Salinas, California in John Steinbeck’s East of Eden

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“You walked west on Main Street until it bent. That’s where Castroville Street crossed Main. Castroville Street is now called Market Street, God knows why. Streets used to be named for the place they aimed at. Thus Castroville Street, if you followed it nine miles, brought you to Castroville, Alisal Street to Alisal, and so forth. Anyway, when you came to Castroville Street, you turned right. Two blocks down, the Southern Pacific tracks cut diagonally across the street on their way south, and a street crossed Castroville Street from east to west. And for the life of me I cannot remember the name of that street.”1

While many of John Steinbeck’s works are set in the Salinas Valley of Northern California, East of Eden is perhaps the most epic and the most autobiographical; in this retelling of the Book of Genesis, his mother’s family plays a large role in the lives of the main characters. Adam Trask settles his family on rocky ground in the valley near the Hamilton family homestead. The families grow and struggle parallel to each other and to the growth and struggles of the American west, with the Salinas Valley and the town of Salinas as the cradle of civilization.

The character Olive Hamilton in East of Eden is Steinbeck’s mother. Steinbeck was born in Salinas on February 27, 1902. The narrator of the novel could be thought of as Steinbeck himself, telling his family’s history and the history of Salinas as he imagined it. The Steinbeck Center, a museum dedicated solely to John Steinbeck and his work, is on Main Street.

Read more about Salinas, California on Wikipedia. Find East of Eden at a local library or on Amazon.

1Steinbeck, John. East of Eden. New York: Penguin, 1992. 217. Print.

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