View Poll Results: 'East of Eden': Final Verdict

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  • * Waste of time. Wouldn't recommend it.

    1 3.57%
  • ** Didn't like it much.

    0 0%
  • *** Average.

    2 7.14%
  • **** It is a good book.

    4 14.29%
  • ***** Liked it very much. Would strongly recommend it.

    21 75.00%
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Thread: Summer Reading: 'East of Eden' by Steinbeck

  1. #46
    Okay . . . . . so I have finished the book, and I think I have some things figured out. Firstly, the Hebrew word 'Timshel' ('Thou mayest') is obviously an important aspect of the novel (perhaps the most important? At the moment I think that it is). One of the defining characteristics in the book is the characters struggle between good and evil; perform evil, or do good. I think that this is bourne out explicitly in the narrator's discourse in chapter 34 (a heavy, quick chapter - I liked how Steinbeck interspersed these little homilies in between the actual plot developments; I have also concluded that they contain a large portion of the meaning and authorial intent to be found in the book), in which Steinbeck states:

    "Virtue and vice were warp and woof of our first conciousness, and they will be the fabric of our last, and this despite any changes we may impose on field and river and mountain, on economy and manners. There is no other story. A man, after he has brushed off the dust and chips of his life, will have left only the hard, clean questions : Was it good or was it evil? Have I done well - or ill?"

    "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 a loss or does a kind of joy come with it?"


    Also, I think a lot of the material concerning blood relation, and whether or not children are predilected towards their actions genetically, pertains to this idea as well. Off the top of my head:

    "I don't very much believe in blood," said Samuel. "I think that when a man finds good or bad in his children he is seeing only what he planted in them after they cleared the womb."


    Again, "good", or "bad".


    Also, Caleb and Adam's conversation near the end of the book is a direct (nearly explicit) allusion to the Biblical story of Cain and Able which was expounded on so dearly earlier in the novel.






    Adam asked, "Do you know where you brother is?"
    "No, I don't," said Cal.
    "Weren't you with him at all?"
    "No."
    "He hasn't been home for two nights. Where is he?"
    "How do I know?" said Cal. "Am I supposed to look after him?"



    Then the Lord said to Cain, "Where is you brother Abel?"
    "I don't know," he replied. "Am I my brother's keeper?"





    I have lots of other thoughts and haven't yet gone back and seen what everybody else has written. Has anyone else finished the book? I know Pensive did . . . Papayahed and SleepyWitch?



    One other little digression (I am typing with a staight face ) - I think that Steinbeck's treatment of turnips was especially interesting. Both turnip adherents/advocates and naysayers/assailants might do well in considering the following:

    "Well, I haven't got that yet. Maybe some people need things more than others, or hate things more. My father hates turnips. He always did. Never came from anything. Turnips make him mad, real mad. Well, one time my mother was - well, huffy, and she made a casserole of mashed turnips with lots of pepper and cheese on top and got it all brown on top. My father ate half a dish of it before he asked what it was. My mother said turnips, and he threw the dish on the floor and got up and went out. I don't think he ever forgave her."

    Lee chuckled. "He can forgive her because she said turnips.
    "
    Last edited by ShoutGrace; 07-18-2006 at 01:11 AM. Reason: typos
    As Kingfishers catch fire, dragonflies draw flame . . .


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  2. #47
    Serious business Taliesin's Avatar
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    So. we have finished the book.

    It was an interesting read, although "timshel" didn't have much effect on us. It seemed a bit like breaking through an open door to us, but that aside, there were many interesting points too.

    We found the passage at the beginning where Adams father tells Adam about soldirering and humiliation and how all that humiliation and destruction of character prepared one for the final embarassment of death, quite interesting. We don't have the book at hand and can't quote it, but there is something very interesting in there, although bleak.

    Another interesting thing: note how Adams' and Charles' mother is innocent but pretends to be guilty for some strange reason before commiting suicide (there was quite a lot of suicide in that book) and is believed by the public to be guilty but Cathy, in the next generation is viewed by Adam, Faye and practically everybody as innocent and sweet but is really devilish. There is a nice mirror-effect in that.




