“I can just see it all over again. You’ll stay around a year or so and then you’ll get restless and you’ll make me restless. We’ll get mad at each other and then we’ll get polite to each other–and that’s worse. Then we’ll blow up and you’ll go away again, and then you’ll come back and we’ll do it all over again.”
Adam asked, “Don’t you want me to stay?”
“Hell, yes,” said Charles. “I miss you when you’re not here. But I can see how it’s going to be just the same.”
-East of Eden, 105
This passage rang out to with the blunt truth that it contained about the relationship between Charles and Adam. It’s dysfunctional, but it’s all they have. Neither were married at this point and their parents were deceased, so Charles and Adam literally only had each other. Even so, they cannot handle living together one hundred percent of the time. Charles identifies a pattern to their arrangements where they’re content, then restless, then angry, polite and Adam goes away for a time. In reality it doesn’t work, but Charles still wishes for his brother to be with him. This seemed odd to me since as a child Charles was abusive to Adam and almost killed him. Their relationship was even worse at a young age. At this point, though, it’s more civil but still very distanced. This passage fits into this portion of the novel as Charles acknowledges the problem that exists. He acknowledges its existence as well as the fact that it is unlikely to be resolved. Eventually, it’s resolved when Adam moves to California an severs his ties to the West basically. When, a decade later, he finally writes back to Charles, his brother is dead. The cycle was broken and neither brother was satisfied.
There was a time when people kept their fly buttons fastened. And man’s freedom was boiling off. And even childhood was no good any more–not the way it was. No worry then but how to find a good stone, not round exactly but flattened and water-shaped, to use in a sling pouch cut from a discarded shoe. Where did all the good stones go, and all the simplicity?
–East of Eden, 127
This passage appears on the first page of Chapter 12, which is the start of part 2 of the novel. When I first encountered this passage, I saw it as a sly shift and possible foreshadow: the events of the novel were about to get much more complicated. At the end of part 1, Kate had just gotten into bed with Charles while Adam was in a drugged sleep. When she eventually has the children (Cal and Aron), their genetic father is questionable especially since they each have traits very much like either Adam or Charles. Additionally, there are countless other major changes that occurred after this point in the novel. Adam moves across the country to start a new life, Kate leaves him and takes over the whorehouse, Cal and Aron are born and grow up, etc.. This paragraph is almost a brief caesura in the events; an opportunity for the reader to take a breath and prepare for the upcoming and ongoing turmoil in this nonsensical Eden. It signifies the end to “simplicity” and “freedom.” Especially with how Adam attaches himself to Kate in such a profuse manner. (oops Kate/Cathy I don’t even remember when it changed) Although this paragraph in nonessential to the plot, it is essential to the reader for it signifies what there is to come. Everything up to this point will be considered simple when oncoming events roll around. However, it is important to appreciate the distinct weight that Part 1 still carried.
“He said, ‘There’s more beauty in the truth even if it is dreadful beauty. The storytellers at the city gate twist life so that it looks sweet to the lazy and the stupid and the weak, and this only strengthens their infirmities and teaches nothing, cures nothing, nor does it let the heart soar,'”
-East of Eden, 356
This caught my attention because of its innate wisdom. At first glance, it sounds fairly nice and straightforward – any truth is better than a lie in the long run. Upon closer inspection, its yield has greater implication. Who are these “storytellers”? Oftentimes, it is human nature to avoid facing its fears and failures. Following the quote, this does nothing but confirm their flaws when it could actually be taken to make them stronger if they only had embraced the truth. It sounds poetic, but it actually is exceptionally difficult to carry out. Relating to the novel as a whole, Cal was often faced with inner turmoil and moral choices of right and wrong. He had the ability to choose to be good even though it was easier to do bad for him. He did not always make the right choices. His life paralleled that of Cain of the Bible. He craved the attention and approval that his brother received. His actions followed suit and confirmed his “infirmities” just as this quote implies. In the novel, many deep pockets of wisdom originated from Lee, the Chinese servant to Adam. This quote actually came from Lee’s father who passed it on to Lee. Generally it was Lee who had the wisdom, but this bit is sourced beyond him illustrating how even Lee may have struggle to face truth in his life. Lee wanted to start a book store and have a family, but that never happened. He never separated from the Trasks and played an critical role in raising Cal and Aron. Perhaps he never took the opportunity to have his “heart soar.”
If his mother was alive, his father was a liar. If one was alive, the other was dead.
Lee had built him very well. Having a respect that amounted to reverence for the truth, he had also its natural opposite, a loathing of a lie.
