A Nietzschen Overview of Cathy Ames

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Friedrich Nietzsche, 1875.

Of the characters in John Steinbeck's East of Eden, Cathy Ames is often described as the most evil. However, if Cathy's actions and motivations are analyzed within a Nietzschean framework, readers might radically reevaluate her supposedly inherent evil. 

By applying several Nietzschean concepts—slave-master dialectic, will to power, Nietzsche's Ubermensch—to Cathy Ames, a radical reimagining of her character begins to emerge. Following the slave-master dialectic articulated by Friedrich Nietzsche, Cathy rejects moral codes based on moral wagers of "good" vs "bad." Instead, she follows a moral code based on the proclamation, "what is right for me is right for all people." Therefore, Cathy defines her actions based on the virtues of might, strength, and willpower.

This moral vision allows Cathy to fulfill what Nietzsche terms, "the will to power." The will to power, according to Nietzsche, is the underlying force that compels human beings to strive for the greatest possible goal one can imagine (Lightbody, xi). In Cathy's case, her will to power is defined by her constant need to simultaneously protect herself, and to punish those she deems hypocritical, weak, or reprehensible.

Following this unquenchable thirst to fulfill the will to power, Cathy is a great example of what Nietzsche called the "Ubermensch," which roughly translates to "higher man." Nietzsche conceived of the Ubermensch as an individual who, through the process of self-overcoming, is able to rise above conventional Christian morality (Sleinis 154). Cathy, who is able to rise above and become the owner of a brothel, ultimately is able to successfully dispense of her own self-defined virtues. Thus, Cathy self-overcomes, adopts a master morality based on self-interest, and becomes an example of Nietzsche's Ubermensch.

In short, if Cathy's perceived evil is reevaluated within a Nietzschean framework, we see that traditional moral judgements made against Cathy have little to no worth when trying to determine the motivations of her actions. Likewise, this same reevaluation digs into the psychology of Cathy as well.

Works Cited

Lightbody, Brian. Nietzsche's Will to Power Naturalized: Translating the Human into Nature and Nature into the Human. Lanham, MD: Lexington Books, 2017.

Sleinis, Edgar Evalt. Nietzsche's Revaluation of Values: A Study in Strategies. Champaign-Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1994.

A Nietzschen Overview of Cathy Ames