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Monday, November 15, 2010

East of Eden XXXIV -- chpt 33: THE GREAT ACORN CONTEST, scheduled perhaps on a day particularly perfect, as it happens, for bananafish

Yes.  Pigs do eat acorns, though I don't know what that does to the flavor of their bacon.

Reading Questions
Chapter 33.1
  1. Tom and Dessie are living quietly on the ranch, each pretending that he/she is not miserable, simply for the sake of the other's conscience.  Neither ever speaks of self, and neither knows anything of the other.  What a sad way to live!  Can you be happy pretending there are no problems?  Finally it comes to head--however puny (or maybe it's gigantic, but instead of messily popping it with fingernails, they reverently sterilize a needle to lance it, but neither ever admits it was even ever there in the first place (gross analogy--sorry)) --and the each admit knowledge of the other's misery.  So what do they do?  They decide to make plans to go to Europe.  There's a trend in this book, however, that anyone wanting to travel abroad, first, never makes the trip, however well-intentioned, and second, never actually wants to go in the first place.  SO WHY PLAN OR TALK ABOUT A TRIP TO EUROPE?  What does this bespeak of the characters?  What does this bespeak of the author?
  2. As for the acorn hunt, isn't it funny how we can let ourselves be tricked into the most menial labor, if we're just offered prizes.  And maybe life isn't a rat race; maybe life is an acorn hunt.  But are we the children or the pigs?  Both?

Chapter 33.2
  1. Who commits the fatal mistake of this section?  Can Tom be blamed?

Chapter 33.3
  1. (Interesting how Tom engenders poetry from his author.)  We have the difficult gelding which Tom bought on the cheap.  But Tom is not the one trying to break the horse.  Tom is the horse, and his rider is life.  Samuel himself talked about how Tom would dig into and through things trying violently to get at their meanings and whys and wherefores.  Tom will not let life break him, even if he knows it's exactly what he needs.  It's a sacrifice he won't make, though he wouldn't be able to say what might be sacrificed.  He is so different from Will and Liza.
  2. There is also, of course, added significance taking this approach into a reading of the letter he writes next to his brother, Will, in which he claims to have been thrown and kicked in the head by this very horse.
  3. The chapter ends in a nephew's epitaph to his worthy uncle, "He was a gallant gentleman."
East of Eden was published in September of 1952.  Salinger's "A Perfect Day for Bananafish" first appeared in the The New Yorker in the January 31, 1948 issue.  It is quite likely that these two stories were even in process of their composition at the same moment.  I know this is an overly idealistic fantasy, but I can't ignore a heavy cross-textual comparison between these two pieces, in the case of the former, regarding the moment of Tom's suicide, and whatever else about his character that led, I might say even inexorably, to his final moment. 

Salinger and Steinbeck, except that their names each start with S, have practically nothing in common (that said, for better or worse, without due dilignece paid to biographies--sue me), and there's very little chance that one author influenced the other more than superficially, though I can't imagine they were unaware of each other.

If you haven't recently read "A Perfect Day for Bananafish," do so.  There are numerous copies of it online that are easier to find, though in the case of Salinger, more so than any other author (of just words) I can think of, read him from the ink and page if you can manage it.  When you're done, respond to the following prompts, at least to yourself, though your thoughts and opinions would be much welcomed in the comments' space below:
  1. Consider Seymour's tattoos and his paranoia of people staring at them, especially those on his feet.  Consider his familial relationships (it wouldn't hurt if you reread "Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters" as well, though it's quite a bit longer).  All the words we use--or Samuel used--to describe Tom might be used to describe Seymour Glass, and vice versa.  Using one, describe the other.  What were Tom's bananafish?  Who was his Sybil?  Who was his Muriel?
  2. While so similar, they did not kill themselves for parallel reasons.  What was the difference?

1 comment:

  1. 33.1.1. Well it's interesting because Samuel's advice to Adam is actually to act as if he has no problems. I think, in Steinbeck's opinion, acting that way allows you to continue mere life, but not really to live a happy life. I really don't know what my opinion is on the matter. More life experience necessary.
    33.2.1. Let's be honest here. Dessie would have died sooner or later from this anyway. And she was living a pretty wretched life. That being said, if I were Tom, I don't know that I would ever be able to forgive myself, so I think his reaction is very human and understandable.

    I will have to re-read "Bananafish" before I do the others. I haven't read it in 3 years or so.

    Finally, this chapter is just so sad--and yet it somehow avoids the sadness of cliches. Tom is a tragic figure, such a great character, but his inability to believe in himself finally catches up with him, whether it is the acorn plan, or forgiving himself for the horrible accident with Dessie. There are only two characters who dislike Tom, but unfortunately, one of them is Tom himself--the other being Will. Just a really well-written chapter that finishes a storyline that Steinbeck has been carefully and intermittently building over the course of 400 pages.


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