John Steinbeck's East of Eden

A long while back I finished East of Eden, a Novel I’d been working on for months.  I wanted to write out some quotes and thoughts I had while I was reading it, because it has such a profound effect on me, but I never got around to posting it. So here it is. 

I haven’t read a lot of novels in my life.  Until I went to college I only read what I needed to and even that was hard to get done.  But this is the kind of book that one feels or experiences in the deep-self.  I could identify with some of the story, some of the story I could not, but everything in it drove to the deep insides of the human story.  Not only is this book very well written, but its also deeply theological.
Some preliminary themes and thoughts:

1. There is an overarching theme about the existence of people from various walks of life, and in the end what validates their existence is intrinsically tied to how well they are remembered by those who left them behind.

2. There is only one pure character in the whole story, Samuel Hamilton, he is not a Christ figure, he doesn’t sacrifice his life to save the world, rather he is simple farmer and inventor, who loves laughter, wisdom, whisky and telling stories.  Samuel Hamilton, only saves the life of one man, Adam, who he has to wake up from a self-indulgent slumber of sorrow and depression.

3. There is no real romantic love, there is a steadfast love of marital commitment between Samuel Hamilton and his wife Liza.  There are a number of people who love out of convenience, domination, and selfish desires, but there is no real love until the very end.  And the love at the end is vastly different and almost accidental, an undeserving kind of love that falls on the two characters.  Its in that humble state that these two find the only genuinely felt love throughout the whole novel.

4. One of the strongest themes in the book is the desire to be loved by another, and what happens when love is withheld.  Aaron and Cal are juxtaposed in the story.  Aaron does little to earn his father Adam’s love and Cal works very hard to win Adam’s approval, but Adam only really focuses on giving love and approval to Aaron.  This becomes the great struggle toward the end of the book, Cal desperately looking for love from his father drives the book to a mournful end.  Not only does this reflect our human experience of seeking love, but I think it also reflects the feeling many sons have toward their fathers, and how we feel toward God.  Ultimately it comes down to the realization that we need to be reconciled to one another and given love if we are to be fully human.

   

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Wess

...is the William R. Rogers Director of Friends Center and Quaker Studies at Guilford College in Greensboro, NC., PhD in Intercultural Studies from Fuller Theological Seminary, served as a "released minister" at Camas Friends Church, and father of three. He enjoys sketchnoting, sharing conversation over coffee with a friend, listening to vinyl and writing creative nonfiction.

2 thoughts on “John Steinbeck's East of Eden”

  1. Steinbeck is my all-time favorite American writer. I was lucky enough to teach _The Grapes of Wrath_ to 10th graders, and it was one of the highlights of my experiences in connecting and actuating a text. It’s all there–the story of California agribusiness, the union-busting policies, the biblical references to the characters, socio-economic divisions in America, and the monumental statements on American society. It’s essential reading. Oh yeah, and he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature as well.
    After the class, I realized that actually it’s not a book for the youth, but a book to be read every 10 years or so, as the themes are constants in our society and you can’t possibly get it all from one read. That’s great literature–like great moviemaking, each viewing brings new depth from the layers and, as you age, the material grows more deeply with you.

  2. I love this book.
    The ability to choose to not be trapped by your family and your past is very strong.
    The Cain and Abel motif that runs through out it too, is just great stuff.
    Gotta love Steinbeck.

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