East of Eden – Steinbeck

First of all, Steinbeck.  One of my favorites.  I’ve read a few of his works, but now I’m chipping away at his masterpiece, East of Eden.  It’s written with a full range of emotions, history, and philosophy, it’s a complete package if there ever were one.  I’ve read a little background on the book, and it is said to be based on a family history of the writer, with a touch of the book of Genesis from the Bible.  Steinbeck said he worked hard on the book to bring all writing styles he’s learned into one piece. Based on his style and the previous works I’ve read, I’m preparing for a heartbreak.  He seems to open the world to a reader in the beginning of a piece and then chips away glee to show the sorrow core as the pages turn until there is little left but a dash of hope.  I have no idea why I like this method, but the expression and descriptions his words bring to the books hook me.

East of Eden begins with a rich description of the Salinas Valley.  It’s in a beautiful area of California, very close to Big Sur, one of the most beautiful places I’ve seen in my life.  Nestled between mountains, the Salinas Valley around the turn of the 20th century was mostly farmers who relied much on the chancy weather to bring the crops in.  The Hamilton family was unfortunate to settle land without a proper water source, but the patriarch, Samuel, was a handy man and made due by inventing and providing services to the other farmers of the valley.  Samuel was a wise, joyous man, and had a shrewd wife, Liza, with an unrelenting love of the lord.  Her mind was fixed on salvation and the idea that not much in life mattered, but the afterlife in heaven was all the worth.  They were a neat balance of each other, raising seven children, three girls and four boys.

The Trask family was from Connecticut.  Half-brothers, Adam and Charles, grew up close, but quite differently.  Charles, the younger, was competitive and always better at everything than his older sibling.  Adam was not competitive, and was reserved to the fact that Charles was better in all ways.  Their father, Cyrus, fought in a battle in the Civil war, and his fabricated stories of service grew to a point that he became a respected point of reference for many military men, and eventually served in office for the war department.  Adam was told from a young age he would be a soldier, but was confused and jealous of the fact that his father made no such plans for the younger brother.  Before Adam was sworn into the US Cavalry, Cyrus admitted that the army could not make a man out of Charles, he had no fear and would not benefit from it; which is why he pushed Adam so hard to join.  After two five-year stints in the cavalry, Adam returned home to Charles and found their father had died a rich man in Washington DC.

Cathy Ames was described as an unusually beautiful but evil-child.  Her parents hardly noticed, but at an early age she learned how to manipulate people to do as she pleased.  She burned her parents alive in their house one night and ran off to join a brothel.  The manager saw her beauty and decided to keep her for himself.  He rented a house for her and paid her an ‘allowance’. This was not enough and she was always asking for more until they got drunk one night and she admitted that she had no love for him and she was using him.  The manager decided to take her to the brothel circuit to make her work and on the way there was a struggle and he beat her to an inch of her life.

The Trask brothers found Cathy crawling onto their porch that night and Adam decided to nurse her back to health.  Adam was smitten and asked her to marry him after she was healed.  She knew there would be trouble if the brothel manager found her so she agreed.  Adam decided they should move to California and with Cathy refusing, they settled in the Salinas Valley.

Upon settling, Adam decided to buy a ranch and renovate it to build an ‘Eden’ for his love.  Cathy was pregnant, but was unusually cold and distant during the pregnancy.  She told Adam she had no plans to stay, and that she would leave as soon as she had the child.  Adam was so in love, he ignored her words and said she would feel much better after she has the child.  After Cathy had twins, she packed her bags and shot Adam as she left, ending up working at a whorehouse in Salinas, and eventually owning it after gaining the manager’s trust, then poisoning her.  Adam became stuck in a cloudy world and paid little attention to his sons.  The Chinese servant, Lee, did most of the child rearing that first year.  Soon Samuel Hamilton (he had helped with the child birth) heard that the twin boys still didn’t have names after a year so he visited the Trask farm and got physical with Adam, trying to shake some life back in him.  It seemed to work and they decided to name the boys Caleb and Aaron.  While discussing the possible names for the boys, they brought out the Bible and discussed the story of Cain and Abel.  Lee, Adam, and Samuel had a long and deep discussion of the verse.  Lee presented the idea that rejection brought forth anger and crime for the rejection.  Lee proposed that if rejection were omitted from life, there would be little, if any crimes and the world would be a better place.  Upon further search for meaning, Lee visited his noble elder scholars and had a two-year examination of the story of Cain and Abel.  They even learned Hebrew to find more meaning in the words.  An enlightening epiphany grew out of this as they found many religious were teaching that it was an order or an automatic forgiveness to avoid sin by using the translation of English words, ‘Do thou’ or ‘Thou shalt’.  Upon translation, the elders found the original word, timshel in Hebrew, to mean ‘Thou mayest’.  The difference being that every man has a choice.  A choice to sin, a choice to strive for greatness.

Currently halfway through, and I’m not disappointed.  More to come.

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