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  • Jen - Devourer of Books 10:55 am on March 10, 2010 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , discussion, , section 4   

    East of Eden Section 4 Discussion: Cathy Again! 

    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?

    • softdrink 6:54 pm on March 10, 2010 Permalink | Reply

      You know, I never even thought of Cathy having a latent conscience, but that’s a good point. I just thought she was increasingly paranoid.

      • jendevourerofbooks 7:06 pm on March 10, 2010 Permalink | Reply

        Oh, I’m not married to the idea of the latent conscience, just one possibility. If she was just increasingly paranoid, what was doing it?

        • rebeccareid 2:28 pm on March 26, 2010 Permalink | Reply

          Well, it was the people coming from her past — that Ethel really scared her. No one had ever come back to her before. I wondered why she’d stayed in the same place for so long without changing her name. She should have moved on and changed her name again before settling down for so long. It was a mistake for her to stay in Salinas, if she wanted to keep getting away with everything.

    • hip chick 6:38 pm on March 11, 2010 Permalink | Reply

      drugs and/or alcohol. There is the possibility that she had some type of mental illness all her life and it just got worse and worse.

    • Ronnica 5:14 pm on March 22, 2010 Permalink | Reply

      I think it was the physical manifestation of her sin (this is still a story…it doesn’t have to be rational). Her sin/evil quite literally ate away at her.

    • rebeccareid 2:26 pm on March 26, 2010 Permalink | Reply

      i think everyone who commented has a valid point. Certainly the drugs she took plus her lifestyle took a toll on her and yes, kind of like the wicked never prosper. This is a somewhat religious story after all, with all the Biblical undertones so it makes sense for the wickedness to come and kick her in the butt in the end.

  • Jen - Devourer of Books 11:17 am on February 26, 2010 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: discussion, , section 3   

    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?

    • Emma 3:21 pm on February 26, 2010 Permalink | Reply

      Welcome back! I just checked yesterday if was RSS feed was still working.
      This is also my favorite passage. Especially having studied that passage in Hebrew, and the text is corrupted and very difficult to interpret in Hebrew, I was amazed to find this discussion in a novel, and a very good discussion at that. It seems Steinbeck did a very serious homework on that.

    • hip chick 5:25 am on February 28, 2010 Permalink | Reply

      Yes I loved this as well. It’s hard to add much to it as it’s pretty much perfection in itself. I found myself rereading and knowing that it was something that I would remember to apply to my life as well.

    • anilak_99 1:28 pm on March 2, 2010 Permalink | Reply

      I’ve been thinking about this passage as well, in particular in relation to the Cathy monster passage. They seem to be at odds with one another- on the one hand, Steinbeck seems to highlight that we have a choice to overcome our death (or evil) instincts. We see this later in the book when Lee gets angry at Cal for believing he has bad blood in him.

      On the other hand, if we examine Cathy’s character, she appears to me to be so unassailably evil; there is no struggle within her, no conscience (perhaps small glimpses but these are very unconvincing). From the very beginning Steinbeck portrays her as a lost cause, without prospect for redemption. Indeed, at no point do I ever empathize with her, she has no remorse and really no hope for any kind of salvation and I cant really reconcile this portrayal of her with this later testimony to free will. Not to say that she is incapable of it, but as a reader, I have already written her off, which is the opposite of what this passage is trying to teach us.

    • Ronnica 11:40 am on March 5, 2010 Permalink | Reply

      I love how Stienbeck makes this point, through the discussion of his charcters…and then he makes the point through the actions/thoughts of his characters throughout the rest of the book.

    • rebeccareid 2:30 pm on March 26, 2010 Permalink | Reply

      I do love the entire concept of TIMSHEL and I love seeing how it relates to the entire book. Each character has to make their own choices.

  • Jen - Devourer of Books 9:30 am on February 12, 2010 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , discussion, , Section 2   

    East of Eden Section 2 Discussion: More About Cathy 

    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?