-East of Eden, 427
These two tied quotes jumped out at me when I realized how much they tied to my previous entry. They both are part of a passage discussing truth and lies. Aron is pondering the whereabouts of his mother, Cathy and is trying to figure out the truth in what has been told him, for he has great respect and trust in the words of Lee and Adam, but Abra has made him question their truthfulness. This brings him inner conflict. Lee has had to lie to the twins about their mother, and that also leaves him conflicted, for it cannot be hidden forever. It is an ugly truth, but perhaps it would be better that a lie meant to shield. Additionally, the heightened morals that exist in the twins may come back to bite Adam and Lee depending on how the twin accept the truth. When Cal finds out the truth, he is shaken, but recovers and comes to see the horror in his mother. Aron on the other hand, finds out much later and irreparably wounded. Aron struggles to accept it. His downfall is in motion, but it isn’t his own fault.
“We’re a violent people, Cal. Does it seem strange to you that I include myself? Maybe it’s true that we are all descended from the restless, the nervous, the criminals, the arguers and brawlers, but also the brave and independent and restless. If our ancestors had not been that, they would have stayed in their home plots in the other world and starved over the squeezed out soil.”
-East of Eden, 568
This reminded me of Thomas Hobbes’ notion that life in the state of nature was “brutish and short.” All people have in them both potential for good and evil, as cinematic as that sounds. In this quote, Lee is addresses Cal about his inner demons. In the writing, Steinbeck acknowledges that Lee included himself in the quote. This demonstrates that the inner moral is necessary to explain to Cal and also important enough that Steinbeck couldn’t leave it for the reader to figure out. It was important enough to lay out piece by piece. Even Lee has come descended from people that are “criminals.” Yet these people also have good qualities, and that it what pushes society forward. The language of this passage is exceptionally connotative with terms like “arguers and brawlers” and “squeezed-out” being used to describe the negative persona of human nature. By listing out the qualities, a clearer picture is painted of the nature of people. Additionally, this passage propelled the novel forward because it allowed Cal to introspect on himself and realize that he doesn’t have to be perfect.
In uncertainty I am certain that underneath their topmost layers of frailty men want to be good and want to be loved. Indeed, most of their vices are attempted short cuts to love. When a man comes to die, no matter what his talents and influence and genius, if he dies unloved his life must be a failure to him and his dying a cold horror. It seems to me that if you or I must choose between two courses of thought or action, we should remember our dying and try so to live that our death brings no pleasure to the world.
We have only one story. All novels, all poetry, are built on the never-ending contest in ourselves of good and evil. And it occurs to me that evil must constantly respawn, while good, while virtue, is immortal. Vice has always a new fresh young face, while virtue is venerable as nothing else in the world is.
-East of Eden, 413
I chose this passage as the “Quote of the Book.” It perfectly captures the entire struggle that each of the characters faced. Kate lived without any good in her, and that made her jealous. She saw good in other people and could not comprehend it, for it was a sensation foreign to her. She sees only the evil in the world. Alternatively, Cal lived in a battle of inner good and evil. He was the least favored twin and had to fight for recognition. He pushed his brother of the end when he told Aron about Kate. Yet he still managed to find good in himself and received hopeful recognition from Adam at the end of the novel through the word “timshel” meaning “may” – Cal has the choice, he has the ability to be either good or evil and he may still achieve better things. This mirrored Adam, who as a child was loved less than his brother Charles. Nonetheless, Adam came to have a life that was good overall.
This is the true meaning of the book for me. It is quintessential to realize that there will always be good and evil. Both are innate and cannot be avoided, but the good will always be the favored outcome. It is this virtue that roots itself into the world and spurs humanity toward a gleaming dawn. In essence, East of Eden was about the inner conflicts that each and every character faced – from Cyrus to Will. Their lives were entirely up to them. It is true that many circumstances and other characters helped or hindered their progressions, but, in the end, it is the individual that decides how they will be remembered.
In reflecting on this novel, I realize that I actually enjoyed it. The first part was profusely dry and I probably would have stopped reading given the option, but it really picked up. I got in the book and pushed myself to read more. One of the hard parts about this assignment was the time management. Nothing was immensely difficult, but a lot of it was time consuming. I planned to do a lot of my reading during May because I planned to study for AP’s in the prior months, but then the first half of May got sucked away to the actual testing process. I was just burned out. Luckily, I had a ten hour drive mid-May to take away some large chunks of the reading. I actually covered the magazine and short novel portion mostly early on, so this drive allowed me to focus on East of Eden. I definitely changed my mind on the novel during the ride. I finally immersed myself in the plot for lack of other entertainment. Ha! Ha! But I was overall impressed with the novel. There was greater meaning in it than I anticipated – it spoke inquisitively on human nature and the struggles that many face in balancing their morals.