Later, Charles asks Adam about his conversation with their father. Adam learns that Charles is resentful about Cyrus’s recent birthday: Cyrus was completely indifferent to the expensive German knife Charles gave him as a gift, yet deeply appreciated the stray puppy Adam gave him. Suddenly, the jealous Charles beats Adam severely and leaves him in a ditch on the side of the road.
Adam limps home much later and weakly tells Cyrus that Charles thinks Cyrus does not love him. Cyrus leaves with a shotgun in search of Charles. Alice tends to Adam and tells him that Charles has a kind streak as well. It turns out that Alice mistakenly believes that Charles, not Adam, is the one who has been leaving her secret gifts for years.
Charles wisely stays away from home for two weeks. When he returns, Cyrus is over his rage and puts him to work.
Samuel Hamilton educated himself in Ireland by borrowing books from a wealthy family. In America, his gentle good nature wins him the respect of everyone he meets. The Hamiltons never become rich but live comfortably nonetheless. They have four sons: George, who is bland and moral; Will, who is lucky and grows up to be wealthy; Tom, who is ardent and passionate; and Joe, who is lazy but likable and intelligent. Samuel and Liza also have five daughters: Lizzie, who does not associate with the family very much; Una, who is dark and brooding; Dessie, whose lovely personality makes her well-loved; Olive, the narrator’s mother, who becomes a teacher; and Mollie, the baby and beauty of the family.
Liza Hamilton, like her husband, is highly respected in the Salinas valley. She strictly disapproves of alcoholic beverages until the age of seventy, when her doctor tells her to take port wine for medical reasons. From that day forward, the old woman drinks lustily.
The central concern of East of Eden is the struggle between good and evil within individuals and in society as a whole, and Steinbeck explores this struggle through a number of sets of contrasts. He opens the novel with a description of the Salinas Valley where he grew up, establishing an important early metaphor for the conflict between good and evil—the contrast between the dark, foreboding Santa Lucia Mountains to the west and the bright, welcoming Gabilan Mountains to the east. The narrator, whose voice is essentially that of Steinbeck, says that he learned to tell east from west by looking at these mountains. This role of the mountains symbolizes the human predicament of having to navigate between light and darkness, goodness and evil. Additionally, the opening chapters reveal the narrator’s tendency to meditate on history in violent and dramatic terms. In the opening chapter, we see that he tends to view the events of the past as inspired by greed and brutality. Later in the novel, he says that there is “only one story in the world”—the human struggle between good and evil.