    • hip chick 1:42 pm on February 12, 2010 Permalink | Reply

      I think that is where she ran to because in those times there were not many other options for a woman who did not want to be beholden to a man. I think she wanted power, as you said. I also think that what ever was evil in her wanted to hurt men or have them under her.
      It is interesting that when the book came out it would have been mostly men in the positions to be critics. It does not strike me as unusual that they would find a woman running away to become a whore as realistic. I’m sure that they just could not understand why a woman who could have had whatever a nice man could give her would have wanted anything else. I’m sure they could never understand how being a whore could be preferable to being a nice wife or a nice daughter or even a nice “kept woman” for that matter.
      I do think her running away to a whore house twice is realistic. Perhaps we are able to understand it better now than when the book first came out. We are so much more cynical now. And we are able to see that depravity every night in our own family rooms on TV.
      I was surprised at the sexual evil in her. I was surprised that such a thing was written about back then. I suppose every generation thinks that they invented good and bad in people.
      Of course, it is only history repeating itself.
      I do think that she did what she did not just for power but also for the sex. I think she was so evil and depraved that she wanted that. I think it was part of her sickness…if you can call it that.
      She exploited the good in men to get what she wanted.
      I don’t think Cathy was any more evil and depraved then than she would be now. I do find the way we judge her to have changed though.

      • jendevourerofbooks 1:46 pm on February 12, 2010 Permalink | Reply

        ” I suppose every generation thinks that they invented good and bad in people.”

        Well said!

    • seabenjamin 5:02 pm on February 12, 2010 Permalink | Reply

      Hi all,
      I am a recent book blogger and am looking forward to seeing how your new group goes.

    • anilak_99 10:20 am on February 16, 2010 Permalink | Reply


      What I am wondering is the extent to which Steinbeck drew the parallel to the book of Genesis. If the characters of Caleb & Aaron were based on Cain and Abel from the bible, then by extension, Cathy would have been based on Eve and on the Genesis narrative in which Eve leads Adam to transgress God’s laws. Am I correct in thinking that?

      Because Eve tempted Adam to eat of the fatal fruit, the early fathers of the church held her and all subsequent women to be the first sinners, and responsible for the Fall…So far, it appears to me that Steinbeck is instead holding them both responsible for the consequences; Cathy for having no empathic concern and Adam for allowing his to trump reason…

      • jendevourerofbooks 10:44 am on February 17, 2010 Permalink | Reply

        I think you could definitely argue that Cathy is sort of supposed to be Eve. Adam and Samuel say as much before the twins are born. It obviously isn’t a direct retelling of the Genesis story, not least because Adam and Charles have their own Cain and Abel thing going on. It does focus more on that part of the story, and the universality that Steinbeck believed that had, but I do think he meant for us to draw some parallels between Adam and Cathy and Adam and Eve, Adam himself certainly isn’t subtle about it. What does everyone else think?

        • Ronnica 11:45 am on March 5, 2010 Permalink | Reply

          I agree that the allusions to Genesis are thick in this book (in both brother situations) but that you can’t go so far as to extrapolate out that Cathy is Eve. Perhaps Cathy as Adam sees her could represent Eve, but not as she really is.

    • Ronnica 11:43 am on March 5, 2010 Permalink | Reply

      I think Cathy knows too well the depravity of man. She knows EXACTLY how to get what she wants, and that’s to exploit the sinful desires of others. Yet she also understands that everyone else hides their sin nature, thus giving her even more power (the pictures of the powerful men in compromising situations).

  • Jen - Devourer of Books 2:25 am on January 25, 2010 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: discussion, , East of Eden Section 1   

    East of Eden Section 1 Discussion: Chapter 1 

    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?

    • Heather 6:37 pm on January 25, 2010 Permalink | Reply

      I think he was trying to establish the dichotomy we see through out the novel; good verses evil. He gives us the good about the valley and he gives us the bad and even everything in between. It sets the stage for what is to come later in the novel, with the good Hamiltons and the not so good Trasks and the evil Cathy.

      • jendevourerofbooks 11:32 pm on January 25, 2010 Permalink | Reply

        And interesting how the valley contains both good and evil in it, it isn’t simply one or the other. It does seem that there are characters in the book who are totally good, or at least we’ve forgotten about the evil they have inside them that they simply aren’t expressing, characters that are totally evil or at least aren’t expressing their good, and characters who fully show both sides of that coin.

    • emma 6:53 pm on January 25, 2010 Permalink | Reply

      I believe he also wants to show the impact of the environment on people, and for that, he had to take time to speak about the setting.

