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Sunday, November 28, 2010

East of Eden XLVI -- chpt46: HYPOCRISY, STUPIDITY, and SHAME

Chapter 46 is another one of Steinbeck's periodic inserts, and division from the central plots, that mark the story's presence in time, place, and--extrapolation of both--American history.  He opens, as he often does, with a reference to the land and local agriculture, and points out that the superstitious farmers--such a superstitious nature typical of agricultural communities throughout human history--blame the war on the year's irregular rain.  After all, two extreme irregularities must be connected, else they wouldn't occur simultaneously!

There are three items in this chapter that are likely important to, or at least indicative of, our overall story: the cruel treatment of the local German-American (a cruelty and hypocrisy typical of any inter-cultural conflict--can you think of any more modern examples?), the shame of the narrator and his sister at their joining in the communal abuse of the man, and the stupidity and tunnel-vision evident in the final sentence: "We thought we invented all of it [, a community's experience by its participation in a war] in Salinas, even the sorrow."

These three points all match one of the overall issues of the book.  What is it?  How do our main characters exemplify so much of these same hypocrisies, stupidities, and shames?  Also, and definitely more importantly, however, do they transcend them?


  1. As for current examples, I think that 9/11 has really inflamed tensions with US Muslims.

    I think the story that transcends it is the issue of good and evil. Steinbeck seems to be saying that the story of Cain and Abel is one that every generation lives out, even though they think that their circumstances may be unique. However, within this deterministic framework, there is space for free will. The feeling of guilt, while it doesn't help the German, may help them to make better decisions in the future. Before you repent, you need to acknowledge that you have made a mistake. They did that. It's not clear that anyone else in the story has made a similar decision.

  2. The ever-present Cains and Abels among certainly appears to be a primary point of Steinbecks. I think his subsequent point is just what you're saying: while the opening situation of unfairness and mistrust being the same, the outcomes being entirely subject to the participants' choices. With Cal and Aron, at least at this particular moment, he is pointing out that Abel is just as set to screw up as Cain was, and maybe--just maybe--Cain even did Abel a sort of twisted, unintentional favor by "saving" him from having to make the choices by killing him.


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