f Eden East Eden EssaysCathy Ames as the Devilin East of Eden

East of Eden was a novel that explored the roots of evil in its most primal form. Through intricate plot lines and complex characters, John Steinbeck weaved a tale of brutality, cruelty, and isolation. One important character that helped to illustrate the presence of evil throughout the book was Cathy Ames, an intelligent woman who ruthlessly used other people to serve her own needs. When reflecting upon East of Eden, a debate that often surfaces is whether Cathy’s evil was a result of nature or nurture. Arguments for and against both sides are in the book. At some times, Cathy is portrayed as a wicked fiend who’s aggression stems from nowhere but her own empty heart. Other times, Cathy appears weak and afraid of people who aren’t the least bit intimidating. Those are the moments in the book where one must question whether Cathy is truly evil, or just an impatient and self-centered individual.

Cathy’s upbringing did not seem to be a likely place to foster dissent and animosity in the young girl. Her parents were loving and eager to educate and entertain Cathy. Unfortunately, Cathy was not a standard child. She was quite different from other children. This fact was very obvious to Cathy’s parents and the townspeople. Similar to other children, she learned how to use certain facts and pieces of information to her advantage. However, Cathy’s vast cleverness set her apart from other children in that she used much more sensitive information dealing with adult issues for her manipulative purposes. Whatever she did as a child was cold and calculated. Cathy’s actions as a youngster seem to point to the conclusion that her sinfulness came from nature and not nurture.

A disturbing scene in the book describes how Cathy’s parents died in a house fire. It is quite obvious from the text that Cathy was the culprit of the horrible tragedy. Among the other atrocities she committed included mentally torturing her English teacher to the point where he eventually took his own life and seducing a married man whom she subjected to severe emotional torment. Such cold-blooded actions appear to be coming directly from a dark and evil soul. It is difficult to imagine someone willingly executing such morbid acts on free will alone. Throughout the duration of the book, Cathy shows no remorse for the people she had hurt and even killed. She is devoid of any respect for life. In these instances, nature appears to be the cause of Cathy’s sinful deeds.

Later scenes in the book appear to depict Cathy in a completely different light. When she is confronted by Adam, who merely wants to tell her that his brother bequeathed a hefty sum of money to her, she reacts in fear and trepidation. She racks her mind, attempting to identify what Adam really wants. Of course, she cannot pinpoint his underlying motive because it does not exist. Cathy becomes angry because he is no longer a fool she can deceive and trick anymore. Adam has learned to stand on his own feet and doesn’t care about what Cathy thinks about him. She reacts in a similar way when Cal, her son, comes to visit her. Cathy realizes that many of her undesirable traits are present in Cal’s personality and is turned away from him in fear and revulsion. These two incidents support the idea that Cathy was not born evil, but simply developed the personality as time progressed.

Because evil is not completely instinctive to Cathy, there are times when she relapses into a more human mode of thought. However, it is very difficult to entirely believe that Cathy choose to be evil to that extreme. Every waking moment of her life was devoted to bringing other people down to their knees and pulling herself above the huddled masses. She achieved this through devious operations that trapped scores of men in compromising positions and by clever scheming that allowed her to take over one of the most successful brothels in Salinas. Cathy was a secretive person who went to great measures to cover her feelings. In turn, this veil prevents a clear identification of the source of her evil.