoyment
    And, behold, it is very good.

    Adam? Adam
    Where art thou?
    Where are the boys?
    The sky darkens with clouds.
    Adam, is that you?
    Where is Abel?
    He is long caring for his flocks.
    The sky is black and the rain hammers.
    Are the ewes lambing
    In this storm?
    Why your troubled face, Adam?
    Are you ill?
    Why so pale, so agitated?
    The wind will pass
    The lambs will birth
    With Abel’s help.

    What is dead?

    Merciful God!

    Hurry, bring warm water
    I’ll bathe his wounds
    Bring clean Clothes
    Bring herbs.
    I’ll heal him.

    I am trying to understand.
    You said, “Abel is dead.”
    But I am skilled with herbs
    Remember when he was seven
    The fever? Remember how—

    Herbs will not heal?

    And Cain? Where is Cain?
    Listen to that thunder.

    Cain cursed?
    What has happened to him?
    God said, “A fugitive and a vagabond?”

    But God can’t do that.
    They are my sons, too.
    I gave them birth
    In the valley of pain.
    Adam, try to understand
    In the valley of pain
    I bore them

    This is his home
    This the soil he loved
    Where he toiled for golden wheat
    For tasseled corn.

    To the hill country?
    There are rocks in the hill country
    Cain can’t work in the hill country
    The nights are cold
    Cold and lonely, and the wind gales.

    Quick, we must find him
    A basket of bread and his coat
    I worry, thinking of him wandering
    With no place to lay his head.
    Cain cursed?
    A wanderer, a roamer?
    Who will bake his bread and mend his coat?

    Abel, my son dead?
    And Cain, my son, a fugitive
    Two sons
    Adam, we had two sons
    Both – Oh, Adam –

    Dear God, Why?
    Tell me again about the fruit
    Please, tell me again

  5. Eric Russell says:

    Not only is Steinbeck wildly right – he’s about a half-century ahead of his time. New clinical studies on childhood attachment and trauma have now essentially proven that what he’s saying here is correct. There would not be many jails.

  6. The diary of Adam and Eve by mark twain. Another good read, funny but ultimately sad.

  7. “But ‘Thou mayest’! Why, that makes a man great, that gives him stature with the gods . . .”

    Timshel, FTW.

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