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Wednesday, October 20, 2010

East of Eden XVI -- chpt15: Divination

Reading Questions
Chapter 15.1

  1. The human heart, I think, naturally tends toward optimism.  Adam, while not the ideal example, experiences a pall falling over his memory of Connecticut, and the memory fades.  There have been parts of my life--shocks of memory--of which I think so irregularly, for reasons of avoidance of pain, that practically speaking I've essentially forgotten.  When skimming along the timeline of my experiences, I naturally and unwittingly skip those dark periods, as if they didn't exist; yet if those times are directly called upon, by someone else present at the time or some specific corollary, the images are yet clear.  What experiences have you had that are similar (not to dredge up the painful), or what is your opinion in this regard?
  2. As we saw a couple chapters ago, we're getting the optimism for change here.  Consider this line: "Can you imagine?  Just think what this land would raise with plenty of water!  Why, it will be a frigging garden?"  Okay, the book is East of Eden, of course, whose third word references one of the two most famous gardens in Western culture.  Is Eden a dream, an ambition, as distant as this optimistically anticipated future, that in likelihood will never come to pass (because, come on, what large body of people are ever so satisfied that they don't look hopefully or enviously toward a better time or circumstance, future or past, left or right)?  If this is so, and Eden will never come, are they not constantly living in the cursed land just Eastward?
  3. "There wasn't any limit, no boundary at all, to the future."  Didn't Walt Disney (Tomorrow Land, isn't it?) and Howard Stark (the old Stark Expo, right?) each have a similar impression of the future?
  4. Ah, count on Samuel to articulate the issue: "There's a capacity for appetite that a whole heaven and earth of cake can't satisfy."
  5. I find the paragraph describing Cathy's mental approach--the picture of passive-aggression--to coping with her baby, her husband, and her new house (for her, not a home); does it not sound like the line describing Olive as disbelieving anything contrary to her realm of possible acceptance?  Of course, there is the fundamental difference of calculation for Cathy and blind, God-fearing faith for Olive.
  6. The introduction of Lee, the cook, is perhaps one of my favorite moments--not because it's a grand introduction, but because I now know who Lee is and what he does.  However, if there is one great thing about the method of his introduction it is that his presence makes Cathy feel uncomfortable.  Is there a surer sign of his potential for goodness than that he arouses fear (though she denies it) in the Devil?  And the last line of the section: "And what harm could he do her?" 

Chapter 15.2

  1. Speaking of accents and shields, Lee, taking standard English rather than his affected pidgin, says, "It's more than a convenience.  It's even more than self-protection.  Mostly we have to use it to be understood at all."  What is he talking about?
  2. When asked why he maintains the queue, Lee says, "Talkee Chinese talk.  Queue Chinese fashion--you savvy?"  Samuel [laughs] loudly.  "That does have the green touch of convenience," he [says].  "I wish I had a hidey-hole like that."  But don't we all have hidey-holes like that?  What's yours?
  3. Lee is a changeling, and metamorphmagus, a two-face, and a  man without a country.  Is he short-changing himself?  Is it laziness--acceptance--settling?  Is it survival or refusal?  What other characters are there like him?  I can't help but thing of frontiersmen or outlaws.  People like Jesse James or Cassidy and Sundance....
  4. "It's hard to split a man down the middle and always to reach for the same half."
  5. "There are no ugly questions except those clothed in condescension."
  6. Is literature no full of wise servants?  Look at Lee's description and list the names and sources of servants you've discovered that fit the bill.  The obvious one from contemporary culture (or newly renewed): Bruce Wayne's Alfred.  (I think I could be a servant....)

Chapter 15.3

  1.  Anyone out there have experience with a divining wand--the forked stick Samuel uses to find water?
  2. Like stones in a field: "The ways of sin are curious.  I guess if a man had to shuck off everything he had, inside and out, he'd manage to hide a few little sins somewhere for his own discomfort.  They're the last things we'll give up."
  3. Of the forked stick: "I don't really believe in it save that it works.  Maybe it's this way.  Maybe I know where the water is, feel it in my skin.  Some people have a gift in this direction or that.  Suppose--well, call it humility, or a deep disbelief in myself, forced me to do a magic to bring up to the surface the thing I know anyway.  Does that make any sense to you?"  Isn't it this way for anyone who "discovers" religion for the first time?
  4. Hmm.  Adam won't plant apples, because it's "looking for trouble."
  5. Could there have been a different girl for Adam?  It's easy to say that Adam is in love with being in love and simply needed an object--it could have been anything or anyone.  But take the hard road: How might it be that Cathy is actually the IDEAL woman for Adam, at least if you consider the gods' oft-misjudged generosity and wisdom in providing all men with the ideal circumstances to return us to them?
  6. Samuel to Adam regarding the latter's oblivion: "I should give you Othello's handkerchief."
  7. On approaching the house together and spying Cathy from a distance: "Even at this distance she looks beautiful," Samuel said (emphasis added).
Chapter 15.4

  1. It seems that good men--well, not exclusively, because there's Charles as well (but is he a BAD man?)--naturally mistrust Cathy.  Adam is not a bad man.  What's his freaking problem?
  2. What's the goose that keeps treading over Samuel's grave?
  3. (I picture Doxology as one of those sorry looking Disney horses from the old shorts....)
Chapter 15.5

  1. Once again, Adam is an idiot.


  1. i'm intimidated by your extensive write-ups of "east of eden" but i plan on using them as help/guide when i dig into the book later this winter.

  2. Don't be intimidated. Take them for what they are: no more than prompts to get you thinking and writing. Above all else, don't worry about what I mean by the questions, assume you know and answer what you see the question to be. Better: assume you know more than me (which is just as likely; I'm not authority; I just enjoy reading), and teach me what you see.

  3. Wow, this is an awesome chapter. It strikes me as so much better now that I am a more experienced and careful reader than I was a few years ago. The dinner table conversation is one of the best scenes in the entire book; I am sure of it.

    You bring up the goose walking over the grave. You almost get the feeling yourself as you feel the suspense building. At least I did. The entire time in this book, we have known that Cathy's a monster, but this is the first time that you feel that danger is imminent for a character about whom we care. She's clearly brooding and plotting how to bring about her escape, which she as much as brings up by the end of the chapter.

    The whole chapter also strongly plays on the Garden of Eden imagery. First, there is the discussion about not planting apples. Then, maybe the most awesome part to me, and I don't know why it clicked this time, but not the last, is this image of Hamilton observing Cathy eat: "Cathy was chewing a piece of meat, chewing with her front teeth. Samuel had never seen anyone chew that way before. And when she had chewed, her little tongue flicked around her lips." What does this resemble? A snake. Two sharp teeth in the front, and then a tongue that it flips out of its mouth. Steinbeck is telling us that the devil is already in the garden. It's far too late at this point to do anything.

    The whole chapter reminds me a bit of "Dracula," which I read over the summer. Everyone outside of the relationship knows that this person needs to be destroyed, but the person in it is the last one to consent because he cannot imagine this woman, whom he has so idealized, being anything less than pure, and surely not a monster.

  4. I love that while Adam thinks of her firmly as his Eve, she is not; she is the serpent.


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