Table of Contents | Message Board | Downloadable/Printable Version
Catherine, Cathy, Kate
Catherine is a totally flat character - too predictably evil to be believable. Her evil has no apparent origin, for she is bright and was well taken care of in childhood. She simply suffers from an absence of goodness in her moral makeup. She also cannot understand goodness in others, scorning it as a weakness and taking advantage of it.
In the characterization of Cathy Trask, Steinbeck has accumulated all the anti-feminist notions of the mid-twentieth century. Cathy’s primary manner of displaying her evil is in her sexuality. She is sexually precocious as a child, luring boys and young men into sexual encounters with her and then sacrificing them in order to remain safely within the good graces of her parents. As an adult, she goes immediately into prostitution, both before and after she is married to Adam. On her wedding night, she successfully seduces Charles, the brother of her bridegroom. In her practice as a prostitute, Kate is sexually active rather than a passive victim of men’s predations. She brings out all their secret wickedness with her circus shows and her sadomasochism. She also photographs men in the sexual act and then extorts money from them.
Cathy is made to be more horrible when she expresses her lack of maternal extinct. She openly states that she does not want to be a mother and tries to abort her unborn child. When she goes into labor, she is so upset over the thought of giving birth that she bites and wounds Samuel Hamilton, who is assisting her with the birth. One of her most evil acts comes when she shoots her husband and abandons her infants as they are crying for her in hunger.
Cathy’s ultimate evil is seen in her lack of respect for life. In order to be independent of her parents, she burns them to death and takes their money. When Adam tries to force her to stay with him as his wife, she shoots him. When she learns that Faye has willed her all her possessions, Kate slowly kills her with poisons. When Caleb brings Aaron to meet his mother, Kate laughs at his distress. When Ethel reveals that she knows about Faye’s murder and blackmails Kate, Kate plans her murder. When Kate learns that Joe is trying to double cross her, she turns him in to the sheriff, causing his death. In the end, she reveals that she has no respect for her own life, for she commits suicide.
In her reflections on the past, Cathy shows some abnormalities of childhood. She always felt terribly lonely. As a result, she fantasized that she could make herself small like Alice in Alice in Wonderland. It was her way of escaping from the pain of her world. Kate also has one tendency towards goodness. She felt strongly attached to Aaron and his goodness; as a result, she wanted to keep him from learning about her. When he finds out the truth about Kate, she cannot bear it and kills herself.
Kate’s physical being becomes a reflection of her evil nature. Her painfully arthritic hands are a symbol of her deformed and tortured soul. It is ironic that she has often used her hands to inflict pain on others, and now her hands have become twisted and inflict pain on her. Her sensitivity towards the light is symbolic of her fear of the truth. Just as she hides from the world inside her house of prostitution, she hides from the light by living in a dimly lit gray room, eyes closed against the truth.