‘East of Eden’ by John Steinbeck

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My “Read all Nobel Prize in Literature” project brought me to end of eighteen – beginning of nineteen century America. It’s been a long-long time since I did not want to put a book aside. It might be my master studies compelling reading of academic papers. Still, I enjoyed the novel immensely. Steinbeck got his Nobel prize in literature in 1962.
Steinbeck looks at the birth of the American society through the lenses of a number of families, both native and new-comers, all with their joys and dramas. The scale of historical richness along with insights into human nature is one of a kind. It makes you cry, it makes you laugh, it makes you sad, it makes you happy.East-of-Eden-by-John-Steinbeck1
To me, the central theme of the novel is the human soul’s search for happiness. What is considered one of the novel’s flaws – not sticking to the story of one of the families feature, i.e. the Trasks – becomes its virtues, in my eyes, due to the panoply of the human spirit unveiled: from the mysteries of man-women un-shared love, parents- children relations, strengths of a good marriage, cultural clashes, moral dilemmas of war and business, master – servant relations, further into the mystery of brotherly competition for parent’s love. Steinbeck uses the biblical story of Cain and Abel as the symbol story of the human soul. His description of the nature of human feelings from fear to rejection, from rejection to anger, from anger to revenge through crime, from revenge to guilt amounts to the story of mankind.
Cathy, one of central characters, is the drama of a revengeful soul who’s preferred story in childhood was Alice in Wonderland and who ends up facing her own reflection in her son whom she abandoned as a baby and who, 17 years later, rejects her with hurt, bewilderment and despair, feelings she thought she was good at hiding. Some might find it depressing. I think it is eye-opening and a wake-up call. 

I loved to find the fine lines between Oriental and Western thinking brought in by the interactions between Samuel, an Irish man, Adam, an original American, and Lee, a Chinese servant. To me, acceptance of things, as they are, is that fine line. “Within itself, if you do not hold it up to the other things for comparison and derision, you’ll find slowly surely, a reason and logic and a kind of dreadful beauty. A man who can accept it is not a worse man always, and sometimes is a much better man” is one of my favourite quotes from the book.

I loved that Steinbeck ended the book on a positive note, with a parent’s blessing on a child’s soul in search of love and happiness.

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