I remember when my dad fell from grace. It wasn't a far fall, thankfully; I think anything drastic might have destroyed me. I worshiped my dad. Now, though he's certainly still one of my heroes (and hanging out around the top of the list), I have the benefit of disillusionment, which, wonderfully, makes it possible for him to be my friend. The moment my dad fell--well, no, stepped--from his pedestal was during a drive out into the Ohio countryside to visit some people from church. I'd just returned home for a break from college, and we were talking about work. I complained about the annoyances of dealing with people--customers--and he said, likewise, that that was the hardest part of being a veterinarian. More than that, I asked directly, "Dad, do you even like being a vet?" He hesitated a moment, took a deep preparatory breath--sort of one of those, ah, what the heck kind of breaths--and said-- and I'm going to interrupt just a moment to say that my father's use of vulgarity of any sort, or words spoken in even the greatest anger, extends merely to the words bananas and nuts. That's it. He doesn't yell. He doesn't swear. He is mild. (back to the story now.) He looked at me and said, "You know, Joe, I'm just really tired of cutting the balls off dogs."
Secondly, and I think this is actually pertinent at an interpretive level, I can't help but remember the moment in the last Harry Potter book, The Deathly Hallows, when Hagrid and Harry crash the motorcycle after their little tussle with the Death Eaters. There's Hagrid, a mighty giant, spread-eagle and face-down in a grimy green pond.
Yesterday, I challenged readers to describe Cyrus in a sentence. Steinbeck has done it for us, via the boy, Adam:
"...[he] was not a great man, ...he was, indeed, a very strong-willed and concentrated little man wearing a huge busby."
However, this portion of the chapter makes it possible for us to actually look at the mand with a modicum of respect. Is he really so bad? After all, he loves Adam better?
There aren't going to be tons of questions here, though I could certainly ask them all that come to me as I read, but there's really no point. The deep issues here--the relationships between brothers and sons/fathers--repeat and repeat. Rather than disecting, perhaps we can connect. What in your lives has been like whatever aspect(s) of Adam's--or anyone else's--experience? The majority of the stuff here is going to be quotations. Relate to them. Connect them to yourself, other literature, other people.
Reading Questions 4
- Is it true that there is some violence in everyone?
- In childhood, how well did Charles know his older brother? Was he aware of the "rich full life that went on" behind Adam's "quiet eyes?" Was Adam indeed a helpless thing, like "a puppy or a new baby?"
- "Adam was glad of Charles the way a woman is glad of a fat diamond." How does this (together with what Steinbeck actually writes of it) speak of the emotions between the boys--"love, affection, empathy...."
- "For Alice had been naked--she had been smiling."
- Review and explain: What are Adam's tunnels?
- The beating of Adam by Charles, and Charles's utter lack of remorse or, much less, apology, which, according to Adam (or narrator?), was Charles's "one great quality," and the contrast of all this against Alice's seeming tenderness, which was somehow echoed by a softening also of old Cyrus.
- How does Charles feel about the exclusion from certain conversations between Adam and Cyrus? Use this as an explanation of some sort--rationalization--for the beating. What danger does Adam pose to Charles by beating him at his own game? Or is it something totally simple like the childish need for everything to stay the same, the violation of which easily insights insecurity and violence?
- "You can drive a human too far. ... Always you must leave a man one escape before death."
- Justify the benefits of permitting yourself to hit bottom, which, according to Cyrus, seems to be the soul's panacea!
- The requirement for Adam's enlistment is as dire as that of keeping Charles home. Will this bring them closer together, narrowing the gap of their differences?
- "I love you better. Else why would I have given myself the trouble of hurting you?"
- We see the obviousness of Cain and Abel. Anticipate the murder, but don't expect it to be literal. If it was literal, after all, the malice, jealousy, and love (all simultaneously present) culminating in some sort of violence couldn't perpetuate itself, thereby robbing us of, 1, the rest of the novel, and 2, one of the great themes of the book, to be seen later.
- Did God love Abel better?
- What is it like to go blind--literally, morally, whatever-ly--with rage? Is this what Charles experiences when violence surfaces?
- Is Charles evil?
- "Doppelganger" is often slightly misinterpreted. How does it apply here?
- Cyrus tells Adam, "...you're always protecting him! Don't you think I know that?" Discuss the irony.
- Does anyone KNOW Charles?