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Tuesday, September 28, 2010

East of Eden III: Introducing the Hamiltons and Our Gods (not exactly the same people)

It is said (and if someone can find the reference, I would appreciate it (Freud?? --or is that just pathetic ignorance and stereotyping?)) that our fathers are our models for God.  East of Eden provides us with several fathers, two of whom are introduced (the second only in name) in chapter 2: Sam Hamilton and Adam Trask, respectively.  As this book is such a spiritual endeavor--whether religious or not--for John Steinbeck, I think it's very pertinent to maintain our views in this general direction.

Something most deists don't permit themselves for their gods, however, which the book explicates at great length, is the "better half" of these clannish demigods, Sam and Adam (not the beer--though that could lead to an interesting alternative reading).  While I, personally, don't find a great deal of benefit, and would prefer not to discuss it here, in speculating on the nature or existence of "God the Father's" wife, the women married to these two men, as well as those of successive generations, offer continual and dramatic counterpoint to their mates. 


Reading Questions 2
chapter 2.1

  1. Be the Judge, If You Please: Did Samuel, or did he not, love his wife, and to what degree?  The narrator goes to some length talking about this and what in the world could possibly bring such a man as Sam Hamilton to the Salinas Valley, and he mentions the two possible types of love, offering no third alternate reason for the uprooting.  At this point in the book, we don't know the identity of the narrator.  However, any narrator who is not omniscient (and we know this from the the very first line of this chapter that he is not all-knowing) is not entirely reliable and depends, wittingly or no, on his interpretation of events.  He can only see any issue or event through the subjectivity of his own limited eyes.  Consider the seeming--or so it seems to me--conflict between the character of the man, Samuel Hamilton, he's is detailing against the supposition of his marital fidelity.  Whom does Samuel love and to what degree?
  2. Be an Aanthropologist: Consider the Hamiltons' copy of Dr. Gunn's Family Medicine.  What do we leave behind by which one may know our history?  What might they learn from what is missing (consider the un-opened pages of the book and the narrator's judgment on the Hamiltons' morality or luck), as well as what is there.  Now, more than just by artifact, what trace to we leave on, or record into, the land--such as the Salinas Valley for the Trasks and Hamiltons--by our existence upon it?  (You may want to take a look at the first two comments posted on EoE: Part II.) 
  3. "...and while he had no brogue there was a rise and a lilt and a cadence to his talk that made it sound sweet in the ears of the taciturn farmers...."  There was an invitation just in the accent and voice and cadence of Samuel Hamilton.  Please take a moment and read this entry from the following blog (which I follow faithfully and highly recommend): "Sentence First"  While this isn't exactly a question, consider the power not just of words, but how these words are spoken.  When have you judged someone by their accent and been surprised that you were wrong?
chapter 2.2

beware: long quotation ahead --
  1. "But I think that because they trusted themselves and respected themselves as individuals, because they knew beyond doubt that they were valuable and potentially moral units--because of this they could give God their own courage and dignity and then receive it back.  Such things have disappeared perhaps because men do not trust themselves any more, and when that happens there is nothing left except perhaps to find some strong sure man, even though he may be wrong, and to d angle from his coattails" (emphasis added).  This sentence is MAJOR foreshadowing.  STOW IT AWAY FOR FUTURE REFERENCE!  Now, as the final sentence of this chapter reads, "Such a man was Adam Trask," if we were to add a parallel sentence to the end of the "coattails" quotation, it would be, "Such a man was Samuel Hamilton," but he is not the only one.  As we continue reading, who else (and maybe even Adam Trask) fits this description of a strong man, even though he may be wrong?
  2. Note on Style: Chapter 1 ended with what I call a "springboard" into the next chapter--that is a word or phrase which narratively propels you, sometimes against your will (its rhetorical manipulation, dang it!), into the next chapter.  The last line of chapter 2 is also a successful springboard, because, after all this beautiful description and dwelling on the Hamiltons, we don't see Sam's name in the last line like we might expect, but someone whose name we haven't seen yet!  How in the world does this dude fit with it all, and who is he?  Now think about this, because it has a lot to do with first (though less importantly) Steinbeck's genius, and second (more importantly) the immediacy and intimacy--the stuff that makes this book and its characters actually feel like family and your own personal family history--of the story.  If you don't know what "stream of consciousness" is, as a literary term, look it up.  What's amazing here, is that this massive book (and it is MASSIVE) is written as if the entire story is present in the narrator's mind at once and he has only to get it out onto paper.  There is no sense of time/space wasted, though, as is often the case with true stream of consciousness, while he finds his voice or necessary details.  These details--all of them pertinent, even crucial--are ready, existent, and waiting to be plucked from the proverbial tree and laid to paper in whatever order it happens to occur to him.  Steinbeck FAKES stream of consciousness, directly, rhetorically affecting you emotionally and sucking you in, while clearly it is calculated.  Or is it calculated?  Steinbeck didn't write a draft and then a second draft and so on.  He wrote the book.  It was edited.  He made minor adjustments.  The freaking thing was published.  Period.  That's it.  We don't have record of how much of this story was envisioned before he put pencil to paper.  Thoughts?


  1. I'll jump in and start adding answers to questions as soon as I feel I've adequately lolled about in the first two chapters. I haven't read anything of consequence in months, and this is one of my favorite books - anything other than a slow, methodical reading would be a dishonor.

  2. 2.1 1: I don't think Samuel did love his wife. Keep in mind that this is a different era. People often married because it was useful. The man would be the farmer working in the field all day (or also as a blacksmith in Hamilton's case), and the wife would keep up with the endless list of chores that existed before technology. This is essentially the same reason that they had kids--not because they loved them (although it was nice when they did), but because they were useful in helping to work the farm.

    So why do I think it didn't go beyond necessity? For one, there is the character conflict that Steinbeck describes. Samuel is creative and down-to-Earth, while Liza is narrow-minded and self-righteous. The lovable sinner and the over-bearing crusader, essentially. Further, the author suggests, although he cannot be sure, that Hamilton moved away from Ireland for love. He likes to think it wasn't because he was spurned, but rather that he was too successful, if you will. I am inclined to think it is the first, but either way, clearly, it seems as though Liza is not his only, or even necessarily #1 love. Hamilton comes to Salinas in order to settle and make enough of a living to survive. Liza is just a prop to this end. I don't think it's terribly romantic.

  3. Hannah! Good to "see" you. I look forward to your comments.

    James: I'll write more later, but I'm going to defend Samuel and Liza just a little bit, even though I'll defend you in the post for chapter 3, coming up later tonight. How much of their private life would be known to the narrator or even the public? I think that if it is at least possible that he loved her, we should give them the benefit of the doubt. I say this for two reasons: first, I WANT Samuel to love his wife, because it makes him all that much more laudible; and second, because how in the world could the narrator know anything about "loves" across the ocean? I don't see how it could be any more than rumor and gossip.


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