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Saturday, December 4, 2010

East of Eden LI -- chpt51: "Am I supposed to look after [my brother]?"

Reading Questions
chapter 51.1

  1. What part of Adam is it that cries, "Oh, my poor darling!"?  What does this lens into the man show us?
  2. What are the two comforts for Lee taken from the little stolen book?
  3. I have books that I've "stolen," much like Lee stole this book from Sam'l Hamilton.  What is the advantage to the thief from the quality of the acquisition that is theft?  How might the theft be justified, as my theft, like Lee's, is indeed known to the former owner?

chapter 51.2

  1. It is impossible, not to mention irrational, for an author to plug a movie, author, song, or other artist without a specific purpose--metaphoric, allusionary, or something along those lines.  My favorite author for such plugs is Salinger, Cather in the Rye being the most significant, and maybe the best, example.  Here, Cal is remembering leaving Kate's and his singing of the words, "There's a rose that grows in no man's land and 'tis wonderful to see--"  Obviously there's a significance to it.  Is it had by just this line, or do you require the entire lyric (complete words at end of post)?
  2. The benefit of burning the bills, like Lee's reading of Marcus Aurelius, is two-fold.  What are the benefits?
  3. "Caleb whose suffering should have its own Homer."  (Hmm.  Doesn't it?  What is the ultimate conflict and its incarnation in this epic?)
  4. Of the characters, Adam, Lee, Aron, Cal, Cathy, which is the most realistic--or, at least, the closest to a human average?
  5. "In the old lands they say of us that we go from barbarism to decadence without an intervening culture."  Is there a practical difference between the two?

(Jack Caddigan / James A. Brennan)

William Thomas - 1916
Henry Burr - 1918
Charles Hart - 1919
Hugh Donovan (a.k.a. Charles Harrison) - 1919

I've seen some beautiful flowers
Grow in life's garden fair
I've spent some wonderful hours
Lost in their fragrance rare
But I have found another
Wondrous beyond compare....

There's a rose that grows in no-man's land
And it's wonderful to see
Though its sprayed with tears, it will live for years
In my garden of memory

It's the one red rose the soldier knows
It's the work of the Master's hand
'Neath the War's great curse stands a Red Cross nurse
She's the rose of no-man's land

Out in the heavenly splendour
Down to the trail of woe
God in his mercy has sent her
Fearing the World below
We call her Rose of Heaven
We've longed to love her so....

There's a rose that grows in no-man's land
And it's wonderful to see
Though its sprayed with tears, it will live for years
In my garden of memory

It's the one red rose the soldier knows
It's the work of the Master's hand
'Neath the War's great curse stands a Red Cross nurse
She's the rose of no-man's land 


  1. 1. I think it shows us what we've had good reason to expect all along, which is that he's never completely healed. Actually, a thought just occurred to me. I guess I always supposed he really wanted to protect the kids by not telling them, but now it seems he just can't bring himself to admit it.
    2. I think it's because of the wisdom and it reminds him of Samuel. But I just thought of another theory. I seem to be full of them these days. Do you think Lee is meant to represent the Eve in this story stealing from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil? Earlier, we see the sheriff describe how the house has a woman's touch, well too much, so immediately, we think of Lee as somewhat feminine. And then this comes around. Stolen knowledge. "Adam's wife." In a book that models itself after Genesis. If so, what does it say that he feels good about it? Is Steinbeck affirming original sin in some way? Or am I just wrong?
    3. I don't know. I'd like to hear your theory.
    1. Oh, this is totally symbolic. "No Man's Land" is the contested territory between the two armies. If the armies in this book are good and evil, then Cal is the rose growing between them--at least that's what I think.
    2. Well I know it's therapeutic, and maybe it's a new sacrifice to his father.
    3. I had the exact same thought at that point in the reading. But I think what Steinbeck is saying is that Cal isn't some sort of an Odysseus. He's the same as each one of us. He's trying to tell the story of humanity through a manifestly average human being, albeit one with a tragic story.
    4. I think Cal is supposed to be, but I think you could make an argument for Joe Valery, too, if you were in an especially cynical mood. He's shallow, self-centered, egotistical, and finds a way to do horrible things to other people for his own benefit without feeling guilty. I don't know about you, but I know A TON of people like this.
    5. Well, I guess barbarism is not enough civilization, and decadence would be too much civilization. But I think what it means is we've never earned our way out of barbarism and into decadence. And it might be true. One of the reasons Steinbeck was able to try to write this great American novel is that, at the time, America's culture had not been very refined. Maybe Mark Twain is distinctly American, and I'm sure there are others, but it seems that prior to the 20th century, we had not yet accomplished a lot in the world of the arts, yet were quickly becoming wealthy and powerful.

  2. I'd never thought about Lee as the Eve figure. I always just thought Eve was Cathy and truly fallen. I guessed Steinbeck had a much more pessimistic view on Original Sin. This changes things entirely--or, at least offers a brand new perspective. Interesting how she rarely shares--and certainly doesn't tempt--Adam with her new-found knowledge and wisdom, and never enough to bring him out of his innocence. Or Adam just won't accept the wisdom, even when it's shoved down his throat because he too stubborn and stupid! Only one problem with this is that they're already out of Eden at this point.

    As far as stealing the book from Samuel, the theft lends a sort of power and control within the self, but also over the book and the person it was taken from, who found the book first, who is perhaps more naturally or completely wise than the thief. The most notable books I have that might be described as spoils came from my father and my maternal grandfather, two very wise men. It's a proactive event that garners me control where it wouldn't be with the inevitable student/teacher groveling. (I don't know, though -- this all sounds very Freud, doesn't it?)

  3. That's an interesting take on the stealing thing. I see where you're coming from.

    We are out of Eden, but I'm not sure it entirely matters because Steinbeck repeats stories all the time and says we're always reliving Genesis. Interesting point you bring up about not tempting Adam. That may be a decent-sized hole in the argument, but I'm not sure I'm ready to give up on the idea yet.

  4. I don't think we should give it up. I think it's a brilliant approach. And you're right about the repeating stories....

    Back to stealing: is it theft if they know it's happened and do nothing to stop me or regain the book?

  5. I would still say yes, but it's hardly malicious theft.


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