    We like Caleb more than Abel, perhaps the reason is that the author wrote more from his point of view (on the other hand, in the previous generation we sympathized more with Adam than Charles - again, we saw more of Adams than Charles' point of view. Perhaps, if the author had done it the other way around and reflected more Charleses and Arons thoughts and feelings and less of Adams and Calebs perhaps we would sympathize with Charles and Aron). Caleb seems more torn with conflict and more interesting ("Don't let me be mean") than Aron who seems to be like a child, a good child, but a naive child with no actual understanding of other people, just wanting to be the star of the drama of his life. He doesn't want to face the truth and reality and practically commits suicide by enlisting. (by the way, remember how the enlisting officer said that Aron would make a good sergeant? That somehow reminded us of the various cruel sergeants from literature who shout at their underlings and are harsh. It is somehow ironical that the enlister saw Aron the Angel as somebody who could fit well for such a cruel post)
    If you believe even a half of this post, you are severely mistaken.

  3. #48
    Noli me tangere Hyacinth Girl's Avatar
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    Okay ShoutGrace, I have finished (re)reading chapter one. A couple of thoughts:
    I found the naming of places interesting. It begins with holy names: San Bernadino, Natividad, then moves to the earth or sea: Los Laureles, then animals: Topo, then to man:Lame Moor. The basic premise seems to parallel (in a slight way) creation itself: God, Earth, Animal, Man.
    Also, I think Steinbeck offers a commentary on human nature in chapter one, setting the scene for the human drama to follow:
    "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"
    Reminds me especially of post-Edenic Israel in the desert with Moses: God is great when everything is good, but when things are bad, God's blessings are forgotten, although applies to everyone post-Eden: "It was always that way".
    Steinbeck also sets up the dichotomy of East/West: "I always found in myself a dread of west and a love of east". East, the place where the sun rises, is a place of hope and possibility, the origin of the sun/light. West is a place of death/darkness. "East of Eden" therefore, is set up as a place that, while falling short of Paradise, is a place of hope. This is echoed in the settling of the narrator's grandfather to the "east of King City"
    Last edited by Hyacinth Girl; 07-19-2006 at 01:46 PM.
    I am a little world made cunningly
    Of elements, and an angelic sprite; - John Donne

  4. #49
    Quote Originally Posted by Hyacinth Girl
    Okay ShoutGrace, I have finished (re)reading chapter one. A couple of thoughts:
    I found the naming of places interesting. It begins with holy names: San Bernadino, Natividad, then moves to the earth or sea: Los Laureles, then animals: Topo, then to man:Lame Moor. The basic premise seems to parallel (in a slight way) creation itself: God, Earth, Animal, Man.
    I agree with you that the connection is delicate, but interesting nonetheless. I also wouldn't doubt it too much considering all the Biblical material and allusions in the novel. Something I didn't even consider, though I did at the time wonder for a moment why exactly Steinbeck felt the need to name everything so studiously.

    Also, I think Steinbeck offers a commentary on human nature in chapter one, setting the scene for the human drama to follow:
    "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"
    I'm not sure about that only because I can't connect it to specific events in the plot right now. I'm trying to think, 'Who were the forgetters and what were they forgetting?' Perhaps we will run across them .

    Steinbeck also sets up the dichotomy of East/West:
    Thats something I agree with too! I still think that the point of the novel is Timshel, the choice between good and evil, choosing how to live your life. I think that the Salinas Valley represents good and evil in the way you've described:

    "I always found in myself a dread of west and a love of east". East, the place where the sun rises, is a place of hope and possibility, the origin of the sun/light. West is a place of death/darkness.
    It is like the characters in the novel are placed in this arena between good and evil (in a figurative and literal sense) and go either East or West; and, more importantly, choose for themselves East or West.
    As Kingfishers catch fire, dragonflies draw flame . . .


    Why disqualify the rush? I'm tabled. I'm tabled.


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  5. #50
    Noli me tangere Hyacinth Girl's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by ShoutGrace
    I still think that the point of the novel is Timshel, the choice between good and evil, choosing how to live your life. I think that the Salinas Valley represents good and evil in the way you've described:
    It is like the characters in the novel are placed in this arena between good and evil (in a figurative and literal sense) and go either East or West; and, more importantly, choose for themselves East or West.
    I agree with you that the point of the novel is choice: good/evil, east/west

    I am now at chapter 8. One thing that strikes me about EofE is Steinbecks attention to balancing a binary system. For example: Charles loves his father, but the father loves Adam. On the other hand, Adam loves Alice, but she loves her son Charles. Adam gives acceptable gifts to her - she assigns them to Charles. Charles tries to give the father acceptable gifts, but Adam's are acceptable instead.

    I also like the echoes of the Cain/Abel story found in the early portion of the novel as precursor to its fulfillment later on: the acceptable sacrifice, Charles the farmer and Adam, the wanderer (shepherd), the murder (attempt) by Charles over the love of the father.

