The Book & the Movie - East of Eden | John Steinbeck (1952) / Elia Kazan (1955)

  John Steinbeck,  East of Eden, 1952

According to his third and last wife, Elaine, Steinbeck considered it his magnum opus. 
Steinbeck stated about East of Eden: "It has everything in it I have been able to learn about 
my craft or profession in all these years." He further claimed: "I think everything else I 
have written has been, in a sense, practice for this."

As he wrote the novel, Steinbeck went through a number of possible titles for the book, including
 "The Salinas Valley," the working title from the beginning; "My Valley," after a Texas businessman
 suggested he make it more universal; "Down to the Valley"; and then, after he decided to incorporate
 the Biblical allusion directly into the title, "Cain Sign." It was only upon transcribing the 16 verses 
of Cain and Abel in the text itself that he enthusiastically took the last three words of the final verse:
 East of Eden.

"And Cain went out from the presence of the Lord and dwelt in the land of Nod on the east of Eden." (22.4.30)


"The Salinas Valley is in Northern California."


"You can only understand people if you feel them in yourself."

"My imagination will get me a passport to hell one day."

"That’s why I’m talking to you. You are one of the rare people who can separate your observation from
your preconception. You see what is, where most people see what they expect."


"And this I believe: that the free, exploring mind of the individual human is the most valuable thing in the world.
And this I would fight for: the freedom of the mind to take any direction it wishes, undirected. And this I must fight against:
any idea, religion, or government which limits or destroys the individual."

John Steinbeck, East of Eden, 1952



"He turned slowly. He smiled at her as a man might smile at a memory."


"When a man says he does not want to speak of something he usually means he can think of nothing else."



"And she picked her words as one picks flowers in a mixed garden and took her time choosing."

"What else could I do?
You could try again."


"Do you take pride in the hurt? Does it make you feel large and tragic?"

"It’s awful not to be loved. It’s the worst thing in the world…It makes you mean, and violent, and cruel."

"A man so painfully in love is capable of self-torture beyond belief."



"It is one of the triumphs of the human that he can know a thing and still not believe it."

"A kind of light spread out from her. And everything changed color. And the world opened out.
And a day was good to awaken to. And there were no limits to anything. And the people of the
world were good and handsome. And I was not afraid any more."



"And now that you don’t have to be perfect, you can be good."

"It seems to me that if you or I must choose between two courses of thought or action, we
should remember our dying and try so to live that our death brings no pleasure on the world."



"All great and precious things are lonely."

"I’m looking forward to the bad smell of ugly books, and the sweet smell of good thinking."

"I’ve studied and maybe learned how things are, but I’m not even close to why they are. And you must not expect to find that people understand what they do."

"I love you better. I always have. This may be a bad thing to tell you, but it’s true. I love you better. Else why would I have given myself the trouble of hurting you?"


“But you said you did not love our father. How can you have faith in him if you didn’t love him?”
“Maybe that’s the reason,” Adam said slowly, feeling his way. “Maybe if I had loved him I would have been jealous of him. You were. Maybe—maybe love makes you suspicious and doubting. Is it true that when you love a woman you are never sure—never sure of her because you aren’t sure of yourself? I can see it pretty clearly. I can see how you loved him and what it did to you. I did not love him. Maybe he loved me. He tested me and hurt me and punished me and finally he sent me out like a sacrifice, maybe to make up for something. But he did not love you, and so he had faith in you. Maybe—why, maybe it’s a kind of reverse.

 Elia Kazan directs James Dean
James Dean and Leonard Rosenman in East of Eden (1955)

 In the scene where Adam refuses to accept Cal's money, the script called for Cal to turn away in anger from his father. It was Dean's instinct to embrace him instead. This came as a surprise to Massey, who could think of nothing to do but say, "Cal! Cal!" in response.


It was Dean's idea to do the little running dance in the bean field, and Kazan said he kissed him for
 that valuable contribution. He also noted that the far more contained Brando would never have
been able to do a scene like that, "but Dean was actually like a kid."


Director: Elia Kazan
Writers: John Steinbeck (novel), Paul Osborn (screen play)
Cinematography: Ted D. McCord 
Stars: James Dean, Raymond Massey, Julie Harris

Astor Theatre - New York CinemaScope premiere of Warner Bros, 1955

Principal photography of East of Eden lasted ten weeks. Before filming began, Kazan sent Dean off to Palm Springs to gain some weight and get some sun so that he looked like a "real" farm boy. Dean hated getting a tan, having his hair cut, and drinking a pint of cream a day to put on pounds.

Kazan denied rumours that he didn't like Dean: "You can't not like a guy with that much pain in him....You know how a dog will be mean and snarl at you, then you pat him, and he's all over you with affection? That's the way Dean was."

When Kazan introduced Dean to Steinbeck, the author exclaimed that he was the perfect choice for Cal Trask. Steinbeck himself enjoyed the final film very much.

East of Eden Film Premiere (1955) - Feat. Marilyn Monroe, Jack Warner, John Steinbeck
James Dean, 1955                                                                       James Dean resting on the set of East of Eden
James Dean on the set of “East of Eden”, 1954

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