Can a Person Overcome His Evil Nature?

When John Steinbeck wrote East of Eden, he considered it to be the culminating work of his long career.  He put into it everything he knew and had learned about writing and about mankind and his struggles.  The book primarily focuses on the struggle of good against evil, both among people and within each individual.  The narrator, who is Steinbeck himself, says at one point, “Humans are caught – in their lives, in their thoughts, in their hungers and ambitions, in their avarice and cruelty, and in their kindness and generosity too – in a net of good and evil. I think this is the only story we have and that it occurs on all levels of feeling and intelligence.”  In developing this theme, the author, who took the title from Genesis 4:16, repeatedly makes use of the story of Cain and Abel, as two pairs of brothers engage in conflict with one another and struggle with their relationships with their parents.  Steinbeck’s solution to the inner battle between good and evil is not a biblical one, however.  Early in the novel he states what will become the major theme of the story – “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.”  The novel provides many opportunities for the Christian to think about and interact with the false optimism about unaided human nature that characterizes much humanistic thought.  Today we see the consequences of man’s attempt to purge himself of evil apart from God – divisiveness, violence, and moral chaos in society and depression and despair among those who have no reason for hope.