      • jendevourerofbooks 11:30 pm on January 25, 2010 Permalink | Reply

        Interesting. Where else did you see this theme of environment playing out? Or, rather, is he setting something up with this opening that he continues later in the book?

        • emma 7:41 am on January 26, 2010 Permalink | Reply

          For me, this is a constant thread throughout the book after that

      • trish 8:52 pm on January 27, 2010 Permalink | Reply

        I really agree that the environment had an impact on the characters in the book. In fact, I would almost argue that the environment was in and of itself a character, because as Emma mentions, the impact of the environment is a constant thread in the book.

        • emma 10:26 pm on January 27, 2010 Permalink | Reply

          Wow, I love that: the environment of itself a character. very true, I think

      • rebeccareid 1:23 pm on February 4, 2010 Permalink | Reply

        I agree, I think the environment is key!

    • Swapna 8:51 am on January 26, 2010 Permalink | Reply

      I agree with Heather – the descriptions of the land is to set up the good vs. evil theme that runs through the book.

    • Deana/ibeeeg 11:29 am on January 26, 2010 Permalink | Reply

      After reading the first chapter, I was bit bored. But when I thought about what he may have been trying to accomplish with the chapter I gained an appreciation for the descriptions. I agree with Heather that the descriptions are a play on the good vs evil theme.

      • Michelle 8:37 pm on January 26, 2010 Permalink | Reply

        That’s how I feel. I didn’t “get into” the book during that first chapter, but I think it would be interesting to go back and reread it after finishing the book.

        • rebeccareid 1:23 pm on February 4, 2010 Permalink | Reply

          I LOVE the first chapter for setting it up. I’m just a sucker for long beautiful descriptions of setting, though.

    • softdrink 10:58 am on January 27, 2010 Permalink | Reply

      I agree with Heather, but I also see it as reflective of the struggles many of the characters went through. Just as people struggle with the harsh land and the environment, so does Cal struggle with the good and bad within himself.

    • trish 8:55 pm on January 27, 2010 Permalink | Reply

      I agree about the good versus evil in regards to the environment, but I guess this first chapter has always been fascinating to me because I live relatively close to the Salinas Valley. I can picture the areas he’s talking about, so the history doesn’t bore me, rather it sets the stage in a rather unique and perfect way. However, I would see how others might not be as interested in it. 🙂

      • Pam 10:27 pm on January 27, 2010 Permalink | Reply

        I find that what I love most about the classics is the tedious to some descriptions. I think we needed this rich, elaborate history of the valley. I think he spends a great deal of time getting us ready for what is to come!

    • SuziQoregon 11:02 pm on January 27, 2010 Permalink | Reply

      While I agree about the good vs. evil, what struck me as I read this chapter was the vividness of his descriptions. When I read his description of the color of California Poppies, I had to pause and just let it sink in becaue it was so perfect. I even read it out loud to my husband.

      It was a small moment, but it let me know that this was a book that would be painting images in my head all the way through it.

      • Heather 4:06 am on January 28, 2010 Permalink | Reply

        Wasn’t it gorgeous? I loved this chapter for those vivid descriptions. It’s what drew me in (finally!) to this novel.

      • rebeccareid 1:24 pm on February 4, 2010 Permalink | Reply

        the poppies part made me pause and reread it too. I also stopped and pondered it a minute!

    • Heather @ Book Addiction 11:45 am on January 28, 2010 Permalink | Reply

      I agree with what was said about the environment having a huge effect on all the characters in East of Eden. This is my second time reading the book, and the first time I read it, I was so bored by the first chapter. But now that I’m reading it again, having experienced these characters once before, I really loved reading the first chapter and seeing how it set the stage for so much of the novel. Both in the form of his vivid descriptive writing and showing how important the setting is to the story and the characters’ lives.

    • rebeccareid 1:22 pm on February 4, 2010 Permalink | Reply

      I finally finished Chapter 1! I loved this book years ago but I had a hard time finding time to get started. I suspect it will go fast since I love it.

      I was struck by how biblical the first chapter felt, especially section 2. It’s the beginning and we have to know the place before the people come in. That’s my thought at least.

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