Thoughts(!-not review, aka spoiler alert) on East of Eden by John Steinbeck

I’ve only voluntarily read four classics in my life (XD oops) at this point and I can definitely say that East of Eden was well worth the time. It was so hard to get into at first because everything happened so ridiculously slow and I like fast paced books with lots of action. But since my friend recommended it to me and physically lent me the book, I had to finish it or else it’d be like what the heck on my part. Plus, as far as required reading goes, John Steinbeck is still one of my favorites.

I lowkey skimmed through/forgot the part where he talks about the Salinas Valley. I understood that it was crucial to the story, but it was really dry and I didn’t have the patience to slowly read through it in detail. But I did get the connection between how Adam and Charles and Aron and Cal are supposed to represent Abel and Cain from the Bible though (-.- WOW. great job, me. That was the whole point of the story -.-). Okay but on a serious note, this entire novel did give me new insight into the Biblical story that I grew up listening to but mostly took as is: a story. East of Eden livened up the point of mankind for me: essentially, it’s just a struggle between good and evil.

“I believe that there is one story in this world, and only one, that has frightened and inspired us, so that we live in a Pearl White serial of continuing thought and wonder. Humans are caught-in their lives, in their thoughts, in their hungers and ambitions, in their avarice and cruelty, and in their kindness and generosity too- in a net of good and evil”

I was so shook by this statement I had to read it like ten times. It simplified everything down for me, just the way I like it: to the point. So all those problems I thought were so complicated aren’t so complicated after all: literally, it’s just “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?” or in other words, “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?’ ” Period. I have no other words to say. Just kidding.

I think it’s normal when I say that my favorite character is Sam Hamilton, but my favorite villain ever is Cathy Ames for some reason; I can’t pinpoint why. Maybe it’s because she evoked some sympathy out of me at different times. She’s just so psychic and weird and evil and confusing and annoying and manipulating and…I don’t know, mysterious? To her, I’m probably just as annoying and she’d probably want to get rid of me ASAP. I could never understand her, which is good because if I did, I should probably go see a psychologist and shut myself in a room for a few months to reconsider my entire life; she is the embodiment of evil, of the lack of love, of cynicality.  I was always so stressed out whenever she dropped into a chapter because I could never predict the next preposterous move she was about to make. And the insane thing is, it never seemed like she had a purpose. Was it money she was chasing after? No, she left more than $100,000 to her son and then killed herself. Freedom? What kind of screwed up freedom is it to become the owner of a whorehouse? Love? HA, funny joke. The word love wouldn’t be a part of her dictionary even if you carved it in. She could never see beauty in people, and everything was a game to her. A game that she wins. Or does she? How do you win a game when you’re missing half the pieces? She can’t see goodness. She can’t see love.

Forgive me for wanting to quote the entire book, but “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 talent and influence and genius, if he dies unloved his life must be a failure to him and his dying a cold horror.” This is the murderous consequence of love’s absence- life’s absence.

Speaking about life, Samuel Hamilton’s life and the legacy he left struck me in awe.  I couldn’t help but miss him when he passed away even though I’ve never met him. How do you miss someone you don’t know? Good question. I should ask myself. He’s just super funny and kind and sarcastic, wise, smart, 善解人意, real, etc.- he’s so many things. He incorporates wisdom and truth in his jokes- those are the best kinds of jokes, in my opinion.

“Show me the man who isn’t interested in discussing himself,” said Samuel. “Go on.”; “My imagination will get me a passport to hell one day”; “There is more beauty in truth, even if it is dreadful beauty”. Just little things like that. Okay maybe they’re not that funny and I’m just weird but his commentary always either made me laugh, made me want to meet him personally, gave me insight on a truth I knew but didn’t know how to phrase, or straight-up showed me something I didn’t know. Another thing about him is that someone always has good things to say about him.

Like, “You are one of the rare people who can separate your observation from your preconception. You see what is, where most people see what they expect.” I often find myself seeing what I expect instead of what is- so this description Lee made about Sam Hamilton was sort of a call to action for me. My parents tell me to “论事,不要论人,如果你一定要议论的话“ (If you have to judge,  then judge based on the situation instead of the person) and I finally understand a piece of what they’re telling me.

Then there’s Lee- Asian represent ayyyy. I thought he was about to kill himself at the last part when he got the telegram and prepared the elixir of bromide for Adam because I didn’t know that bromide was a sedative until I searched it up. I guess I should’ve known he wasn’t gonna kill himself because of the word elixir but I didn’t know what that meant either. The most intense part of the story was at the end when he was trying to get Adam to set Caleb free from guilt because rejection followed by anger followed by wrongdoing followed by guilt can ultimately doom a person. I love love love it when the climax is at the end- cliffhangers, that’s what they call it. It’s debatable whether or not that was the climax, but it certainly was for me. Timshel-Thou mayest- was Adam’s last word and I can’t say what I want to say better than Lee does: “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…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.” This takes me back to my faith- the solid reason why I am Christian- because in it, I find freedom.

Everything above was just my own thoughts on it, but I think this book is a book that connects mankind- it tells the story of everyone.

“If a story is not about the hearer he [or she] will not listen . . . A great lasting story is about everyone or it will not last. The strange and foreign is not interesting–only the deeply personal and familiar.” Ok the strange and foreign is actually still pretty interesting to me (sorry Mr. Steinbeck XD), but I get the gist. 🙂

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