    Okay, must dive back in now. . . am falling behind in my reading schedule.
    I am a little world made cunningly
    Of elements, and an angelic sprite; - John Donne

  6. #51
    Noli me tangere Hyacinth Girl's Avatar
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    Okay, have finished part one. I really like Steinbeck's manner of creating characters that we do not empathize with or even like, and yet we do not throw the book away in disgust. For example, Kathy's appearance is preceded by: "You must not forget that a monster is only a variation, and that to a monster the norm is monstrous" By putting the reader in the position of monster, Steinbeck not only discusses the role of perception, but also lays a foundation for the reader: we can dislike Cathy, but we cannot condemn her for not possessing what we have: a conscience. She acts according to her nature, which is different from us and monstrous to us, but we the reader would be the same to her.
    Cathy's introduction also carries an implied question to me: is good and evil a matter of perception? Is Cathy really evil, as she does not have a natural conscience? Is Charles evil for attempting to kill Adam? Why then would he try to save Adam from Cathy?
    One can argue that this is resolved in some sense by the language used to describe the people. Cathy has feet "almost like little hoofs" and is a "little devil". She carries the same mark as Charles, the mark of Cain.

    Okay, on to book two
    I am a little world made cunningly
    Of elements, and an angelic sprite; - John Donne

  7. #52
    Serious business Taliesin's Avatar
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    You know, when we read the place where Cathy describes how he sees the world, /spoiler/ and shows the photographs of famous and good men that are wicked in her brothel //spoiler finished/ and says that no good exists, we remembered another passage from the beginning of H. C. Andersens "Snow Queen"

    Once upon a time there was a wicked sprite, indeed he was the most mischievous of all sprites. One day he was in a very good humor, for he had made a mirror with the power of causing all that was good and beautiful when it was reflected therein, to look poor and mean; but that which was good-for-nothing and looked ugly was shown magnified and increased in ugliness. In this mirror the most beautiful landscapes looked like boiled spinach, and the best persons were turned into frights, or appeared to stand on their heads; their faces were so distorted that they were not to be recognised; and if anyone had a mole, you might be sure that it would be magnified and spread over both nose and mouth.

    "That's glorious fun!" said the sprite. If a good thought passed through a man's mind, then a grin was seen in the mirror, and the sprite laughed heartily at his clever discovery. All the little sprites who went to his school--for he kept a sprite school--told each other that a miracle had happened; and that now only, as they thought, it would be possible to see how the world really looked. They ran about with the mirror; and at last there was not a land or a person who was not represented distorted in the mirror. So then they thought they would fly up to the sky, and have a joke there. The higher they flew with the mirror, the more terribly it grinned: they could hardly hold it fast. Higher and higher still they flew, nearer and nearer to the stars, when suddenly the mirror shook so terribly with grinning, that it flew out of their hands and fell to the earth, where it was dashed in a hundred million and more pieces. And now it worked much more evil than before; for some of these pieces were hardly so large as a grain of sand, and they flew about in the wide world, and when they got into people's eyes, there they stayed; and then people saw everything perverted, or only had an eye for that which was evil. This happened because the very smallest bit had the same power which the whole mirror had possessed. Some persons even got a splinter in their heart, and then it made one shudder, for their heart became like a lump of ice. Some of the broken pieces were so large that they were used for windowpanes, through which one could not see one's friends. Other pieces were put in spectacles; and that was a sad affair when people put on their glasses to see well and rightly. Then the wicked sprite laughed till he almost choked, for all this tickled his fancy. The fine splinters still flew about in the air: and now we shall hear what happened next.
    If you believe even a half of this post, you are severely mistaken.

  8. #53
    Metamorphosing Pensive's Avatar
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    And now it worked much more evil than before; for some of these pieces were hardly so large as a grain of sand, and they flew about in the wide world, and when they got into people's eyes, there they stayed; and then people saw everything perverted, or only had an eye for that which was evil. This happened because the very smallest bit had the same power which the whole mirror had possessed. Some persons even got a splinter in their heart, and then it made one shudder, for their heart became like a lump of ice. Some of the broken pieces were so large that they were used for windowpanes, through which one could not see one's friends.
    This paragraph is fit on the situations of both Adam and Cathy, fit on the relationship of Adam with his brother and Cathy with her parents, Adam and her kids. Look, those pieces of mirror have been into the eyes of a mother who has even left her kids, her kids think that she is dead when she is living. I can't believe a mother can be that much self-centered... Cathy does not seem like a human being, let alone a mother. The characters in this book surprised me a lot and made me feel that how can you trust life, when a mother can leave you, a brother can try to kill you....and this reminds me of an old Hindi song:

    Dost dost na raha (Friend no longer remained friend)
    Bhai Bhai na raha (Brother was no longer a brother)
    Ma Ma na rahi (Mother was no longer a mother)
    Piyaar Piyaar na raha (Your loved one no longer loved you)
    Zindagi hamain tera ayatbar na raha (Now, you can't trust your life)
    I sang of leaves, of leaves of gold, and leaves of gold there grew.

