Introduction

Even though Steinbeck placed the time of
the story in the past, but it is possible to detect today’s events in the
novel. As Luche Li points out:” Through his work of fiction and nonfiction, Steinbeck
has offered us a broad range of views with which we can reflect on American
ethics.” (63)

World War I and II left people with severe
physical and psychological effects. This pushed them into seeking calmness more
and more. According to Danielle Woods:” Americans built a defense mechanism
against the fear of the Cold War and its predicted effects, they attempted to
seek calmness through building and maintaining stable family. Once World War II
ended, American men and women were eager to marry. (3)”. Both men and women
played their traditional social roles. There had been a period when there were growing
needs of economic markets, thus women were significant part of the labor
market. But after world wars there had been significant modifications on
women’s role in her family and society. Women were supposed to be obedient
daughters, wives and devoted mothers. As Estelle B. Freedman mentions: “The
ideology of “true womanhood” was so deeply ingrained and so useful for
preserving social stability in a time of flux that those few women who
explicitly rejected its inequalities could find little support for their views.”
(25)

So, women’s aim was mainly finding the
right man to marry and develop into a birth giving machine. Women developed a
belief that having many children and thus building a large family was a virtue
and a source of comfort. As Luce Irigaray in her article

“The bodily encounter with the mother”
remarks: “The maternal function underpins the social order and the order of
desire, but it is always kept in a dimension of need. Where desire is
concerned, especially in its religious dimension, the role of
maternal–feminine power is often nullified in the satisfying of individual and
collective needs. Desire for her, her desire, that is what is forbidden by the
law of the father, of all fathers: fathers of families, fathers of nations,
religious fathers, professor–fathers, doctor–fathers, lover– fathers, etc.”.
(414)

After wars, the society encouraged having
more children who promise a brighter future. So, women’s most significant role
is to give birth and be dependent upon their husbands. Women who tried to seek
independence and work, were seen unsuitable as wives and mothers.

In this context, it is particularly
fruitful to explore John Steinbeck’s 1952 novel, East of Eden. The study of the female characters in this novel will
reveal: how women are depicted within their society, what roles are assigned to
these women and how their characterization evoke Cathy to defy the existing
gender norms.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Methodology

To explore the
effects of Cathy’s monstrous character on the other male characters in East of Eden, the methodology of this
thesis will adopt Feminism, specifically the third wave feminism.

Third-wave
feminism is a reaction against second-wave views on women and the realization
that women are of “many colors, ethnicities, nationalities, religions, and
cultural backgrounds” (Tong 284). Such realization develops a universal
community of feminists with various and different gender narratives.

“The origin off
the third wave… is sometimes traced to Rebecca Walker’s article, ‘Becoming      the Third Wave,’ in which she stated, ‘I
am not a post-feminism feminist. I am the Third Wave'” (Foss Foss Dominico 49).

In their attempt
to change social norms, third-wave feminists believe in self empowering
strategy “personal empowerment as a starting point for societal change”
(Rockler-Gladen).  By which women can
overturn the oppression impose on them by the existing political system. People
who are empowered can affect people around them, thus challenging the
stereotypical gender roles. Challenging these gender roles is, for the
third-wave feminist, a step in the way of defying the patriarchal agenda. Thus,
the concepts of utopias and dystopias gain
interest of the feminist thought. According to Carol Pearson:

“…a feminist
utopia meets two criteria. First, it criticizes patriarchy as an unnatural
state of affairs, by revealing false assumptions about female nature that
ground the misogyny inherent to patriarchal institutions… The second criterion
calls for the depiction of a world that is good for women— a world in which
women are free to achieve their full potential” (Little 15).

Thus, the third wave is extremely similar to the second in that it
focuses on social change, but has integral differences that set it apart from
the second wave, some being its inclusion of men and its focus on
gender and gender roles rather than exclusively dealing with the subjugation of
women.

This discussion will develop to explain how does Cathy threaten
patriarchal agenda, that aims to praise masculinity. Through empowering herself
by her monstrous character, Cathy is able to free herself from the
stereotypical gender roles. Her empowered character affects people around her,
specifically the males (Adam, Charles, Cal and Aron), leading to the
emasculation of her husband and thus shattering the idea of gender norms.