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Friday, December 3, 2010


Reading Questions
Chapter 50.1

by John Tenniel
  1. Maybe Cathy could read when she was five, but she clearly missed the boat on what those words meant.  How is she like--short answer--and how is she really almost completely different than Alice in Wonderland?  (Obviously, this one's for those who've read AND UNDERSTOOD the Alice books.)
  2. How does this misinterpretation shed light on her evil--and, I'm going to pursue it still, her humanity (I believe less and less that she is indeed so inhuman and without justification as we and others have claimed)?  After all, what else in the universe does to itself what she does at the end of this section?
  3. Take a look at the very last sentence of the section;" and she had never been."  Not, "as if."  Unfortunately, it's just not true.  I think we're meant to hope so.  What legacy does she leave behind?  And regardless of how Aron responds to the news of the will (if he ever gets it), has Cathy won?  What will determine her victory?

chapter 50.2

  1. I hate to ask it, but is all this death a cop-out--a great steamroller ending?  Is this whole book thing turning all Grady-Tripp on ol' Steinbeck?  (Sorry -- for anyone following along who hasn't read Wonder Boys, Grady Tripp is a fictional creative writing professor who's working on a mammoth book with absolutely no aim to it, and which just goes and goes and goes--and goes nowhere.)


  1. 50.1.1. I guess I disagree. I hope I didn't miss the point, but we'll see what you think. I think that "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland" is VERY escapist, and Cathy is trying to escape--not boredom like Alice, but her enemies/life's problems/pain.
    50.1.2. I don't know. What do you think the redeeming trait is? Or are you just saying only humans commit suicide. That's true, but we don't have much experience with monsters. Maybe Adolf Hitler might be an example of a real-life monster, and he committed suicide when the going got tough.
    50.1.3. I definitely agree with you here. It's a very odd statement to make. When I read it and now that I'm answering your questions, I'm trying to figure out what Steinbeck's trying to say, and I can't. Maybe Steinbeck is slipping into 3rd person limited and saying that from her perspective, she had never been? I think Cathy's a pretty big loser throughout all of this. She dies defeated, by Adam, Cal, Sam, Lee, and perhaps even the shock of Aron, not to mention even Joe almost outsmarts her at the end. On the other hand, it's hard to say that a lot of these other characters really "win." Maybe that says something about the battle between good and evil. The game may be not 0-sum, but negative-sum.
    50.2.1. Eh... you're right that you do kind of have to ask this. But I don't think it's fallen into Grady Tripp territory. Joe's idiocy was bound to cost him eventually once he entangled himself in Cathy's web. And someone like Cathy doesn't burn out, she goes out in a supernova. She HAD to kill herself. There was no other possible way for her to die. The reason it's not Grady Tripp is because both of these deaths follow a logical storyline that has been building the entire novel.

  2. The death of Cathy makes me think a bit about the death of Sauron. I know we never really SEE Sauron throughout LOR, but I always wish I'd been able to see his death--the moment he realizes he's been defeated. I guess I want someone to triumphantly kill or shame Cathy, and in that moment she knows she's been beat. Of course, we do get her fear just before things close in on her, but I guess I want more--something more like what Prince Humperdink is promised to suffer at the end of The Princess Bride.

    I don't think it reaches Grady-Tripp level. I agree that both deserve to die, and even that letting Joe live would over-complicate things.

    As far as Alice is concerned, I see her as just too innocent to be fairly compared to Cathy, though certainly, from Cathy's perspective, it works well.

    It's funny: almost every time (every once in a while, no) I write a question, I have an answer in mind. I love how often I'm given a new perspective by those answering those questions, and the answers, while different are RIGHT and GOOD and STRONG. It's great. I hadn't thought of that particular perspective on Alice--escapism.

    Regarding suicide, I see her as FEELING something here other than just defeat. I sense some sorrow and failure in her, and these are now purely resultant of her evil.

  3. Yeah, I agree with just about everything in there. But I wonder if maybe Steinbeck doesn't have Cathy die a triumphal (for the good characters) death because that would seem too much like, "Thou shalt rule over evil." I think Steinbeck's trying to say that good usually defeats evil, but it can never conquer it completely. The choice of protagonist says it all. Cal can defeat evil, but it's a struggle, and he can never completely get rid of it. That's what makes the, "she had never been," line even stranger. To me, the real point of this story is that, "she HAS ALWAYS been."

  4. I agree. I think that's it. Really good.

  5. My desire to humanize Cathy, I think, comes from my desire to understand her. Here is the problem. Is it possible for one who is human to entirely understand one who is not? Just as one from another culture can never entirely understand one from a different culture. If this is true--and it is true--then Steinbeck couldn't not have understood his own character. Is the need to understand inherent to writing?

  6. It's an interesting question it is. I don't think you can completely, but I think you can compartmentalize it, so that you can conceptually understand it without being able to relate to it. Thinking about astronomy for example makes you good at this. The numbers are so immense that they don't mean anything practically to you anymore, but you can conceptually "understand" the phenomenon.


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