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Monday, November 22, 2010

East of Eden XLI -- chpt41: PREP FOR A BEAN BASH

Reading Questions
Chapter 41.1

  1. Interesting the final sentence of this first, short section that claims the Salinas Valley, while a part of the Nation frightened by its "imperceptible" slide toward war, is either oblivious or willfully despondent.  Sound like anyone you know?

Chapter 41.2

  1. I think we get the direct parallel to the previous question in just the first three inches or so of text here, when Aron, in utterly willful black-and-white obtuseness, says, "But he lost it."
  2. In the conversation between the brothers, there's an amplified sense of Aron's personality.  What's going on in the moment of these lines that emphasizes his character: "I'll help you though college."  "You will?"  "Sure I will."  "Why, I'll go and see the principal right away."  Compare this quickness to that of his judgment on his father.
  3. Justify Abra: "I try to talk him out of [his attitude about the lettuce].  Maybe he's enjoying it."  Enjoying it?  Really?
  4. Is Lee missing something, or is he content?  (Having finished the chapter, this smacks a bit of Deus Ex Machina; can you show that it's not?)

Chapter 41.3

  1. The first paragraph of this section reminds me, perhaps strangely, of Life of Pi.  Will, an animal so unlike that of his perhaps-wilder siblings, enjoys his cage in his little self-crafted zoo.  Why is it (if you thoroughly remember Life of Pi) that he's so content in his "square glass cage," especially (and back to EoE from LoP) in view of the next paragraph contrasting Will to Joe?
  2. If Will sees and respects Cal, he sees something of himself in the boy.  What does he see?  Are they so similar?  (This is a much bigger question--especially in view of the next--than it seems.)
  3. Why does Will's "fleshy face" contort with memory when Cal admits his fondness for his father?
  4. Where is God in this chapter?  Consider the source story.  Is it Adam?  Big, doltish, even simpleton Adam?  Wouldn't that be even a sort of blasphemy?  Cal is winding up to offer his sacrifice.  What is Aron's gift?


  1. 41.2.3. I think it's possible. Aron is so concerned about being closer to God than everyone else. Maybe he's excited to have a, "cross to bear."
    41.2.4. This is definitely Deus Ex Machina. The one mitigating factor is that at least Steinbeck had the dignity to write the offer of $5000 BEFORE Cal talked to Will. I think that Lee is content, but he sees the way everyone likes Aron more than Cal and is troubled by it.
    41.3.1. I don't know. The thing about the animals in a zoo is that they are all defective in some way. I don't think Will's defective. I think he's just different.
    41.3.2. Yeah, I was wondering about this. I think both Cal and Will feel under-loved by their fathers. They are practical men who are quite capable, but the people their fathers admire are the impractical screw-ups. It doesn't seem fair to either of them.
    41.3.3. Perhaps Will had such a painful love for his father that he is trying to kill it and bury it altogether, and that's why he always speaks ill of him.
    41.3.4. I don't know of it as blasphemy. I mean, the story of "Cain and Abel" is incredibly unfair, at least by our standards as humans. There's no reason why God SHOULD prefer Abel's gift over Cain's. God just does. And I think the point of this story, and maybe even a bit of a point of Genesis if you dig a little deeper is that you can't buy God's love. God just loves you already. Even if sometimes God/Adam has an odd way of showing it, deep down inside God loves Cain/Cal. Cain and Cal make two mistakes. The first is that they don't realize how much God already loves them. The second is that they think that they can buy their love. It doesn't work that way.

  2. *I don't think of it as blasphemy.

  3. 41.2.3 -- I think Aron is definitely interested in being a martyr. His piety is almost unbearable!
    41.2.4 -- I think it's set up earlier, as well, as we can assume that Lee's been able to put away quite a bit of money. I think the bigger question here, and this ties directly to Lee's content or discontent, is why would he be so willing to throw it at Cal? I think there's a satisfactory answer to the question of his satisfaction/contentedness that will also do away with the Deus ex Machina.
    41.3.1 -- I don't agree that there's necessarily something defective about animals in a zoo--that being an animal in a zoo presupposes its whole-ness--just I can't say I agree that Will is without defect. However, he is satisfied with his cage just as he's satisfied with being the big fish in the small pond. He could be bigger elsewhere, but there's risk and discomfort elsewhere. He is comfortable, he has what he needs (food, shelter, lookout, etc. -- LoP), and he's safe. He would be foolish, as would an animal, to prefer the supposed "freedom" of the world beyond the zoo.
    41.3.2 -- Will says a lot of this himself in his self-ascribed regret of not having children. He says also that Cal could, and even should, have been his child. He sees them as very similar, or, and I think more likely, he, in his tremendous inferiority complex and generally poor self-esteem (because that deep part of him does recognize his brother and father as better men), recognizes Cal as also greater, but approachable--a greater form of himself, and he's the teacher to this student who can surpass the master.
    41.3.4 -- (next comment)

  4. 41.3.4 -- I don't think it's blasphemy either; Adam isn't similar enough (AT ALL) to make the parallel that dire. I agree that they're both mistakenly attempting to buy love from their God/father. So I guess my question here is more in the direction of Abel/Aron: What is his gift? Abel tended the flocks and sacrificed accordingly. What is Aron's livestock, so to speak, and what will he sacrifice from it?

  5. 41.2.4. Yeah, I agree. It's probably because he wants Cal to make his own decisions and take his own chances, sort of like Adam finally did when he came to be himself again.
    41.3.4. I really can't say I know for sure. Maybe it's just being nice. Remember that Cal wants to be nice like Aron. But then again, he sort of loses this attribute as he gets older.

    By the way, Cal says that everyone likes Aron. Is this really true anymore? He's alienated almost everyone around him, and his father's failures have made him a laughingstock.

  6. I think we'll get answers for the last question of sacrifice and other stuff about the boys as we finish the book. Back to Lee, though for a minute:

    I don't think he's entirely content yet. While he is living with a family, and while the family thinks of his like a member of that family, he is NOT a member of the family, no matter how much he loves the boys, and no matter what his role was their raising. He will never be their father. This will never be his house (though maybe his home). I think he feels this lack acutely and is willing to do anything to secure his place as a member of the Adam Trask family.


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