East of Eden
John Steinback
Contributed by Katlyn Weinert
Chapter 1
Summary

Part 1

The narrator remembers growing up in the Salinas Valley of northern California. He recalls the landscape in poetic and nostalgic terms and describes the rich beauty of the wildflowers that grew there. He also explains how he learned to recognize east from west in this valley. The east was represented by the Gabilan Mountains, always light and lovely; and the west was represented by the Santa Lucia Mountains, which were dark and foreboding. He notes that the valley underwent a thirty-year cycle. The first five-to six-year period was always wet, with the valley receiving nineteen to twenty-five inches of rain. Then another six-or seven-year phase would commence, and the rain would lessen to twelve to sixteen inches a year. Next, the dry years would bring only seven or eight inches of annual rainfall. In the dry times, the people forgot there were ever lush times, and in the lush times they forgot the dry times.

Part 2

The history of Salinas Valley began with the Indians, whom the narrator denigrates as "an inferior breed without energy, inventiveness, or culture -- a people . . . too lazy to hunt or fish. . . . Even their warfare was a weary pantomime." Next came the greedy Spanish, who were 

searching for gold and trying to convert the Indians to their religion. They colonized the area, using land grant titles. They raised cattle and named everything in sight with Catholic holy names or Spanish place names. Next came the "Americans," who were greedier than the Spanish. They settled the land and added their own names to places.

Analysis

Like most of his books, East of Eden is set in Steinbeck’s native California. He begins the novel with a detailed description of the natural landscape and beauty of the Salinas Valley. He presents a cosmic view of the valley, noting its thirty-year cycles. Steinbeck’s beautiful narration of the Salinas area is marred by his racist description of the Indians who settled the region. Calling them "an inferior breed," it is clear that he is prejudiced against native Americans, preferring the European Americans of non-Spanish descent, whom he calls simply "Americans."

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