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Thursday, October 28, 2010

East of Eden XXIII -- chpt22: BAPTISM, minus the water

Reading Questions
Chapter 22.1

  1. I can't help but think of couples who lose a child, which loss destroys their relationship, overcoming the love they have for each other, such that they can't find it--if it even continues to exist (is such a thing terminable? I think so).  Is Adam experiencing something like this or, as its his spouse and his children remain, is it entirely different?
  2. What does it mean that "Adam might be pleasuring himself with sadness"?
  3. It is interesting, the magic Samuel works on those around him: Lee is the prime example.  Notice how Lee's walls and masks simply slack from him when no one else is around.  It is the same, to a degree, with his children.  People are more themselves around Samuel (of course, this seems only to be the case for those who have something to hide behind: Liza is entirely bald and naked with or without him).  Does this eventually--as it hasn't until this point--work on Adam?  Is the "shocking" he's setting out to perform a bit of his wife creeping into his person?

Chapter 22.2

  1. Does Liza think it's important that the boys have names at this point?  It would seem to me that perhaps she doesn't, at least inasmuch as it isn't her or anybody else's business.  If this is the case however, why does she say, quite clearly, "If you do not get those boys names, there'll be no warm place in this house for you.  Don't you dare come whining back, saying he wouldn't do it or he wouldn't listen.  If you do I'll have to go myself"?  (And she smiles when she aggravates him to shouting!  WHY!?)
  2. What a beautifully self-contradictory woman!  Does she bring out--or provoke--the best in Samuel as a spouse should?

Chapter 22.3

  1. Ah!  The words of a hero (I think I will have this written on my grave): "A man, his whole life, matches himself against pay.  And how, if it's my whole life's work to find my worth, can you, sad man, write me down instant in a ledger?"  (Oh, it makes my heart sing!)
  2. Liza says it herself, that her husband's words are honey--poetry, true--Steinbeck's own, like some of the richest descriptive passages from Tortilla Flat (my pet favorite of the man's): "In a bitter night, a mustard night that was last night, a good thought came and the dark was sweetened when the day sat down.  And this thought went from evening star to the late dipper on the edge of the first light--that our betters spoke of.  So I invite myself."
  3. And Samuel's righteous indignation like the mighty wrath of a prophet for his God!  "Tear away with your jelly fingers.  You have not bought these boys, nor stolen them, nor passed any bit for them.  You have them by some strange and lovely dispensation....  The stone orchard celebrates too little, not too much."
  4. And Adam's defense (is it valid--really, is it!?): "What I do [or don't do] is my own business" speaking of his not having "laid a number" to his sons.
  5. And imagine the force of the stubborn old farmer's fist on the heathen's jaw!  I met a farmer in Italy once.  I've always thought of this particular gentle giant when I've read this passage from the book.  The man towered over me, pushing seven feet, with bones too big for his skin.  I don't have small hands, but when he took mine in his for a handshake, my little paw DISAPPEARED TO ABOVE MY WRIST.  I picture a fist like this--literal or figurative with its godly power--crashing into Adam's listless face.
  6. How are the boys naked without names?  They're still only babies.  With what exactly--more than one thing--will they be clothed once the names, with Adam's help and approval, are chosen and assigned?
  7. Proof of Samuel's success?  "It's hard to imagine I'd thank a man for insults and for me out like a rug.  But I'm grateful.  It's a hurty thanks, but it's thanks."
  8. Why do we need to sort out emotion--to label them as loss or hate or loneliness or whatever?  How will alleviating this confusion of labels help Adam ascend from his dearth?
  9. A point regarding NATURE vs NURTURE: "And I will warn you now that not their blood but your suspicion might build evil in them.  They will be what you expect them to be.  ...  I don't very much believe in blood.  I think when a man finds good or bad in his children he is seeing only what he planted in them after they cleared the womb." //  From Adam: "You can't make a race horse of a pig." //  From Samuel: "No, but you can make a very fast pig."  Interesting, as this makes sense coming from Samuel, who's raised to adulthood a huge family, but not so much coming from Steinbeck, who, at the time, has only two young boys, and he's not even the one really raising them!  What do you think?  (Ad astra per alia porci.)
  10. I repeat a question from before: Whose children are these boys?
  11. "I'd think there are degree of greatness," Adam said.  //  "I don't think so," said Samuel.  "That would be like saying there is a little bigness."
  12. Twice in this section, Samuel refers indirectly to Jesus Christ.  Once, regarding himself to be inherently too mediocre and cowardly to face crucifixion, and second, in Lee's position as a servant and a likely greater man than he or Adam will ever be.

