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Tuesday, November 23, 2010


James Smith has kindly consented to offer his warring expertise to the benefit of this particular chapter, and I am grateful.  All I know about war is what I read in novels.

Counter-arguments notwithstanding, World War I was the most horrific war in world history.  What made the war so ghastly was combination of two things: one, the centuries-old tradition of lining up large armies of soldiers fairly directly against each other; and two, new technology.  Planes and tanks were used for the first time in World War I, and deadly poisonous gases produced a brutal type of mass murder with minimal effort or second thought for the human consequences.  Meanwhile, the soldiers themselves would spend months, at an enormous cost of human lives, fighting in trenches in deplorable conditions.

The war started with the political murder of Archduke Franz Ferdinand in the Balkans, an act that, while controversial, should never have precipitated such a war that would kill over nine million soldiers.  However, there were so many secret alliances at the time, and each declaration of war triggered another, that within less than a month, a regional conflict had quickly escalated into a horrible pan-European war.  From 1914-1916, the United States stayed out of the bloody conflict (in fact, President Wilson was famously reelected because, “he kept us out of the war”), but after the Germans torpedoed the RMS Lustiania, a British ship with over 1000 Americans on board, popular anger at Germany finally led the Americans into the conflict, which they would decisively swing in favor of the Allies, namely the United Kingdom, France, and Russia—although Russia would drop out by the end, due to the Bolshevik Revolution.

The war finally came to an end with an Armistice on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918 (now Veterans’ Day, or Remembrance Day), when Germans, dissatisfied with the progress of the war, started a general strike, freezing the German economy, took power, and negotiated with the Allies.  The Allies imposed extremely harsh conditions upon Germany, which many blame for the eventual start of World War II, and, in fact, Germany’s debt was so great, that they did not pay it off until earlier THIS YEAR, officially ending the First World War.

Reading Questions
Chapter 42 
  1. “A war always comes to someone else.”  Is this still the way people think about war?  Has anything, perhaps television and news coverage, changed the way war becomes real for us?  What difference does it make if the war comes to you or to someone else? 
  2. “One American was worth ten, or twenty foreigners in a fight.”  One of the themes of East of Eden seems to be delusion.  Adam is deluded into thinking that Cathy loves him and will be his faithful wife.  In turn, Cathy is deluded into thinking that she is so much smarter than everyone else that she can easily manipulate them.  How is this another example of delusion?  What does Steinbeck seem to say about its effects?  Does he offer any solution to the problem? 
  3. “Pershing’s expedition.”  This refers to General John Pershing’s expedition into Mexico in 1916 and early 1917 in order to retaliate for Mexican Pancho Villa’s attacks on American border towns.  Although Pershing claimed the mission to be a success publicly, it was widely acknowledged as a disaster and an embarrassment to American forces. 
  4. “Liberty Belles.”  This was a mass movement of women who helped raise support for the war effort.  Afterward, their effort and patriotism would help earn women the right to vote.
  5. Notice how much more pessimistic the tone becomes as the chapter continues.  Is the Great War another example of a god that has come crashing down?
  6. Will was right on the beans.  What does it say that he and Cal have to profit on other people’s misery?
  7. “No Man’s Land.”  This term was first coined during World War I.  It was used to describe the land between the trenches on each side, in other words, the land that, “no man,” controlled, and over which they fought. 
  8. “Hello, central, give me Heaven.”  “Hello Central,” is actual a key phrase in a book I just read, A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court by Mark Twain.  It dates back to the advent of the telephone when people had to call through a central operator before connecting to anyone, thus the phrase, “Hello, Central.” 
  9. “I guess we were like a tough but inexperienced little boy who gets punched in the nose in the first flurry and it hurts and we wished it was over.”  Consider how Aron always cries but then, and somehow for the tears, fights stronger than all competition.  Is it possible he's being compared to America?


  1. 42.1 -- No matter how much television news or radio news or written news you encounter, war is always far away, unless a close loved one is directly involved. The only way for a non-participant, I think, to get close to a war (and generally one of the past) is via characters and personal conflict, most readily and efficiently represented by fiction, literary and cinematic.
    42.2 -- I don't see an offered solution. Do you have something specific in mind--from chapter or book?
    43.5 -- I think the war is definitely a crashing god, especially for those who worship the quiet, isolated life of a place like Salinas. I imagine (though assuaged surely by profits) this would effect someone like Will Hamilton most strongly as it will reveal him--at least to self--as less than King of the Castle. (This one's open to argument, however.)
    43.6 -- Though Cal is very likely Steinbeck's pet character, he, together with Will, are not happy people, and perhaps they are even miserable people. Misery loves company, true enough. While I don't think they're aware of pleasure or satisfaction or vindication at others' joining them at the bottom, I don't think they feel remorse for the profiteering.
    42.9 -- this requires further thought still....

  2. Yeah, I definitely agree with you on all points. On 42.2., I didn't really have anything particular in mind. I was more just soliciting ideas. Steinbeck seems to suggest we need a crash course in reality to get ourselves "undeluded." Even then it doesn't always work. After the Mexican failures, they go back to thinking they're invincible compared to the Germans. Adam repeatedly deludes himself, no matter how many times he learns his lessons. 9. is really hard to say for me. If you asked me, I would probably tell you I don't think they're related, but, at the same time, I could see it being a thickly veiled connection, so I'm really not quite ready to write it off.

  3. I think 9's a great question, whether founded or not. Mostly because I'm still thinking about it!


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