We’re back, you little people! On Steinbeck’s East of Eden

Enki – the young human blacksmith in John Steinbeck’s 1937 novel East of Eden

The button never had a button

East of Eden continues to resonate more than 80 years after publication. It takes place in the small, flatland California town of El Dorado (now CA). It tells the story of a boy named Enki, who is a child of broken dreams. He is born in an air raid shelter, later named Buck Byers after Buck Rogers, the fictional superhero of the golden age of science fiction. Buck and Enki’s unusual story comes to a head when Buck leads a revolution and joins the army. Enki, meanwhile, is led astray into the underbelly of town.

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The sensitive boy, played by young Ben Johnson, learns that being a mechanic (or tinkering with a machine as his mother says he should do) makes one special. When Steinbeck eventually uses a flicker switch (which doesn’t actually exist) to allow Buck and Enki to communicate through the power of light, Buck realises a new dream of heroism. His sacrifice, however, means that his father dies in a war that is “less than we can be proud of”. Enki, meanwhile, doesn’t turn out to be any less special. His skills lead to a career in mining and his discovery of a new and much-needed earth-shattering technology.

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