of Eden

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Overview of East of Eden: Steinbeck’s Epic

East of Eden book cover

John Steinbeck considered East of Eden to be his ultimate masterpiece. He wrote the novel for his sons so they would better understand their family history and Steinbeck’s childhood experiences growing up in California’s fertile Salinas Valley. He also sought to create a mythic dramatization of the perpetual struggle between good and evil, which he considered the quintessential struggle that has characterized human existence since the beginning of time.

Steinbeck had been developing the idea for East of Eden for a few years before writing the novel. He began his research for the novel in 1948, traveling back to California and even studying newspaper archives from the Salinas Index-Journal. Steinbeck finally began composing the novel in January of 1951, determined to finally write the epic that had been brewing in his mind. Writing a few pages a day, Steinbeck finished his draft of East of Eden in November of 1951.

Steinbeck chronicled the writing process of East of Eden in a double entry journal, with notes and letters to friend and publisher Pascal Covici on the left and the actual draft of East of Eden on the right side. He used this method of writing a letter to Pascal each day as a warm up before tackling a day’s work on the novel. The letters were later edited and published in 1969 (a year after Steinbeck’s death in 1968) as Journal of a Novel: The East of Eden Letters.

East of Eden was first published in September of 1952 by Viking Press. A film version on the novel, directed by Elia Kazan, debuted in 1955. A musical version of the novel appeared in 1966. East of Eden was released as an ABC miniseries in 1981.