Monday, April 9, 2012

Reflections: East of Eden

Marie Teemant shares her thoughts on John Steinbeck's East of Eden:

"If you ever find yourself with a copy of East of Eden, you’ll see the fans start to come out from the woodwork as with no other book. I had never been required to read Steinbeck novels in either high school or college level literature classes. I picked this one up with some vague interest, having the title ingrained with some sort of remembrance about someone saying something positive about it. Carrying it around I had at least one roommate, a handful of friends, and a photography professor all start to rave about how fantastic this book was.

This was not without good reason. Steinbeck is a master of human condition and character. His method of weaving in and out of the lives of his characters to show different experiences and perspectives has the potential to make it feel like you have four separate books within this one. Each character has their own set of flaws and tendencies. Samuel Hamilton, for example, is a man who is a good neighbor and friend, with a vast cache of stories and advice, a wealth of ideas for great inventions, and absolutely no luck in the world for providing more for his family than the necessities. Knowledge about each of his children and their lives are told as though it were a recording of genealogy by the narrator.

The Trask family is central to the story: Adam and his brother Charles, then Adam’s children—Cal and Aron. Attached to them is Lee; a Chinese man with a great education whose purpose is to raise the boys and show the audience that perhaps stereotypes and prejudices may be entirely incorrect.  Most fascinating of all the characters is a woman named Cathy Ames. Introduced as a 'psychological monster', her actions continued to horrify and intrigue me. For being the one character who lacked any humanity, she understood the trait better than any other person, manipulating it for her own horrid purposes.

The book lacks an obvious plot curve that our society—which is bankrupt of attention span—is used to. If you are one who actually loves literature, however, you won’t be disappointed by the beautiful prose, the truthful characters, or the observations made about love, life, and the variety that lie in both."

You can read and view more from Marie Teemant by following the links below:
Marie Teemant Photography
Tales from Estonia

3 comments:

  1. I have to admit that after I read The Pearl by Steinbeck I have never had a desire to go back to him. To call it "bleak" would be kind. To call it "depressing" would be adequate but still not capture how soul-crushing that book was. Perhaps one day I'll try East of Eden, but it won't be on my reading list for a while.

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    1. I'm actually interested in a recommendation someone gave me in conjunction to this one. Travels with Charlie? I think? It's non-fiction about his travels with his dog. Really... how could that *not* be good?

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  2. Steinbeck is a god (small g) among the literary set. I think it's because many of his books are short so that when they're assigned in literature classes there is a minimum of moaning, see also "The Old Man and the Sea" by that writer of short sentences, Hemingway. Unfortunately, Steinbeck has that 20th century tendency to be unable or unwilling to write anything that smacks of joy. "The Red Pony" made me want to kill myself and my ponies and the neighbor's ponies, so it must be brilliant. It made me feel something. I confess I have not read "East of Eden," but I saw the movie. James Dean made me feel something, so he must have been brilliant. I don't even know why I'm writing this, except that I've just come in from petting our rabbits, see "Of Mice and Men."

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