  9. #54
    Does anyone know who the men described in Chapter 34 are?

    "The richest man of the century . . . . "

    "Then there was a man, as smart as Satan . . . . "

    "There was a third man, who perhaps made many errors in performance . . . . "
    As Kingfishers catch fire, dragonflies draw flame . . .


    Why disqualify the rush? I'm tabled. I'm tabled.


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  10. #55
    In the fog Charles Darnay's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by ShoutGrace View Post
    Does anyone know who the men described in Chapter 34 are?

    "The richest man of the century . . . . "

    "Then there was a man, as smart as Satan . . . . "

    "There was a third man, who perhaps made many errors in performance . . . . "
    Are you talking about the reference to "The Histories" by Herodortus?

    Or is it part after that?
    Last edited by Charles Darnay; 08-19-2006 at 05:04 PM.
    I wrote a poem on a leaf and it blew away...

  11. #56
    No, it is after that. It begins in the seventh paragraph - "I remember clearly the deaths of three men."

    I'm wondering if they are known historical figures.
    As Kingfishers catch fire, dragonflies draw flame . . .


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  12. #57
    Metamorphosing Pensive's Avatar
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    I don't know....even if they are, I can't seem to regognize who they are...
    I sang of leaves, of leaves of gold, and leaves of gold there grew.

  13. #58
    Good morning, Campers! Jay's Avatar
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    Finished the book and loved it, I will definitelly reread it. I will have troubles picking ONE fave character though
    I have a plan: attack!

  14. #59
    Noli me tangere Hyacinth Girl's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by ShoutGrace View Post
    No, it is after that. It begins in the seventh paragraph - "I remember clearly the deaths of three men."

    I'm wondering if they are known historical figures.
    I can't say with any certainty, but one could make a stab at them. . . what about one of the big industrial magnates like JP Morgan for the first man. The second I have no clue, but I would suspect someone involved in things like the Teamsters or Tammany Hall. The third might be someone like Roosevelt. Again, this is a stab, as I am definitely not up on my American history, especially that of the late 19th/early 20th century, but the timing would be about right.

    I think the most important thing about this passage is that these archetypes can be found in today's society as well, as I'm sure you would agree

    (and yes, ShoutGrace, I AM still reading. I got a bit slowed down with some personal stuff, but I am back at Eden and hoping to finish shortly)
    I am a little world made cunningly
    Of elements, and an angelic sprite; - John Donne

  15. #60
    Quote Originally Posted by Hyacinth Girl
    I can't say with any certainty, but one could make a stab at them. . . what about one of the big industrial magnates like JP Morgan for the first man.
    Thats a good guess . . . . I was considering somebody like Rockefeller or Carnegie?

    Quote Originally Posted by Hyacinth Girl
    Again, this is a stab, as I am definitely not up on my American history, especially that of the late 19th/early 20th century, but the timing would be about right.
    Do the figures need to be from American history?

    Quote Originally Posted by Hyacinth Girl
    I think the most important thing about this passage is that these archetypes can be found in today's society as well, as I'm sure you would agree.
    I like Steinbeck because the issues, morals and ideas he talks about seem timeless to me.

    It's fun to inquire, however . . . I am awfully curious. That, and, I think that knowing who the men were in real life would add depth to the passages for me . . . if indeed they are based on actual individuals.

    Quote Originally Posted by Hyacinth Girl
    (and yes, ShoutGrace, I AM still reading. I got a bit slowed down with some personal stuff, but I am back at Eden and hoping to finish shortly)
    And what kind of decency does this show? Sacrificing reading and posting on Internet forums for personal issues? I thought that you were dedicated!!

    I am still reading too, though it is hodge podge (first time I've used that phrase . . . hope it isn't misplaced ). I am skipping things and rereading my favourites.

    I thought that the incident with the German tailor Mr. Fenchel was very touching, and I felt quite terribly after reading it.

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