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"If you want to give me a present, give me a good life. That's something I can value."—Adam Trask
The novel concerns two families, the Trasks and the Hamiltons, who live in Salinas Valley, California. The Hamiltons, headed by patriarch Samuel Hamilton and wife Liza, initially settle into the valley with their nine kids. When the kids set out to seek their fortunes, the land is settled by the wealthy Adam Trask. The Trask family grows, adding a wife, Cathy, a Devil in Plain Sight, and sons Cal and Aron. Just after the birth of the two sons, Cathy vanishes from their lives. Years later, the now-grown boys meet a girl named Abra, whose presence drives a wedge between the two.
Not to be confused with Eden of the East.
This work features examples of:
- Adam and or Eve: The two brothers are named Cal and Aron and their father is named Adam. The brothers' uncle is Charles, and Adam's wife is named Cathy.
- Adaptation Distillation: Director Elia Kazan decided to completely cut out the first two thirds of the book and just make the movie about the final third, which focuses on Adam's two sons as teenagers.
- Alice Allusion: Alice in Wonderland was Cathy's favorite book as a child. She kills herself by taking poison, imagining the "Drink Me" bottle shrinking her into oblivion.
- Arc Words: Timshel.
- Asian Speekee Engrish: Thoroughly Subverted and Deconstructed with Lee's entire character.
- Cain and Abel: Charles and Adam, Cal and Aron.
- Childhood Marriage Promise: Aron and Abra make one. It doesn't work out.
- The Clan: two for the price of one!
- Devil in Plain Sight: Cathy in her early years; she is described as a Complete Monster.
- Funny Foreigner: Lee pretends to be one of these.
- Generation Xerox
- Hooker with a Heart of Gold: Played straight with Faye (and others, to a lesser extent), but subverted hard with Cathy, who pretends to be one.
- Not Listening to Me, Are You?: As Sam reads Adam and Cathy a story, he throws in some nonsense lines. They fail to listen to them.
- Obfuscating Stupidity: Lee, the Pidgin speaking Chinese cook, is actually the smartest character in the whole story.
- Parental Favoritism: Cyrus prefers Adam, and Adam prefers Aron.
- Roman à Clef: the Hamilton sections are based heavily on Steinbeck's maternal family history.
- Self-Made Orphan: Cathy, in one of the most chilling scenes in the book.
- Shout-Out: The title is taken from The Book of Genesis: "And Cain went out from the presence of the Lord, and took up residence in the Land of Nod, east of Eden."
- Sibling Triangle: Cathy marries Adam, but sleeps with his brother Charles. Later, Aron's girlfriend Abra transfers her affections to Cal.
- The Sociopath: Cathy.
- Son of a Whore: Cal and Aron.
- Surprisingly Good English: Lee.
- Theme Initials
- The Unfavorite: Charles and Cal.
- Throw It In: Cal was supposed to deck Adam after he rejects his present. When shooting, James Dean had the impulse to instead hug Raymond Massey. This became a moment of Enforced Method Acting for Massey who, unpracticed in improvisation, came across exactly as stiff and uncomfortable as Adam ought to be under the circumstances.
- "Well Done, Son" Guy: Cyrus to Charles, and later, Adam to Cal.
- What Do You Mean Its Not Symbolic: The epic religious symbolism is the entire point of the book.