Friday, October 20, 2017

East of Eden quotes

I recently finished a re-read of John Steinbeck's East of Eden (EE). I first read EE in high school (11th or 12th grade-- I think, with Mr. Taylor-- at Robinson HS in Fairfax). That alone is interesting-- to consider what kids read today vs. what I read. (Another interesting observation: many folks read Ayn Rand's massive novels in their HS days in the 1950s and 1960s.)

EE is a great novel-- and Steinbeck considered it "the only book [he had] ever written". It's a retelling of Genesis 1-4-- in particular, Cain and Abel-- so it's a particularly interesting read for Jews and Christians.

On free will and Gen 4…
Lee on alternative translations of timshel (691’s last word from Adam) in Gen 4 as (’Thou shalt’ / ‘Do thou’ vs. ‘Thou mayest rule over sin’): “Don’t you see?” he cried. “The American Standard translation orders men to triumph over sin, and you can call sin ignorance. The King James translation makes a promise in ‘Thou shalt,’ meaning that men will surely triumph over sin. 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?”…Now, there are many millions in their sects and churches who feel the order, ‘Do thou,’ and throw their weight into obedience. And there are millions more who feel predestination in ‘Thou shalt.’ Nothing they may do can interfere with what will be. But “Thou mayest’! Why, that makes a man great, that gives him stature with the gods, for in his weakness and his filth and his murder of his brother he has still the great choice. He can choose his course and fight it through and win…It is the easy out of laziness, out of weakness, to throw oneself into the lap of deity, saying, ‘I couldn’t help it; the way was set.’ But think of the glory of the choice! That makes a man a man. A cat has no choice, a bee must make honey. There’s no godliness there…But this—this is a ladder to climb to the stars.” Lee’s eyes shone. “You can never lose that. It cuts the feet from under weakness and cowardliness and laziness.” (349-350)

“It was your two-word retranslation, Lee—”Thou mayest.’ It took me by the throat and shook me. And when the dizziness was over, a path was open, new and bright. And my life which is ending seems to be going on to an ending wonderful. And my music has a new last melody like a bird song in the night.” Lee was peering at him’ through the darkness. “That’s what it did to those old men of my family.” “ ‘Thou mayest rule over sin,’ Lee. That’s it. I do not believe all men are destroyed. I can name you a dozen who were not, and they are the ones the world lives by. It is true of the spirit as it is true of battles—only the winners are remembered. Surely most men are destroyed, but there are others who like pillars of fire guide frightened men through the darkness. ‘Thou mayest, Thou mayest!’ What glory! It is true that we are weak and sick and quarrelsome, but if that is all we ever were, we would, millenniums ago, have disappeared from the face of the earth. A few remnants of fossilized jawbone, some broken teeth in strata of limestone, would be the only mark man would have left of his existence in the world. But the choice, Lee, the choice of winning! I had never understood it or accepted it before. Do you see now why I told Adam tonight? I exercised the choice. Maybe I was wrong, but by telling him I also forced him to live or get off the pot. What is that word, Lee?” “Timshel,” said Lee. (355-356)

I hate her because I know why she went away. I know—because I’ve got her in me.” His head was down and his voice was heartbroken. Lee jumped up. “You stop that!” he said sharply. “You hear me? Don’t let me catch you doing that. Of course you may have that in you. Everybody has. But you’ve got the other too. Here—look up! Look at me!” Cal raised his head and said wearily, “What do you want?” “You’ve got the other too. Listen to me! You wouldn’t even be wondering if you didn’t have it. Don’t you dare take the lazy way. It’s too easy to excuse yourself because of your ancestry. Don’t let me catch you doing it! Now—look close at me so you will remember. Whatever you do, it will be you who do it—not your mother.” “Do you believe that, Lee?” “Yes, I believe it, and you’d better believe it or I’ll break every bone in your body.” (515)

It is argued that because they believed thoroughly in a just, moral God they could put their faith there and let the smaller securities take care of themselves. But I think that because they trusted themselves and respected themselves as individuals, because they knew beyond doubt that they were valuable and potentially moral units—because of this they could give God their own courage and dignity and then receive it back. (14)

Monsters are variations from the accepted normal to a greater or a less degree…to a monster the norm must seem monstrous, since everyone is normal to himself. To the inner monster it must be even more obscure, since he has no visible thing to compare with others. To a man born without conscience, a soul-stricken man must seem ridiculous. To a criminal, honesty is foolish. You must not forget that a monster is only a variation, and that to a monster the norm is monstrous. (82)

What freedom men and women could have, were they not constantly tricked and trapped and enslaved and tortured by their sexuality! The only drawback in that freedom is that without it one would not be a human. One would be a monster. (86 on Cathy)

Adam said, “I can’t get over a feeling that Cain got the dirty end of the stick.” “Maybe he did,” said Samuel. “But Cain lived and had children, and Abel lives only in the story. We are Cain’s children. (310)

Rage was in his voice, and Adam felt the creeping fear; but he knew also that he had a moment left…He could think of nothing to say that would be heard, for once in rage his brother would not listen, would not even hear. He bulked darkly in front of Adam, shorter, wider, thicker, but still not crouched… (33)

On religion…
George was a sinless boy and grew to be a sinless man. No crime of commission was ever attributed to him, and his crimes of omission were only misdemeanors. In his middle life, at about the time such things were known about, it was discovered that he had pernicious anemia. It is possible that his virtue lived on a lack of energy. (43)

She never studied the Bible or inspected it; she just read it. The many places where it seems to refute itself did not confuse her in the least. And finally she came to a point where she knew it so well that she went right on reading it without listening. (48-49 on Liza)

