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Monday, October 18, 2010

East of Eden XIV -- The Glory Boys

In the podcast, I mentioned that there's potential for this to be an optimistic story, based simply upon the introduction of chapter 13.  While certainly not over-stated, the podcast rested dominantly upon the consequences of Adam's decision to propose to and marry Cathy Ames, which thing Charles recognizes as a huge mistake and even demonstrates as such, when, after Adam has mistakenly taken Cathy's sleeping draught, she sleeps with Charles, who simply mutters, while admitting the Beast within his sheets, "poor bastard."  *!*  So here's the first question, then, for chapter 13: for the story to be predominantly optimistic, do all conflicts need to result in happiness? Is happiness even the key to optimism in the first place, or do we require misery (to some degree) in order to have optimism, which is hope? So, putting it together, if things end up well--in some form or another--for the Hamiltons (an easy thing to assume), and things end up badly for the Trasks (similarly easy), does that exclude the possibility of overwhelming optimism for the story? Can things be somehow optimistic yet still troublesome, even evil, for Adam?  (By the way, things are never "easy" in a Steinbeck novel.)

It should be obvious already--simply by their mutual presence in the story--that the Hamiltons and the Trasks are going to cross paths. Also, it should be clear that the Trask end will be largely dominated by Adam's story. This alone should be evidence for hope, at least for Adam.

Reading Questions
Chapter 13.1

  1. Putting together the whole of part 1, what is it's ultimate purpose in the chapter (you may need to finish reading the chapter before answering this)?  Can you pinpoint what Steinbeck means by "a glory?"  It seems to be insinuating imagination and creativity, and that of the individual over the group.  Put this in context of the two sides of change I talked about in the podcast.  What do you think?

Chapter 13.2

  1. Read the first sentence of part 2.  READ IT AGAIN!  Holy crap!  How in the world is it possible that, at least for now, Adam is experiencing one of those GLORIES mentioned by the author in part 1?  How is it that she is not inhibiting this?
  2. "And who in his mind has not probed the black water? //  Maybe we all have in us a secret pond where evil and ugly things germinate and grow strong.  But this culture is fenced, and the swimming brood climbs up only to fall back.  Might it not be that in the dark pools of some men the evil grows strong enough to wriggle over the fence and swim free?  Would not such a man be our monster ,and we not related to him in our hidden water?  It would be absurd if we did not understand both angels and devils, since we invented them" (emphasis added). 
  3. I've never thought of Adam this way:  Consider that he does not see Cathy for what she really is, because he is blinded, so to speak, by his own glory.  "The glory lights up the world and changes it the way a star shell changes a battleground."  Clearly, the star shell is Adam; the battleground is Cathy and is Adam's past.  Both are made either beautiful, or blankly white (over-exposure--the shutter left open) by the light of the glorious shell.  And I hate to use another Harry Potter analogy, but I can't really help it--it's fits perfectly.  Remember the Veela?  Fleur, via the magic of her spectacular beauty, seems to erase the very scars from her fiance's face, seems to make everything else more beautiful that comes near her on the day of her wedding?    And do our own eyes not do the very same when we are blissfully joyful?
  4. Remember: Cathy and Adam's-Cathy are two different people, if not in practice, so in his mind.
  5. And poor Charles.  Who is this man, mourning the loss of the brother he hates, and whom he loves?  And whom can any of us hate more than those we love the most?
  6. (Another rhetorical question--not one intended for no answer, but one intended to really make you think: tell me what you think:) Who hates a killer or, at least a destroyer, more than a sincere doctor, and why?

Chapter 13.3

  1. "There's people that when they see Samuel Hamilton the first time might get the idea he's full of bull.  He don't talk like other people.  He's an Irishman.  And he's all full of plans--a hundred plans a day.  And he's all full of hope.  ...he'd have to be to live on this land!  But you remember this--he's a fine worker, a good blacksmith, and some of his plans work out.  And I've heard him talk about things that were going to happen and they did" (emphasis added).  Adam's going to see a prophet?
  2. I sense a parable her in Samuel's words.  What are its parallels?  "I said it was a strange valley. ...  I've dug into it plenty.  Something went on under it--maybe still is going on.  There's an ocean bed underneath, and below that another world.  But that needn't bother a farming man.  Now, on top is good soil, particularly on the flats.  In the upper valley it is light and sandy, but mixed in with that, the top sweetness of the hills that washed down on it in the winters.  As you go north the valley widens out, and the soil gets blacker and heavier and perhaps richer.  It's my belief that marshes were there once...," (didn't we just read about marshes? I quoted something above on the matter), "...and the roots of centuries rotted into the soil and made it black and fertilized it.  And when you turn it up, a little greasy clay mixes and holds it together.  That's from about Gonzales north to the river mouth.  Off to the sides, around Salinas and Blanco and Castroville and Moss Landing, the marshes are still there.  and when one day those marshes are drained off, that will be the richest of all land in this red world."
  3. Louis Lippo: "He's always thinking about how to change things.  He's never satisfied with the way they are."
  4. Often, Samuel seems like the great patriarch of the Israelites.  Any Old Testament scholars out there want to look into this?
  5. Was there something about Samuel's talk that drove Adam to make the purchase?  It almost seems spontaneous, despite his meticulous study.
Go back to the beginning of the chapter.  What's going on with that opening section of glories?  What is Samuel's glory, which, unlike Adam's, is not specified?


