John Steinbeck. (1952). East of Eden.

One thing I love about Kindle is that I can highlight the passages, and then go back to delete them. This has become tremendously important because I itch to mark and underline books when I read them, and yet with some books you cannot do that, either because the really important passages come later (and you realize it later too) or there are too many of those that you wish to highlight. With Kindle I can sieve through them again, shake them, dry and dust them. Then the words come alive again. So is it with East of Eden.

I have no idea why I did not read this book before. But then, I had not read Of Human Bondage before 2014. I suppose one cannot read everything, and three weeks of fierce reading has earned me a question from Professor Y:

“Why do you read so much? Well, not that it’s a bad thing, but you are in the economics department, and I don’t see many econ people read, either graduates or professors.” He paused over a cup of chrysanthemum tea.

The people, professor. They are all in there. People have never changed much in a few centuries. I don’t think they will change very much in the future, either. Aren’t all social-science questions – including those of economics – of the people?

Rejection. Yes, and here it is. The book deals with the great questions – what drives us, and what choice do we have? Timshel! I grew to love Lee. He is not a magician who solves everything – he also is a human, and when Abra hugged him something melted.

“Do you remember later? You came back with a hatchet to kill me.” “I don’t remember very well. I must have been crazy.” “I didn’t know then, but I know now—you were fighting for your love.”

“Yes, you will. And I will warn you now that not their blood but your suspicion might build evil in them. They will be what you expect of them.” “But their blood—” “I don’t very much believe in blood,” said Samuel. “I think when a man finds good or bad in his children he is seeing only what he planted in them after they cleared the womb.” “You can’t make a race horse of a pig.” “No,” said Samuel, “but you can make a very fast pig.”

Samuel said, “But do you think of another frame to this picture? Excuse or not, we are snapped back to our ancestry. We have guilt.” Adam said, “I remember being a little outraged at God. Both Cain and Abel gave what they had, and God accepted Abel and rejected Cain. I never thought that was a just thing. I never understood it. Do you?”

“I think I can,” Lee answered Samuel. “I think this is the best-known story in the world because it is everybody’s story. I think it is the symbol story of the human soul. I’m feeling my way now—don’t jump on me if I’m not clear. The greatest terror a child can have is that he is not loved, and rejection is the hell he fears. I think everyone in the world to a large or small extent has felt rejection. And with rejection comes anger, and with anger some kind of crime in revenge for the rejection, and with the crime guilt—and there is the story of mankind. I think that if rejection could be amputated, the human would not be what he is.

“The American Standard translation orders men to triumph over sin, and you can call sin ignorance. The King James translation makes a promise in ‘Thou shalt,’ meaning that men will surely triumph over sin. But the Hebrew word, the word timshel—‘Thou mayest’—that gives a choice. It might be the most important word in the world. That says the way is open. That throws it right back on a man. For if ‘Thou mayest’—it is also true that ‘Thou mayest not.’ Don’t you see?”

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 poison of loneliness and the gnawing envy of the unlonely had gone out of him, and his person was clean and sweet, and he knew it was. He dredged up an old hatred to test himself, and he found the hatred gone. He wanted to serve his father, to give him some great gift, to perform some huge good task in honor of his father.

He said sharply, “Your son is marked with guilt out of himself—out of himself—almost more than he can bear. Don’t crush him with rejection. Don’t crush him, Adam.” Lee’s breath whistled in his throat. “Adam, give him your blessing. Don’t leave him alone with his guilt. Adam, can you hear me? Give him your blessing!” A terrible brightness shone in Adam’s eyes and he closed them and kept them closed. A wrinkle formed between his brows. Lee said, “Help him, Adam—help him. Give him his chance. Let him be free. That’s all a man has over the beasts. Free him! Bless him!”

His whispered word seemed to hang in the air: “Timshel!”

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