My rating: 4 of 5 stars
John Steinbeck says that East of Eden is his best work, his masterpiece. I agree on many levels, although my favorite book he wrote is and will always be The Grapes of Wrath; mostly because I identify with moving from the dustbowl of Kansas to the vineyards of northern California and realizing it isn't the paradise it seems to be.
East of Eden is a timeless story of two brothers, and the next generation of sons. It also is a parable of Cain and Abel; thus the title. Here are a few of my favorite passages:
When Liza was about seventy her elimination slowed up and her doctor told her to take a tablespoon of port wine for medicine. She forced down the first spoonful, making a crooked face, but it was not so bad. And from that moment she never drew a completely sober breath. She always took the wine in a tablespoon, it was always medicine, but after a time she was doing over a quart a day and she was a much more relaxed and happy woman.
It is true that two men can lift a bigger stone than one man. A group can build automobiles quicker and better than one man, and bread from a huge factory is cheaper and more uniform. When out food and clothing and housing all are born in the complication of mass production, mass method is bound to get into our thinking and to eliminate all other thinking. In our time mass or collective production has entered our economics, our politics, and even our religion, so that some nations have substituted the idea collective for the idea God. This in my time is the danger. There is a great tension in the world, tension toward a breaking point, and men are unhappy and confused.
And this I believe: that the free, exploring mind of the individual human is the most valuable thing in the world. And this I would fight for: the freedom of the mind to take any direction it wished, undirected. And this I must fight against: an idea; religion, or government which limits or destroys the individual. This is what I am and what I am and what I am about. I can understand why a system built on a pattern must try to destroy the free mind, for that is one thing which can by inspection destroy such a system. Surely I can understand this, and I hate it and I will fight against it to preserve the one thing that separates us from the uncreative beasts. If the glory can be killed, we are lost.
There's a capacity for appetite," Samuel said, "that a whole heaven and earth of cake can't satisfy."
And as a few strokes on the nose will make a puppy head shy, so a few rebuffs will make a boy shy all over. But whereas a puppy will cringe away or roll on its back, groveling, a little boy may cover his shyness with nonchalance, with bravado, or with secrecy. And once a boy has suffered rejection, he will find rejection even where it does not exist - or worse, will draw it forth from people simply by expecting it.
The split second has been growing more and more important to us. And as human activities become more and more intermeshed and integrated, the split tenth of a second will emerge, and then a new name must be made for the split hundredth, until on day, although I don't believe it, we'll say "Oh, the hell with it. What's wrong with an hour?" But is isn't silly, this preoccupation with small time units. One thing late or early can disrupt everything around it, and the disturbance runs outward in bands like the waves from a dropped stone in a quiet pool.
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