East of Eden (1955) - Plot Summary Poster



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  • A wilful young man contends against his brother for the attention of their religious father while reconnecting with his estranged mother and falling for his brother's girlfriend.

  • In the Salinas Valley, in and around World War I, Cal Trask feels he must compete against overwhelming odds with his brother Aron for the love of their father Adam. Cal is frustrated at every turn, from his reaction to the war, to how to get ahead in business and in life, to how to relate to estranged mother.

  • Cal Trask is a particularly unhappy young man. He sees himself as the black sheep of the family and is always competing with his brother Aron, who seems to be perfect in almost every way. Aron is also their father's favorite and Cal desperately wants his father's love and affection. It's the period leading up to America's entry into World War I and these are tumultuous times. After his father loses most of his fortune trying to ship refrigerated lettuce to New York, Cal decides to speculate on a crop of beans and makes a small fortune but he soon realizes that he can't buy his father's love either. Cal's discovery that his mother is alive - he and Aron were told that she had died - and that she is a madam leads to a final, tragic result for all three of the Trask men.

  • In 1917, in Monterey, California, Cal is a youngster needy of fatherly love. His father Adam Trask is a farmer who favors his brother Aron and they believe that their mother died when they were children. One day, Cal discovers that his mother Kate is still alive and is the owner of a brothel in the nearby Salinas. However he keeps his discovery in secret and does not tell to his father and brother. When Adam decides to invest in the transportation of frozen lettuce, there is a problem on the railroad and he loses his saving. Cal contacts Kate and borrows five thousand dollars to invest in the promising bean business since the United States has entered in the World War I, to recover his father's money and earn his love. Meanwhile Aron's girlfriend Abra and Cal fall in love with each other. Cal is well succeeded in his business and decides to give a surprise birthday party organized by Abra to his father to give his money as a birthday gift. The reaction of Adam and Aron trigger a series of incidents with tragic consequences.

  • 1917. Young adult twin brothers Aron and Cal Trask, are the only offspring of widowed California rancher Adam Trask. Aron, the "good" son, resembles their father. Cal's the troublemaker. Adam's never understood Cal, who craves his love. Aron and Cal's mother, who's never mentioned and who they don't remember, died shortly after giving birth to them. Cal secretly goes to search out anything he can about her, and why she's never mentioned, even after her death, but what he finds out is much more than he expected.

  • On the eve of America's entry into World War I, in California's fertile Salinas Valley, Cal--the embittered teenage son of the unyielding paterfamilias, Adam Trask--is living a loveless life. Always vying with his straight-laced brother, Aron, for the attention, and the love, of their stern and stiff father, Cal unearths the family's well-hidden secret, when he finds the truth about his long-lost mother in the coastal town of Monterey. Now, there's no turning back--and as a corrosive undercurrent of silently intense rivalry between brothers threatens to blemish, irreparably, the already frail father/son relationship--more and more, Monterey seems like the only place on Earth where Cal can fit in. All his life, Cal felt that contrasting emotions and insuppressible feelings stood in the way of truth. Once again, after all this time, another forbidden feeling disguised as youthful passion entangles the rejected son in a thorny familial conflict. Will Cal finally find love East of Eden?


The synopsis below may give away important plot points.


  • Set in 1917, during World War I, in the central California coastal town of Salinas. Cal "Cain" Trask (James Dean) and Aron "Abel" Trask (Richard Davalos) are the young adult sons of a modestly successful farmer and wartime draft board chairman named Adam Trask (Raymond Massey). The loner Cal is moody and embittered by his belief that his father favors Aron.

    The Trask family has a farm in the fertile Salinas valley. Although both Cal and Aron had long been led to believe that their mother had died "and gone to heaven," the opening scene reveals that Cal has apparently come to realize that his mother is still alive, owning and running a successful brothel in nearby town of Monterey.

    After the father's idealistic plans for a long-haul vegetable shipping business venture end in a loss of thousands of dollars, Cal decides to enter the bean-growing business, as a way of recouping the money his father lost in the vegetable shipping venture. He knows that if the United States enters the war, the price of beans will skyrocket. Cal hopes this will finally earn him the love and respect of his father. He goes to his mother Kate (aka: Eve) (Jo Van Fleet) to ask to borrow the capital he needs. She reluctantly lends him $5,000.

    Meanwhile, Aron's girlfriend Abra (Julie Harris) gradually finds herself attracted to Cal, who seems to reciprocate her feelings despite her being involved with his younger brother.

    Cal's business goes quite well, and he decides to give the money to Adam at a surprise birthday party for his father, which he and Abra plan together. As the party gets underway, Aron suddenly announces that he and Abra are engaged. While Adam is openly pleased with the news, both Abra and Cal are uneasy, having recently discovered a mutual attraction for one another is emerging, despite their suppressed feelings. Cal makes a surprise birthday present of the money to his father; however, Adam refuses to accept any money earned by what he regards as war profiteering. Cal does not understand, and sees his father's refusal to accept the gift as just another emotional rejection. When the distraught Cal leaves the room, Abra goes after him, to console him as best she can. Aron follows and orders Cal to stay away from her.

    In anger, Cal takes his brother to see their mother, then returns home alone. When his father demands to know where his brother is, Cal tells him. The shock drives Aron to get drunk and board a troop train to enlist in the army. When Sam "Seth" Barrows (Burl Ives), the local sheriff, brings the news, Adam rushes to the train station in a futile attempt to dissuade him, he fails and can only watch helplessly as his son steams away from him with his head out the rail car window, maniacally laughing at him to take him to a miliary base.

    Adam suffers a stroke because of the incredible strain, leaving him paralyzed and unable to communicate. Most of the townspeople, including Sam, blame Cal for what has happened. Sheriff Sam persuades Cal to leave town and quotes a Bible verse relating the event to the conflict of Cain and Abel in the land east of Eden.

    After everyone leaves, Cal tries to talk to Adam, but gets no response and leaves the bedroom. Abra enters the room alone and pleads with Adam to show Cal some affection before it is too late. She persuades Cal to go back into the room. When Cal makes his last bid for acceptance before leaving town, his father manages to speak. He tells his son to get rid of the annoying nurse and not to get anyone else, but to stay and take care of him himself. The film ends with Cal and Abra sitting by Adam's bedside, the emotional chasm between the father and son apparently closed.

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