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The Archetypal Mother Figure In John Steinbeck's East Of Eden

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In John Steinbeck’s East of Eden, the archetypal mother figure of Olive Hamilton, who is modeled after the author’s own mother, is sharply contrasted with the novel’s antagonist, the ultimate anti-mother figure of Cathy Ames. This juxtaposition of characters highlights not only Olive’s loving, selfless nature, but also Cathy’s diabolical, egocentric one. In Chapter fourteen of East of Eden, Steinbeck presents his readers with the first description of his mother’s character, explaining that she was a woman of beauty, poise, pride, and humor. The ultimate testimony to Olive’s character, however, is given on page 151: “Olive had great courage. Perhaps it takes courage to raise children”. This quiet bravery led her through her life as a mother, her career as a teacher, her service to her community, and her mission to protect her country by selling Liberty Bonds during World War II. Every one of these actions is also evidence of…show more content…
When the author developed pleural pneumonia as a child, Olive personally nursed him back to health, bringing in the best doctors and working tirelessly to find a remedy for her son’s deadly illness. On the other hand, when Cathy was confronted with the prospect of raising her newborn twin boys, she isolated herself in her room before eventually abandoning them entirely. Olive’s actions show the resilience and determination of a good mother, while Cathy’s actions are simply those of a coward. Steinbeck does a masterful job of contrasting Olive and Cathy as characters even though they never cross paths in East of Eden. Cathy’s vengeful, egotistical nature is offset perfectly by Olive’s pure intentions and maternal devotion, making Olive a perfect foil to Cathy. With this contrast, Steinbeck teaches his readers what his mother taught her students: it takes true courage to care, to love, and to be a
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