Tuesday, March 08, 2016

East of eden - retrospect

Over the last two weeks I read John Steinbeck's classic novel 'East of Eden.' Oh my. It was really good, and I can't believe I devoured this 601-page work so quickly (for me). It was like I was addicted to it. This past weekend Jane and I both sat and read basically all afternoon and evening on Saturday and Sunday. Then, when it was done, I wasn't quite sure what to do with myself. It was like I'd moved away from family and friends.

This is new for me. I've never been a big fiction reader, and even when I did - other than Don Quixote in high school - I have usually tackled much shorter books. I actually rather liked getting caught up in the book, but I found it difficult to do much else. At any rate, it is an incredible read, and I'm glad I did it. I like Steinbeck.

It was not only a great story, but the connection to the Genesis story from the bible was fascinating to me too. The book may be set in the Salinas Valley in Northern California, but it hits home at the heart of every person under the son. The plot parallels the story of Cain and Abel in Genesis 4:1-16 (as well as being where the title came from). Cain and Abel were Adam and Eve's children. Both Charles and Adam Trask, as well as Adam's sons Caleb and Aron, are seen as Cain and Abel figures. So it's a classic struggle of the good vs evil in all of us, highlighted by the discovery of timshel - the Hebrew word for "thou mayest" - that gives us a choice. That whole section from pp. 299-302 was riveting reading - including the smoking of opium every afternoon for mind clearing purposes. ;)

There is a brief synopsis of the book found HERE, as well as a little more info on the wiki page for the novel. I didn't realize the movie was only based on a portion of the story, and it was James Dean's first big role.

Even though I didn't underline or corner pages near as much as I usually do, there was still a lot that stuck out to me for various reasons. Here are a few highlights I lifted:
  • p.4 - "Maybe the less you have, the more you are required to boast."
  • p.73 - "A story has in it neither gain nor loss. But a lie is a device from profit or escape."
  • p. 127 - "For the world was changing, and sweetness was gone, and virtue too. Worry had crept on a corroding world, and what was lost -- good manners, ease and beauty? Ladies were not ladies any more, and you couldn't trust a gentleman's word."
  • pp.264-268, then 299-302 - The naming of the boys and discussion of the Cain and Abel story.
  • p. 268 - "The greatest terror a child can have is that he is not loved, and rejection is the hell he fears. I think everyone in the world to a large or small extent has felt rejection. And with rejection comes anger, and with anger some kind of crime in revenge for the rejection, and with the crime guilt -- and there is the story of mankind. I think that if rejection could be amputated, the human would not be what he is. Maybe there would be fewer crazy people..."
  • p.290 - "I think perhaps Liza accepted the world as she accepted the Bible, with all of its paradoxes and its reverses. She did not like death but she knew it existed, and when it came it did not surprise her."
  • p.293 - "Maybe you're playing a part on a great stage with only yourself as audience."
  • p.301 - "But the Hebrew word, the word timshel- 'Thou mayest' - that gives a choice. It might be the most important word in the world. That says the way is open. That throws it right back on a man. For if 'Thou mayest' - it is also true that 'Thou mayest not.' Don't you see?"
  • p.345 - "Aron was content to be a part of his world, but Cal must change it." ***
  • p.377 - (Cal's prayer) "'Dear Lord,' he said, 'let me be like Aron. Don't make me mean. I don't want to be. If you will let everybody like me, why, I'll give you anything in the world, and if I haven't got it, why, I'll go for to get it. I don't want to be mean. I don't want to be lonely. For Jesus' sake, Amen.'" *
  • p.412 - "And in our time, when a man dies -- if he has had wealth and influence and power and all the vestments that arouse envy, and after the living take stock of the dead man's property and his eminence and works and monuments - the question is still there: Was his life good or was it evil? - which is another way of putting Croesus's question. Envies are gone, and the measuring stick is: 'Was he loved or was he hated? Is his death felt as a loss or does a kind of joy come of it?'"
  • p.412-413 - "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 be 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."
  • p.413 - "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."
  • p.431 - "Perhaps the best conversationalist in the world is the man who helps other to talk." ***
  • p.583 - "And now that you don't have to be perfect, you can be good. Is that it?"
So, there it is. Reading this book made me feel good (even though I related way too much with Cal). It also made me want to read more fiction. I want to wait a little bit though, so I don't disappoint myself with the next one.