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Friday, October 22, 2010

East of Eden XVIII -- chpt17: Of Meteors and Monsters

"When I said Cathy was a monster it seemed to me that it was so.  Now I have bent close with a glass over the small print of her and reread the footnotes, and I wonder if i was true.  The trouble is that since we cannot know what she wanted, we will never know whether or not she got it.  If rather than running toward something,g she ran away from something, we can't know whether she escaped.  Who knows but that she tried to tell someone or everyone what she was like and could not, for lack of a common language.  Her life may have been her language, formal, developed, indecipherable.  It is easy to say she was bad, but there is little meaning unless we know why."

Reading Questions
Chapter 17.1

  1. Deconstruction: Is Steinbeck just making this up as he's going along?  If this is really Olive's son narrating, then he already knows the story from the end to the beginning and he would have known from his first word--and dwelled on it for a decision--whether his opinion of Cathy was that she was indeed a monster or just a misunderstood alien.  Suddenly, from the quotation above, the first paragraph of chapter 17, she is no longer Cathy Ames the devil, but a Frankenstein's monster without the outward monstrosity, save empty, goatish eyes.  Should Steinbeck have gone back to alter that earlier chapter, held to his monster approach without deviation, or this just right?

Chapter 17.2

  1. Lewis Carroll wrote in Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, "Why is a raven like a writing desk?"  I think it's an aptly applicable question here: "Why is a buried meteorite like a monster's baby?"  Carroll's riddle never intended an answer, at least according to his own claims, but that hasn't stopped people from coming up with their own.  Similarly, maybe Steinbeck didn't intend metaphor (though I doubt it).  So take this is one of two possible directions--or both: 1, Just answer the second question; 2, compare the two questions in context of EoE.
Chapter 17.3

  1. One of my favorite parts of this section is the little bit of Liza that creeps up in Samuel's behavior as he takes over the delivery of the baby.  Notice how there seem to be two babies he has to deliver: the neonate, and Adam.
  2. Which of the many sensations of birthing are bringing the anger, and perhaps evil, into Cathy?  (And don't say "all," because that's lame and a cop-out.  Which are most significant?  And when it comes down to it, I wouldn't ask if the answer were typical.)
  3. Okay, let's let the cat out of the bag: whose are the twins, and what kind of twins are they?
  4. Have you ever felt fear as an adult that caused you to wish you were a child with readily available and excusable foolishness and comfort?
  5. Samuel: "Lee, men are fools.  I guess I hadn't thought about it, but Chinese men are fools too." // "What made you doubt it?" // "Oh, maybe because we think of strangers as stronger and better than we are." // ... // Samuel: "Maybe the foolishness is necessary, the dragon fighting, the boasting, the pitiful courage to be constantly knocking a chip off God's shoulder, and the childish cowardice that makes a ghost of a dead tree beside a darkening road....  I feel wings over this house.  I feel a dreadfulness coming."  (I believe the "wings" Samuel mentions are much like the image of a great black bird hanging over Danny in Tortilla Flat or the crow that comes over Alice after her encounter with Tweedle-Dee and Tweedle-Dum, that is an evil omen--a pall, a type of goose on a grave.)
  6. How is it exactly that Samuel thinks Liza will be able to help?
  7. As you get on to the end of this section, tell me--I dare you--that Liza and Samuel don't love each other; but you'd better back it up if you do.
  8. Maybe it's just me--my family's little predicament right now--but Samuel's attitude is enviable: ""Samuel looked up at Tim with clear eyes and said, 'I'll have to get up,' tried it and sat weakly back, chuckling--the sound he made when any force in the world defeated him.  He had an idea that even when beaten he could steal a little victory by laughing at defeat."
Chapter 17.4

  1. "Lee she used like a slave since she didn't quite believe in him.  Adam she ignored since she couldn't use him for anything.  She did make him wash the windows and then did it again after he had finished."
Chapter 17.5

  1. Cathy to Adam: "I can do anything to you.  Any woman can do anything to you.  You're a fool."
  2. Why didn't she finish him off?
  3. Will this bring him to the point of hitting bottom, like was discussed earlier?


  1. So much to discuss in this chapter.

    First, I want to get back to the goat eyes. It seems like an odd description of eyes, and I know that this is more last chapter, but I forgot to write about it. I wonder if he is calling to mind the image of separating the sheep from the goats. That's all I can think of now at least.

    As far as Liza and Sam, you win.

    The meteorite question is really interesting. I couldn't figure it out while I was reading it either. Maybe I will be able to think better when I am fully awake; it's 2am here, and I basically stayed up just because I told myself I would catch up before I went to bed.

    The twins: I almost think they have to be Charles's. We read of no example of intimacy between Adam and Cathy. So this raises the question, why would Adam go along with this in this case? Definitely an interesting question, but perhaps he is SO in the tank for Cathy that logical questions, such as, "How did this happen?" never occur to him.

    Finally, I think the reason she does not finish Adam is purely self-interest. If she kills him, everyone will be on the look-out for her. She knows that if she protects Adam, he will not have it in his heart to report her.

  2. When I first read that she shot him in the shoulder and then took no second shot, I thought two things: first, and the weakest on my part, is she had a moment of sympathy (WRONG!); second, was along the lines of what you said.

    The issues of the meteorite and the kids will both become more evident as the kids grow.

  3. On the goats: Samuel was just a kid when he saw it and drew that connection. Steinbeck, however, was not a kid when he wrote it. I think it must be that he intends something--or he's got something against goats. Outside of Christian imagery, a devil often has many goatish physical characteristics--generally horns, beard, hooves, and tail. Of course, also, goats eyes are weird, what with their rectangular pupils....

  4. I did not know that goats had rectangular pupils. Interesting. Gives me a more vivid image of the scene, which was already quite vivid.


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