oh, brother / east of eden


Six things:

1. Other women seem to BREEZE through five books in a month. Meanwhile, mother tortoise over here gets through 18 pages of Classic Dense Novel X at nap time every day before fighting the urge to nap herself. So my What We're Reading Wednesday posts come along, oh, every quarter of a year. This moderately irritates me, but not enough to do much about it. East of Eden traveled down to California and back with me before I finished it.
Pondering if the movie is as long and winding as the book. Also, Mr. Dean's awesome hair.

2. Why am I reading Classic Dense Novels? Because I can't stand being on a wait list for library books, so I only commit to books I can check out on THE DAY I'm at the library. Plus I usually end up renewing things three times before finishing them. Can you do that with a high-demand library book? Slow-reading minds want to know.

3. My standard reaction when I finish a Classic Dense Novel: "Huhn. Isn't that sumpin'." And then for an afternoon or two, I forage around the internet for critical literary analysis, trying to see if I missed some broad theme or archetype.

Did I miss anything, James?
This is how I ended up at Oprah.com (gag me) last week, reading a blathering article about villain-woman-prostitute-mother Cathy/Kate, trying to see if John Steinbeck really does have an issue with misogyny. 

4. He doesn't. At least, Oprah doesn't think so.

5. I assumed that if Oprah of all people chose East of Eden for one of her book club selections back in the day, it'd be something loosely romantic or at least moderately sappy.

6. It wasn't. DUH. IT'S STEINBECK. He's Mice and Men, he's Grapes of Wrath. And I expected sappy??

She looks so pleased to be the third wheel. 

The epic, multi-generational tale of two families (and almost exclusively male protagoanists) finding their way to the lush Salinas Valley surprised me with its depiction of an amoral, seemingly heartless woman. While Steinbeck sketched out those male protagonists with loving care and deep sensitivities, he drew his villain with an equally deep reserve of hatred and spite. Some say Cathy/Kate is based on his second wife. Hmm.

Nice hat, devil lady.

As one would expect in a book based on the first family of Genesis and their angst, the book centers around two sets of brothers. I'm raising two boys, and the relationships between both sets of brothers worried me greatly. Will one of my boys come to resent the other? Will one sabotage the happiness of the other? Does one think I love the other more than I love him?


That the fictional brothers within the novel had fractured families is putting it gently. Their biological mothers proved to be either weak, distant, or psychotic. As one essayist put it, the most caring and nurturing mother in the book is actually, of course, a man.

But providing a positive moral focus in the novel through all that mess is that man (or brother) is not doomed to sin--nor is he above sin, but that he has the freedom to choose not sin. No shortage of Catholic fodder here. Though born with sin on his soul, man may choose goodness over revenge and violence. And it is God alone who bestows that gift upon him.

Next up for me: a current analysis of religion in America--all heretics and polemics from here on out!

1 comment:

  1. So I've never read it and it's been a while since I watched the movie. But....James Dean...so I should watch it again!

    And I lol'ed at your library comment. I totally understand. I order all my books online from the library (because I live so far from civilization) and my list of requests is pages long. So I end up reading whatever comes in after waiting months for that title. That's partly why I have such a strange mix of books at one time. I also just like reading through a pile of books I didn't choose recently. It gives me some kind of twisted pleasure.