IntroductionEven though Steinbeck placed the time ofthe story in the past, but it is possible to detect today’s events in thenovel.
As Luche Li points out:” Through his work of fiction and nonfiction, Steinbeckhas offered us a broad range of views with which we can reflect on Americanethics.” (63) World War I and II left people with severephysical and psychological effects. This pushed them into seeking calmness moreand more. According to Danielle Woods:” Americans built a defense mechanismagainst the fear of the Cold War and its predicted effects, they attempted toseek calmness through building and maintaining stable family. Once World War IIended, American men and women were eager to marry. (3)”.
Both men and womenplayed their traditional social roles. There had been a period when there were growingneeds of economic markets, thus women were significant part of the labormarket. But after world wars there had been significant modifications onwomen’s role in her family and society. Women were supposed to be obedientdaughters, wives and devoted mothers. As Estelle B.
Freedman mentions: “Theideology of “true womanhood” was so deeply ingrained and so useful forpreserving social stability in a time of flux that those few women whoexplicitly rejected its inequalities could find little support for their views.”(25)So, women’s aim was mainly finding theright man to marry and develop into a birth giving machine. Women developed abelief that having many children and thus building a large family was a virtueand 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 ofdesire, but it is always kept in a dimension of need.
Where desire isconcerned, especially in its religious dimension, the role ofmaternal–feminine power is often nullified in the satisfying of individual andcollective needs. Desire for her, her desire, that is what is forbidden by thelaw 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 havingmore children who promise a brighter future. So, women’s most significant roleis to give birth and be dependent upon their husbands. Women who tried to seekindependence and work, were seen unsuitable as wives and mothers. In this context, it is particularlyfruitful to explore John Steinbeck’s 1952 novel, East of Eden.
The study of the female characters in this novel willreveal: how women are depicted within their society, what roles are assigned tothese women and how their characterization evoke Cathy to defy the existinggender norms. MethodologyTo explore theeffects of Cathy’s monstrous character on the other male characters in East of Eden, the methodology of thisthesis will adopt Feminism, specifically the third wave feminism. Third-wavefeminism is a reaction against second-wave views on women and the realizationthat women are of “many colors, ethnicities, nationalities, religions, andcultural backgrounds” (Tong 284). Such realization develops a universalcommunity of feminists with various and different gender narratives. “The origin offthe third wave… is sometimes traced to Rebecca Walker’s article, ‘Becoming the Third Wave,’ in which she stated, ‘Iam not a post-feminism feminist. I am the Third Wave'” (Foss Foss Dominico 49).In their attemptto change social norms, third-wave feminists believe in self empoweringstrategy “personal empowerment as a starting point for societal change”(Rockler-Gladen). By which women canoverturn the oppression impose on them by the existing political system.
Peoplewho are empowered can affect people around them, thus challenging thestereotypical gender roles. Challenging these gender roles is, for thethird-wave feminist, a step in the way of defying the patriarchal agenda. Thus,the concepts of utopias and dystopias gaininterest of the feminist thought. According to Carol Pearson:”…a feministutopia meets two criteria. First, it criticizes patriarchy as an unnaturalstate of affairs, by revealing false assumptions about female nature thatground the misogyny inherent to patriarchal institutions… The second criterioncalls for the depiction of a world that is good for women— a world in whichwomen are free to achieve their full potential” (Little 15). Thus, the third wave is extremely similar to the second in that itfocuses on social change, but has integral differences that set it apart fromthe second wave, some being its inclusion of men and its focus ongender and gender roles rather than exclusively dealing with the subjugation ofwomen. This discussion will develop to explain how does Cathy threatenpatriarchal agenda, that aims to praise masculinity.
Through empowering herselfby her monstrous character, Cathy is able to free herself from thestereotypical gender roles. Her empowered character affects people around her,specifically the males (Adam, Charles, Cal and Aron), leading to theemasculation of her husband and thus shattering the idea of gender norms.