"East of Eden" Educates, Questions, and Challenges Readers
My favorite professor in school was a theology guru. AKA I generally would not find myself reading the books on his office bookshelf. But, in good spirits and ambitious nature, I asked for some book recommendations just before I graduated. While many of them are farther down on my list, one managed to escape the dungeon and end up in my Amazon cart. So I began to read John Steinbeck's East of Eden.
I have only read one other work from Steinbeck, Of Mice and Men, which I read strictly because of its shorter length and the urgency of my upcoming book report. So digging into another Steinbeck novel was a task I didn't relish, but I was willing to try. I'm glad I did, as the novel does an amazing job of showcasing humanity's imperfections juxtapose our purities.
"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."
Steinbeck comes right out of the gate swinging biblical lessons as though it's his profession. In describing the story's setting - California's Salinas Valley - he brings about our childish way of thankfulness, easily distracted by what is directly in front of us. Page six and I was already inspecting my own soul, curious if I also had a habit of forgetting about the rich years in the middle of my drought.
Throughout the novel, Steinbeck introduces a wide variety of characters, each teaching the reader something new about virtue and vice. Cathy teaches us that dark ambition takes over like a poisonous weed, unable to be choked until it's so tied up in trouble that it drowns itself. Both sets of brothers - Adam and Charles, then Caleb and Aron - resemble a take on Cain and Able, showcasing jealousy, redemption, innocence, and honesty. I found it so interesting how one brother showcased goodness but not determination or wisdom, while the other, who did serve both of those characteristics, was not the "good" one of the two. Samuel and Liza display what respect in a marriage means, while other relationships are so caught up in naive emotion that nothing productive or good occurs. The Hamilton siblings each take different paths, varying in successful nature. Then you have Lee, the Chinaman, who is the truest character of them all, in the most humble position.
"I don't know where being a servant came into dispute. 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."
Makes you think, doesn't it?
So many times throughout the novel (which, ask my pal Robyn, took me a small eternity to finish) I found myself nodding, murmuring "hmm, good point." Really, I think that's what this book is all about. It's not a psychology textbook, but I learned so much about how people think. It's not a case on communication, but I observed so many habits that are both good and bad. It's far from a self-help tutorial, but I noticed things that I currently am guilty of that need to shift in the opposite direction. This novel opens your eyes about humanity, yourself, good, and bad. You'll find yourself attached to the character most like yourself and then become alarmed when their greatest strength turns into something that cripples life as they know it. If anything, East of Eden plays out the tricky balance of good and evil; everything in moderation, with careful consideration and an open mind are the only way to approach this balance without an insufferable failure.
"In human affairs of danger and delicacy successful conclusion is sharply limited by hurry."
I urge you to pick up this novel at your local bookstore. Or, even better, order it on Amazon and have it delivered directly to your door!
There's that link again for you -- convenient, right? Let me know when you've started this roller coaster. Then I can gush about how much more you'll read before you're done. Books are fun, but Steinbeck....man, that guy is something else.