Newsletter: East Of Eden
This week is huge! So many pivotal plotlines come crashing to a climax in these chapters! Even as East of Eden moves into its final pages, it still overflows with new twists, more intrigue, hidden struggles and crucial conflicts!
The people who seem to have no choice about their own good and evil are beginning to splinter, while the hearts that harbor both good and evil—and strive to choose—continue to struggle and evolve. The battle of the soul rages on...and our characters' destinies are sealed, in this week's reading.
War has engulfed the world, and the people of Salinas are in a patriotic fervor that is yet another mirror of the duality of good and evil in man's soul. While some march in drills, roll bandages, enlist, and bravely deal with "the helpless, the hopeless sorrow, that comes down over a family with the telegram," others use every cruelty they can think of to hate. (East of Eden, p. 516) Eventually, they destroy their own neighbor, Mr. Fenchel, a Salinas tailor, simply because he had a German accent.
Adam Trask is appointed to the draft board, where he feels grim guilt for passing boys into service. It's sad, ironic, and true to Adam's core that "because he knew he was weak, he grew more and more stern and painstaking and much less likely to accept an excuse or a borderline disability." (p.517) He agonizes, "It's when there's a choice, and it's my own judgment of the merits, that's when it gets me." (p. 518) Once again, as Lee points out to Adam, timshel—choice—is a responsibility, a burden, even as it can set a man free. "That's lonely," says Adam. "All great and precious things are lonely," teaches Lee.
Photo Credit: Olive Hamilton before her flight in a biplane courtesy of Stanford University Libraries Department of Special Collections & University Archives Footnotes:
As Aron returns home for Thanksgiving, the Cain and Abel saga plays out once again—in devastating depth. Aron feels oppressed and overwhelmed by Adam's love and ambition for him. Conversely, Cal, who has his heart set on impressing Adam with a $15,000 gift from his export business, cannot get a moment's notice from his father. "Without effort, Aron was taking his day away." (p. 535)
Like Cain, Cal's heart rages. He is overcome. "I'm trying to buy him. There's not one decent thing about it...about me. ... I know why my father loves Aron. It's because he looks like her. ... That makes me jealous of her, too." (p. 536)
Cal gives Adam his hard earned gift, only to have Adam callously reject it. Blindly ignorant of either boy's truth, Adams says, "I don't want the money, Cal. ... I would have been so happy if you could have given me—well, what your brother has—pride in the thing he's doing." (p. 541)
Again like Cain, Cal is devastated, and the battle within him rages to a fury. Willfully, he gains his composure and recovers—but his heart is still roiling. He leaves the house. Aron follows him, and in a gesture of pure pain and evil heartache, Cal takes him to face the evil truth—at the brothel owned by their mother.
At dawn the next day, unbeknownst to anyone, Aron enlists in the U.S. Army.