East of Eden Historical Context

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California became the thirty-first state in 1850, when its population, boosted by the gold rush, numbered over 100,000. This population included many Chinese immigrants. In 1852, 10 percent of Californian residents were Chinese. After the Civil War, more settlers moved west, attracted by high wages and cheap land. The first transcontinental railroad system, begun in 1863 and finished in 1869, linked Sacramento to the Eastern states. Many Chinese laborers were brought in to work on the railroads (including Lee's parents in the novel). They built the railroad through the foothills and over the high Sierra Nevada. The work was hard and dangerous, and many lives were lost. But there was prejudice against the Chinese. For example, Chinese children were banned from attending public schools, according to a California law passed in 1860.

By 1870 California's population had risen to 560,000. But an economic depression during the next decade produced high unemployment. The depression...

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This section contains 727 words
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East of Eden from Novels for Students. ©2005-2006 Thomson Gale, a part of the Thomson Corporation. All rights reserved.