Liza spoke sharply. “You’re never satisfied to let the Testament alone. You’re forever picking at it and questioning it. You turn it over the way a ’coon turns over a wet rock, and it angers me.” [Samuel, her husband:] “I’m just trying to understand it, Mother.” [Liza] “What is there to understand? Just read it. There it is in black and white. Who wants you to understand it? If the Lord God wanted you to understand it He’d have given you to understand or He’d have set it down different.” (294)

Aron’s training in worldliness was gained from a young man of no experience, which gave him the agility for generalization only the inexperienced can have… It was natural that the convert Aron should work on Cal. First Aron prayed silently for Cal, but finally he approached him. He denounced Cal’s godlessness, demanded his reformation. Cal might have tried to go along if his brother had been more clever. But Aron had reached a point of passionate purity that made everyone else foul. After a few lectures Cal found him unbearably smug and told him so. It was a relief to both of them when Aron abandoned his brother to eternal damnation. (516-517)

At intervals Salinas suffered from a mild eructation of morality. The process never varied much. One burst was like another. Sometimes it started in the pulpit and sometimes with a new ambitious president of the Women’s Civic Club. Gambling was invariably the sin to be eradicated. There were certain advantages in attacking gambling. One could discuss it, which was not true of prostitution. It was an obvious evil and most of the games were operated by Chinese. There was little chance of treading on the toes of a relative. From church and club the town’s two newspapers caught fire. Editorials demanded a clean-up. The police agreed but pleaded short-handedness and tried for increased budget and sometimes succeeded. When it got to the editorial stage everyone knew the cards were down. What followed was as carefully produced as a ballet. The police got ready, the gambling houses got ready, and the papers set up congratulatory editorials in advance. Then came the raid, deliberate and sure. Twenty or more Chinese, imported from Pajaro, a few bums, six or eight drummers, who, being strangers, were not warned, fell into the police net, were booked, jailed, and in the morning fined and released. The town relaxed in its new spotlessness and the houses lost only one night of business plus the fines. It is one of the triumphs of the human that he can know a thing and still not believe it. (518)

Mrs. Edwards was persistently if not profoundly religious. She spent a great part of her time with the mechanics of her church, which did not leave her time for either its background or its effects. (106)

On life, aging, death and legacy…
Father can’t be an old man. Samuel is young as the dawn—the perpetual dawn. He might get old as midday maybe, but sweet God! the evening cannot come, and the night—? Sweet God, no! (328-329)

“When you say I deserve a rest, you are saying that my life is over.” (342; Samuel to Adam)

On death and legacy: 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?” (476)

I have wondered why it is that some people are less affected and torn by the verities of life and death than others. Una’s death cut the earth from under Samuel’s feet and opened his defended keep and let in old age. On the other hand Liza, who surely loved her family as deeply as did her husband, was not destroyed or warped. Her life continued evenly. She felt sorrow but she survived it. 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. Samuel may have thought and played and philosophized about death, hut he did not really believe in it. His world did not have death as a member. He, and all around him, was immortal. When real death came it was an outrage, a denial of the immortality he deeply felt, and the one crack in his wall caused the whole structure to crash. I think he had always thought he could argue himself out of death. It was a personal opponent and one he could lick. To Liza it was simply death—the thing promised and expected. She could go on and in her sorrow put a pot of beans in the oven, bake six pies, and plan to exactness how much food would be necessary properly to feed the funeral guests. And she could in her sorrow see that Samuel had a clean white shirt and that his black broadcloth was brushed and free of spots and his shoes blacked. Perhaps it takes these two kinds to make a good marriage, riveted with several kinds of strengths. (336; on the response of Liza vs. Samuel to Una’s death)

You can boast about anything if it's all you have. Maybe the less you have, the more you are required to boast. (4)

And it never failed that during the dry years the people forgot about the rich years, and during the wet years they lost all memory of the dry years. It was always that way. (6)

“Charles is not afraid so he could never learn anything about courage.” (30)

“I don’t believe anything,” Adam said. “I don’t know, so what can I believe?” (77)

In the books of some memories it was the best time that ever sloshed over the world—the old time, the gay time, sweet and simple, as though time were young and fearless…For the world was changing, and sweetness was gone, and virtue too…Ladies were not ladies any more, and you couldn’t trust a gentleman’s word. There was a time when people kept their fly buttons fastened. And man’s freedom was boiling off…Oh, strawberries don’t taste as they used to and the thighs of women have lost their clutch! (147-151; intro to Part 2 on perspectives at the turn of the century)

Whatever Cathy may have been, she set off the glory in Adam…He raged at his farm, forced it, added to it, drilled and trimmed, and his boundaries extended. He took no rest, no recreation, and he became rich without pleasure and respected without friends. (152-153)

“There are no ugly questions except those clothed in condescension. I don’t know where being a servant came into disrepute. It is the refuge of a philosopher, the food of the lazy, and, properly carried out, it is a position of power, even of love. I can’t understand why more intelligent people don’t take it as a career—learn to do it well and reap its benefits. A good servant has absolute security, not because of his master’s kindness, but because of habit and indolence. It’s a hard thing for a man to change spices or lay out his own socks. He’ll keep a bad servant rather than change. But a good servant, and I am an excellent one, can completely control his master, tell him what to think, how to act, whom to marry, when to divorce, reduce him to terror as a discipline, or distribute happiness to him, and finally be mentioned in his will. If I had wished I could have robbed, stripped, and beaten anyone I’ve worked for and come away with thanks. Finally, in my circumstances I am unprotected. My master will defend me, protect me. You have to work and worry. I work less and worry less. And I am a good servant. A bad one does no work and does no worrying, and he still is fed, clothed, and protected. I don’t know any profession where the field is so cluttered with incompetents and where excellence is so rare.” (190; Lee responding to a question about settling for being a servant)


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