He is Adam Trask's loyal and devoted Chinese manservant, his parents having emigrated from China as indentured servants. The story of Lee's violent birth may suggest something of Steinbeck's other family's history: Steinbeck's paternal grandfather, John A. Grosssteinbeck was born in 1832 in Dusseldorf, Prussia, went to Palestine as a missionary; the family compound was attacked by tribesman and his sister-in-law was raped brutally. Out of Lee's violent past, however, goodness emerges—the men who raped his mother care for him. Lee plays many roles in the novel: surrogate mother, wife, loyal friend and sage. He is wise in the ways of the world and shares this wisdom with Samuel Hamilton, whom he befriends. Lee is inscrutable to the likes of Cathy Ames; he unnerves her. He is responsible for the upbringing of Aron and Cal, as Adam becomes aloof when Cathy abandons him and the children, and for the maintenance of the Trask estate. He seems content with his servitude, yet also has his own dream, to run a bookstore: "I don't know where being a servant came into disrepute. It is the refuge of the philosopher, the food of the lazy, and, properly carried out, it is a position of power, even of love." A lover of books, he is the novel's chief interpreter of the doctrine of timshel. He is a confidant not only to Samuel Hamilton and Adam Trask, but also to Aron, Caleb and Abra Bacon.


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