Cathy screams, and the brothel’s bouncer comes in and knocks Adam down. Even so, Adam leaves with a serene smile on his face, realizing that he is finally free of the burden of Cathy that has been on his mind for so many years.
Adam rides the train back from Salinas. Happy about his encounter with Cathy, he stops in at Will Hamilton’s car dealership and tells Will he would like to buy a car. At home, Adam tells Lee that he now plans to make something of his land and to strengthen his relationship with his sons. Lee confesses that he hopes to leave the valley soon to start a bookstore in San Francisco but agrees to stay in Salinas to help Adam for the time being.
One of the most important moments in the novel occurs during Samuel’s second visit to Adam’s home, when the men discuss the Cain and Abel story again, and Lee introduces the concept of timshel.Timshel is the Hebrew word—meaning “thou mayest”—that God speaks to Cain about overcoming sin; it suggests that it is Cain’s choice whether to embrace goodness or evil. Lee considers timshel to be a powerful idea about human free will, something that gives people the freedom to forge their own moral destinies. The question of the validity of this idea of timshel, or freedom to choose between good and evil,recurs throughout the novel. Ultimately, Steinbeck offers hope that no one is predestined to evil, despite the evil and sin in the world. No individual is simply doomed to inherit the sins of his or her parents—as a number of characters, most notably Cal fear—but instead have the power to choose their own actions.
Samuel’s final gift to Adam is the revelation of the truth about Cathy. When Adam visits Cathy at the brothel after Samuel’s death, their conversation takes the form of a direct confrontation between good and evil. Cathy insists that there is only evil in the world; as evidence, she shows Adam pictures of seemingly righteous senators and ministers she has photographed committing demeaning sexual acts. Adam, however, now sees through Cathy, and her perverse attitude no longer threatens him. The idea of timshel liberates him, and after seeing her depravity, he suddenly feels that he no longer needs her. As Cathy feels her control of Adam slipping away, she becomes increasingly desperate, as though her loss of control over Adam measures the failure of her decision to live for sin and evil. Cathy resorts to an attempt to use sex to control Adam, but he no longer finds her beautiful, and the idea of sleeping with her actually disgusts him. Even Cathy’s claim that Charles is the twins’ real father—a possibility that the novel leaves open—does not faze Adam or hurt him. Ultimately, Cathy is wholly powerless over Adam, who leaves with a peaceful smile on his face. This scene represents an important turning point in the novel, as it marks the first time that good (represented by Adam) confronts evil (represented by Cathy) without fear. Notably, this episode is also the first time that good emerges in triumph. Evil needs good—as evidenced by Charles’s desperate need to have Adam around, and here in Cathy’s need to control Adam—but the converse does not hold true: when liberated by the idea of timshel, good does not need evil.