Okay, let’s cut to the chase here, was Cal responsible for Aron’s death? If so, in what ways? If not, why not?
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In section 4, Cathy begins to fall apart somewhat. She sits in the dark in a little shack attached to the whorehouse because the light hurts her eyes, and she keeps her hands wrapped up because they ache with arthritis. Why do you think Steinbeck had this happen to her? Is she being punished in some way for the evil acts she has committed? Is her latent conscience punishing her?
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
Evidently when East of Eden was first published, it really wasn’t critically acclaimed. In fact, some critics even totally panned it. One of the things that was mentioned as being ‘wrong’ with the book was Cathy. People thought it was totally unrealistic that in Section 1 she basically just ran away from home to become a whore. In Section 2 she does it again. Personally I think the critics totally missed the point as to why she became a whore: for the power it could bring her, not for the sex. Thoughts? How does Cathy use men’s desire in the first two sections to get her way? Do you think that her running away to a whorehouse twice is realistic?
There is exactly one point during East of Eden where I start to feel sorry for Cathy, and that is when she and Adam move to California. I don’t know exactly what her plans were that required her to stay on the East Coast, but she is very adamant about not wanting to move, and Adam totally ignores her. In fact, he does more than ignore her feelings about California, he ignores almost everything about her.
Perhaps Adam did not see Cathy at all, so lighted was she by his eyes. Burned in his mind was an image of beauty and tenderness, a sweet and holy girl, precious beyond thinking, clean and loving, and that image was Cathy to her husband,and nothing Cathy did or said could warp Adam’s Cathy.
She said she did not want to go to California, and he did not listen, because his Cathy took his arm and started first.
There’s really a lot going on here. First of all, how terrible to be treated as Cathy is being treated, even if she is evil! What do you think about how she’s being treated and her eventual decision just to ride out Adam’s whims and bide her time?
The other thing that started to intrigue me as I thought about this passage, is WHY Adam did this. There is the question of why he didn’t recognize Cathy for what she is, as so many of the other characters (Charles, and to a lesser extent Samuel and Lee) do? And even if he isn’t able to recognize her evil, what is it about his character or their relationship that causes him to put her on such a high pedestal and idealize her so much that he has completely lost the real woman within his shining creation? And, if she had not been so idealized, would he have been less traumatized by her leaving?
What else did you want to talk about in Section 1 that we didn’t already discuss?
I believe there are monsters born in the world to human parents…. And just as there are physical monsters, can there not be mental or psychic monsters born? The face and body may be perfect, but if a twisted gene or a malformed egg can produce physical monsters, may not the same process produce a malformed soul?
This section gives me creepy chills every time I read it, and yet it is one of my favorite parts of the entire book. It is the one piece of Steinbeck’s prose that I can tell you exactly where it came from in the book. Beginning of chapter 8, of course!
What is it that gives this section its power? Are there some people really born as monsters? Was Cathy one of them? What about Charles? If they weren’t born like that, how did they come to be like that?
East of Eden Section 3 Discussion: Timshel « Classic Reads Book Club, emma, Heather, and 3 others are discussing. Toggle Comments
What do you think of the relationship between Adam and Charles? How did Steinbeck try to draw the parallels to Cain and Abel? Do you think it was successful? How do you think the boys really felt about each other?
I’m not really planning to go chapter-by-chapter, but I thought that Chapter 1 deserved a discussion of its own. Unlike in “Grapes of Wrath,” Steinbeck does not spend a lot of time in “East of Eden” writing chapters upon chapters of general description. What was he hoping to accomplish by opening “East of Eden” with this descriptive chapter? How do you see what he has written relating to the rest of the story so far?
I’ll be posting discussion questions for Section 1 intermittently throughout the next two weeks, so make sure you are watching our feed. I’m aiming for Mondays and Thursdays, so keep an extra close watch those days, but don’t yell at me if I don’t quite make it!