East of Eden Section 3 Discussion: Timshel

Sorry that I’ve been a neglectful book club host, but I think this is just the thing to get us back in the swing of things!  Also, please feel free to go back and comment on any previous discussion questions you may have missed.

Sometimes I think that if I carried around a little piece of paper that said timshel on it and looked at it throughout the day I’d be a better person.  Other than the Cathy/monster passage, which is memorable for entirely different reasons, my absolute favorite passage in the entire book is the one where Adam, Lee, and Samuel discuss the story of Cain and Abel.  There’s so much goodness in that surprisingly short passage but, most meaningful of all (to me, at least), is timshel.

Lee’s hand shook as he filled the delicate cups.  He drank his down in one gulp. “Don’t you see? he cried. “The American Standard translation orders men to triumph over sin, and you can call sin ignorance. The King James translation makes a promise in ‘Thou shalt,’ meaning that men will surely triumph over sin. But the Hebrew word, the word timshel-‘Thou mayest’-that gives a choice. It might be the most important word in the world. That says the way is open. That throws it right back on a man. For if ‘Thou mayest’-it is also true that ‘Thou mayest not.’ Do you see? …

…But ‘Thou mayest’! Why, that makes a man great, that gives him stature with the gods, for in his weakness and his filth and his murder of his brother he still has the great choice. He can choose his course and fight through and win.” Lee’s voice was a chant of triumph

Pages 301-302

Thoughts? Opinions?