Tuesday, February 10, 2015

East of Eden. Quotes. Cathy.

East of Eden, by John Steinbeck, is one of the books on my 'The 65' list of classics (see that here). It's one of the few books that's been recommended to me over and over again, from not literary-focused people, which is (obviously) how one judges the merit of a book. I'm kidding. But it really is phenomenal. I don't know how much of a review I can write, since, according to The New York Times, it's a '"masterpiece", but it's so quotable (stunning writing. Steinbeck is up there in my top three favorites, and I feel that he has such an astute understanding of human nature and human struggles), and because I love collecting quotes, here are some of my favorites from the first quarter (Legally, I think you may only share %10 of a copyrighted book, but since the book is more than 300 pages, making %10 about 30 pages, I think I'm fine).

(From Penguin Twentieth Century Classics, 1992 edition (intro by David Wyatt), library binding)

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

"It is argued that because they believed thoroughly in a just, moral God that they could put their faith there and let the smaller insecurities take care of themselves" (12)

"No one could call him a liar. And this was mainly because the lie was in his head, and any truth coming from his mouth carried the color of the lie."(18)

"She stayed close enough to the truth so that one could never be sure. She knew two other methods also - either to interlard her lies with truth or tell a truth as though it were a lie. If one is accused of a lie and it turns out to be the truth, there is a backlog that will last a long time and protect a number of untruths."(74)

"In all such local tragedies time works like a damp brush on watercolor. The sharp edges blur, the ache goes out of it, the colors melt together, and from the many separated lines a solid gray emerges"(89)

"In human affairs of danger and delicacy successful conclusion is sharply limited by hurry. So often men trip by being in a rush."(240)

"'I don't very much believe in blood,' said Samuel. 'I think when a man finds good or bad in his children he is seeing only what he planted in them after they cleared the womb.'
'You can't make a race horse of a pig.'
'No,' said Samuel, 'but you can make a very fast pig.'"(282-263)

"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."(290)

The story focuses on the theme of good overcoming evil, this idea of timshel, which is Hebrew for thou mayest. Evil is not fated to win, because man has the choice to overcome (and not follow in the footsteps of previous generations). Again, the idea of sins being carried down for father to son, and that man actually has the choice to overcome those sins. This is all exemplified through the story, but the parallels are really easy to see. According to the book jacket of the edition I have, this is a "modern retelling of the Genesis", and I do agree. Even though I've never read the Genesis. Go figure.

Goodreads blurb:

Set in the rich farmland of California’s Salinas Valley, this sprawling and often brutal novel follows the intertwined destinies of two families—the Trasks and the Hamiltons—whose generations helplessly reenact the fall of Adam and Eve and the poisonous rivalry of Cain and Abel. Here Steinbeck created some of his most memorable characters and explored his most enduring themes: the mystery of identity; the inexplicability of love; and the murderous consequences of love’s absence.

Otherwise, I did do some research on what critics have said of the book, etc., and again and again, the character of Adam's wife, Cathy, comes up. She's said to be one of the novel's greatest weaknesses in that she so thoroughly embodies evil that she borders on being an unbelievable character. Not at any point in the book do we see any motive, and as Steinbeck puts it, we don't know what she is running to or what she's running toward. Yet when later asked of what he though of Cathy' character, Steinbeck said that he knew people like Cathy.

I agree with Steinbeck. It seems as if there is this seed of inherent evil in some people. Forget the background, forget the motive, forget the nature vs. nurture psychology. Some individuals are just bad. There are several accounts of twins or triplets growing up to be radically different personalities (there was a story some time ago about a criminal and his twin lawyer), and even taking into consideration that they probably didn't have the exact same experiences growing up, it seems to suggest that there is such thing as inherent character. 

Ah yes.

“Nothing is easier than to denounce the evildoer; nothing is more difficult than to understand him.”
― Fyodor Dostoyevsky

Spoiler: A new film adaptation of this book is being produced, and Jennifer Lawrence plays the character of Cathy. Oh no.