Chapter 22.4

  1. Wise Lee, regarding the negative connotation of the name, Cain, and that it's perhaps never been borne since: "Maybe that's why the name has never changed its emphasis."
  2. How patient Steinbeck is as an author.  There's no rushing into the naming.  He's got something important in common with his Cathy Ames.  The moment comes as and when it will, and in the meantime he waits and takes advantage of the available moments for his further advantage.
  3. "No story has power, nor will it last, unless we feel in ourselves that it is true and true of us."  What stories do you know and/or have read that, by this standard, are true?
  4. Adam displays a personal moment of hope--of self-hope: "Well, every little boy thinks he invented sin.  Virtue we think we learn, because we are told about it.  But sin is our own designing."  Yet is is also tinged with hopelessness, and with it, MASSIVE foreshadowing for both event and theme: "Because we are descended from this.  This is our father.  Some of our guilt is absorbed in our ancestry.  What chance did we have?  We are the children of our father.  It means we aren't the first.  It's an excuse, and there aren't enough excused in the world."
  5. Does Adam have any inclination--even akin to deja vous--that as he defends Cain he defends his brother?
  6. Samuel: "I think this is the best-known story in the world because it is everybody' story."  (This, by the way, is the essence of the definition of Myth--not myth=fiction, but myth=foundational literature and history, true or not.)
  7. "But [Aaron] didn't make it to the Promised Land."
  8. Why does Samuel tear up in the final paragraph?


  1. Wow, a ton of questions today! But for good reason. This is a phenomenal chapter.

    First question I'll do is:

    22.2.1: I don't think Liza exactly cares whether the boys get names. I think it is more that Samuel is going through one of the same slumps in life that Adam is. He used to go to the Trask estate and come back depressed. Now that he has stopped going, he feels old. Liza is hoping that she can motivate him to "find his stride again," or so to speak. She sees it more as a challenge to bring out the best in Samuel than merely naming the boys.

    22.3.8: This is a brilliant question I had never really thought about before. I think the reason that we need to sort out what we feel is that it can lead us to the right solution. If I figure out that what is making me upset is loneliness, I can try to spend more time with other people. If I figure out that what I am feeling is jealousy, then I can try to think about the blessings that I do have, and so on.

    22.3.9: I must admit that I really cannot say. I probably would agree with the "fast pig" definition, but I doubt that I'm going to be able to solve this age-old question in a short blog reply. Samuel's outlook is certainly more hopeful than Steinbecks, unless you are born great, and then I suppose it's less hopeful.

    22.3.10: Arg. This is really a nagging question. I have no doubt that at least one is Charles's, and, what I am saying may sound crazy, but I just did a Google search, and apparently it is scientifically possible to give birth to twins from two different fathers. Is this what is happening here? It's a morally shocking conclusion, but I've wondered it ever since I've read the book, and I'm just going to come out and say it.

    22.3.11: I think there are degrees of greatness, too. Sorry, Samuel.

    22.4.2: You are right. This book is just incredibly carefully written. All hail Steinbeck.

    22.4.3: East of Eden for one. I don't mean to insert myself into an epic, but the Lord of the Rings trilogy has emotional significance for me in the same way as East of Eden, in that the future of humanity and the ability to overcome evil are in our hands. The Bible has plenty of them. One of my favorites is Jeremiah 31:31-34, that Lutherans are reading Sunday for Reformation Sunday. I also like, no, that is not strong enough, LOVE Romans 8:26-39, as far as having a deep impact in my life. Not only the part about, "The Spirit interced[ing] with sighs too deep for words," but, especially the dramatic conclusion of the passage, "For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord." (NRSV translation) Wow. Makes tears well up in my eyes every time I think about it. Conclusion: The power of well-chosen words is under-appreciated.

    22.4.8: Martin Luther King, Jr. once said that, "A man who has nothing to die for has nothing to live for." I think this is what upsets Samuel. It's when people stop dreaming. He couldn't care less about what Adam actually does with the land, but the fact that he has stopped dreaming, he regards as a spiritual death.

  2. James -- some thoughts:

    22.2.1: I agree and think to add that it's a conditional statement from her. IF Samuel is going to go, he better follow through and gain himself some success and sense of accomplishment; if he can't do that, then he better not freaking go in the first place.

    22.3.8: I've thought a lot about this lately, as I've learned more about the way emotions work in the body and balancing/justifying this with what I think of as the soul. Science is coming to say, basically, that the body responds to certain pressures or situations by pumping hormones through the body making us feel certain ways and associating these "feelings" with the situation that prompted it. But how come we don't always know the source of our feelings if it's such a direct correlation as situation-hormone-feeling? I'm fairly ignorant in the field, but it just doesn't jive for me. There's more to it than chemicals....

    22.3.9: Another I've thought a lot about. I don't care how fast a pig you might be able to make, it will never beat a race horse. I don't care how much I practice, I'll never play the piano like Chopin. There MUST be a large portion of nature in the mix.

    22.3.10: I can't remember, but I guess Steinbeck never comes out and says it, otherwise you'd remember. I've always assumed that they must be from different fathers, yet how significant to the plot that they are yet twins.

    22.3.11: I always combine in my mind my interpretation of No Child Left Behind based upon the Pixar flick, The Incredibles, when I read this quotation from Samuel.


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