Honors College Theses

Publication Date



English (B.A.)

Document Type and Release Option

Thesis (open access)

Faculty Mentor

Dr. Joe Pellegrino


Critics have considered Cathy Ames, the heinous villain of East of Eden, to be John Steinbeck's most complicated character. Although she is at times truly despicable, readers are prejudiced against her before she is even introduced by the narrator, who couches her entire existence as something monstrous and withholds information that might garner her any sympathy until her literal hour of death. Through a study of both Steinbeck's narrative techniques and his letters to his editor about her, we can see that she may not be as villainous as she is presented to be, but she is most certainly Steinbeck's most fully realized—and fully human—creation.

Thesis Summary

Although Cathy’s portrayal has been met with harsh criticism since the novel’s publication, there is an ample amount of complications within the novel itself that, upon inspection, reveal a different version of the femme fatale. Pitted against the narrator's possibly prejudicial presentation of her are also scenes that contain brutal assaults, standoffs, and a harrowing suicide. All of these combine to create a far more complicated, childlike character. Because of the complicated interactions between the plot of the novel, the characterization of Cathy, and the delayed revelation of information readers should have been privy to long before we are, it is difficult to judge or label Cathy's behavior fairly. But if we analyze these elements both individually and juxtaposed against one another, we arrive at a far more nuanced, and far more human, understanding of Cathy Ames.