  1. Lots of interesting questions here. I think I'll focus on the final one, at least first. Samuel's glory seems to be a bit of a Salinas Valley empire. He keeps talking about how great the land is, and how, eventually, it will make people rich, and how, eventually, thousands of people will settle there. What he seems to want more than anything else is for people to recognize how great the things that he loves are, and chief among these is the land on which he lives.

    Going back to what Steinbeck means by glory: I think it's always important to think of books in the context in which they are written. Grapes of Wrath is a Depression-era book, and a lot of its views reflect the historical realities in which it was written. East of Eden was written in 1952. This was at the height of the Red Scare in America, and there was a real fear that communist collectivism would stamp out human creativity. It's hard for me to look at this and not see Steinbeck warning against this type of acceptance of collectivism at the expense of the individual. Further, he argues that any RELIGION that emphasizes the collective good over the individual is one against which he must fight, and I think you could make a good argument that there are elements of even Christianity to which he might apply this. The whole chapter gets almost Ayn Rand-ish, although thankfully not nearly as carelessly written or morally bankrupt.

    So how does this apply to glory? Well, once everything is for the collective good, then it is really hard for the individual to shine. In Thucydides's History of the Peloponnesian War that I am reading for my Ancient Political Thought class right now, you can really see how the Spartans could be more successful at war than the Athenians because they value the good of the society so much above the individual, but at the same time, life in Sparta not only sucks, but also Athens produces every noteworthy genius of the age, while Sparta can't produce ANYONE.

    Now, sometimes this ability to let people be individuals (and let's face it, nothing says rugged individual like farming in the Salinas Valley in this time period) produces geniuses like Sam Hamilton. Other times, you get would-be geniuses, who only become starry-eyed dreamers because they delude themselves into believing something that in all probability will never become true. This is Adam. There's something admirable in the way that he wants to stake out his destiny by buying the land and marrying Cathy without regard for the obvious downsides. However, he does not achieve glory, but rather in the pursuit of this glory, he falls flat on his face. Sure it's disappointing, but there is something admirable about a society that at least gives him a chance to pursue his dreams, no matter how crazy they may be.

  2. Two things:

    I love that you're political science, a purview I hardly ever stand by and observe. I never thought--which isn't exactly like my; I guess the book gave me enough to think about that I haven't gone digging into ever some of my typical sources analysis (I've even done far less of an authorial analysis here than usual, sticking mostly just to textual and cross-textual)--about this books historical contemporaries like the Red Scare. That's awesome and really opens up a perspective on the book. You know, James, there's a whole branch of analysis labeled specifically Marxist Analysis. I've got a book that talks about it. Interesting, interesting....

    Second, Adam does attain HIS glory, not necessarily does he attain Glory. And simply for this, we need to either adjust the practical definition of the word here or differentiate between Glory, as is generally understood, which I think you touched on above, and the more personal glory that Steinbeck claims Adam is experiencing. Adam experiences an effusion of pure happiness. Adam attributes his expansion (a Steinbeck word) to Cathy; Steinbeck attributes it to Adam's dreams. I think if we put those together, Adam's glory--his expansion of happiness--is an illusion. Non-tactile, impractical, and unlikely. He has none of Samuel's action to balance his dreams, like you indicate in the issues brought on genius. Adam's glory is a light within. The light doesn't do anything in and of itself. It can inspire and motivate, but without action, it's nothing but light--and maybe with a little infrared, because clearly it's capable of burning. (Okay, that was cheesy!)

  3. You know what, you're right. Glory is in the eye of the beholder. If Adam feels glorified, then he is, whether he's actually accomplished anything or not.

    On the political science, yeah, it's cool, but, as I'm sure you've felt this, too, also having many interests yourself, it makes life decisions of what you want to do REALLY HARD. lol Sometimes I envy these people that only have one love and just go with it their entire lives.


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