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Friday, October 1, 2010

East of Eden VI: The Aches of the Restless and Young

Okay, so this isn't a direct parallel for Adam and Cyrus in chapter 4, but I couldn't help but think of it as I read:

For those of you just getting into this, Charles has just beat the crap out of Adam, and for questionably/debatable motive (my favorite kind), he's run off after chucking the hatchet (intended for butchering the pounding, though alive, remains of his half-brother) that proved useless after a brief, half-hearted search, and their Dad, Cyrus, has stumped off into the night, shotgun in tow, to do?  He's not sure.  He's just mad.  He loves Adam better, after all, which, we'll learn, is terribly unfair.  Now Adam is pulsing weakly in bed, and representatives of the United States Cavalry arrive, at Papa's request, to enlist the boy. 
Reading Questions 5
Chapter 4.1
  1. The first major point of interest, which sets the parallel-story tone for the rest of the chapter, is that of Charles's hiding.  He brutalizes his brother, seeks to hack him up with a hatchet, and then takes off, not out of fear, but self-preservation.  He knows--though he can't articulate it's WHY, and won't be able to for some thirteen or fourteen years--that his father will not easily forgive him, and the punishment, if he doesn't stay away until things chill out, will be dire.  Remember Cain's eventual flight?  Remember Adam and Eve's hiding?  (Be it known that from here, the different points of the Bible's version get pretty muddled up, details and parallels being cast from character to character and family to family over generations.) 
  2. "The direction of a big act will warp history, but probably all acts do the same in their degree, down to a stone stepped over in the path or a breath caught at sight of a pretty girl or a fingernail nicked in the garden soil."
  3. Cyrus brings in representatives from the cavalry to enlist Adam, not because he's got the boy secure here under the weight of his injuries, but because it's time.  Why?

Chapter 4.2

  1. Violence is in everyone, as was said earlier, but Adam is growing not in violence, but in passivity, and why?  BECAUSE of all the violence around him.  Is he hitting bottom the way Cyrus believes he must?  After all, "Men like Adam ... have to do a little soldering."  There's a ring of duty to this.  Despite his passivity, he will have to a maintain a level of soldiering, no matter how much he hates it.  What good, if any, is all this doing him?  Note also that while Adam is being forced to soldier, Charles is forced to till the ground--agriculture, the ultimate labor of the pacifist (unless you're reading Grapes of Wrath).
  2. Why does Charles write so much to Adam?  The poor man's confused! --both utterly hating and completely loving his brother simultaneously.  Is such complicated emotion even possible?
  3. "Tonight I cleaned the house, and it is wet and soapy and maybe not any cleaner.  How do you suppose Mother kept it the way she did?  It does not look the same.  Something settles down on it.  I don't know what, but it will not scrub off.  But I have spread the dirt around more evenly anyways.  Ha!  Ha!"
  4. The shift in tone in the hesitant letter at the end of the chapter comes with the shift of writing implement.  There is symbolism here, considering the topics before and after the shift.  What?
  5. "I ought to be wandering around the world instead of sitting here on a good farm looking for a wife.  There is something wrong, like it didn't get finished, like it happened too soon and left something out.  It's me should be where you are and you here."  (!)  Cain kills Abel; Charles almost kills Adam.  Charles recognizes/feels that he should be wandering; Adam's all over the country.  Genesis, chpt.4, v.12: "...a fugitive and a vagabond shalt though be in the earth." and v.16: "And Cain went out from the presence of the Lord, and dwelt in the land of Nod, on the east of Eden."  If you haven't read this chapter from the Old Testament.  Read it.  Genesis, chapter 4.


  1. 4.2.1: I think that the point is that it is impossible for an Abel to become a warrior. No matter how extreme the situation, there are some things that you may just not be able to change about a human's nature. More than anything else, I think a war serves to expose the strongest elements of our nature that are already within us (Thucydides writes about this in the Peloponnesian War, which one of my classes is reading now). In Adam, this means that it brings out his love and caring side, as he risks his life in order to A)avoid shooting Native Americans (remember that this treason carried with it a risk of capital punishment) and B)save the lives of his comrades. However, that's not really good enough to win a war. For this reason, it is necessary to have Cains to fight wars. However, this obviously raises a contradiction with Cyrus, who believes it would not be good to have Charles fight a war because it would release his worst characteristics. I think this is an intentional contradiction on the part of Steinbeck. I think that what he may be saying is that a culture of war can never breed peace because it brings out the worst parts of the nature of the worst people in the country. Even if you win the war, you still have to deal with accentuated versions of these rogues. Not an optimistic view of conflict.

  2. Over the past year or so, I've seen a lot of articles in Time magazine about soldiers returning from the Middle East who commit crimes or suicide. In some instances post traumatic stress syndrome was blamed; sometimes, however, it was just that the war brought out the worst, made it acceptable and subject to impulse, and that was it. We see a version of this dependence on a body with Adam’s need to return for another round in the cavalry.


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