Ben's Reviews > East of Eden

East of Eden by John Steinbeck
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Jan 11, 2008

really liked it
bookshelves: classics
Read in January, 2007

An interesting interpretation and portrayal of good and evil, ignorance and perception, love and revenge. I was amazed by Steinbeck’s ability to convey a point using metaphor and descriptive genius. I found myself longing for conversations similar to those had by the story’s characters. Their words had such depth, candor, insight, and truth. I wonder what it might have been like to have had a conversation with Steinbeck, would he have had ability to move the heart and mind like his characters do? Would he perceive the intentions behind the words and thoughts and be able to squeeze them to a head of truth?

After I finished, I laid for a long time in the dark with my face turned to the wall. Despite whatever tendencies of blood that we come into this life with, or lived experiences that turn us in one direction or another, we have no excuse for acting the evil part. We are not preconditioned to fail or succeed. We have the privilege and promise that we can choose for ourselves; we are agents unto ourselves—the kings and queens of a world of future experience.

We are not perfect; we are all bad. Life can be nasty, brutal and short or it can be rich, bright, and lasting. We are the agents, but we cannot expect perfection from ourselves. As soon as we do, we should also expect disappointment, anger, and self-loathing. The worst of it comes when we are unable to accept our own streaks of darkness. The shadows are created by light and we have the potential for greatness—always. What makes people choose goodness or darkness? When we have such brilliance in us, why do we choose to shroud it with secret acts of deception?

Can any good come of the lust for power, money, and sated desire, when what we really want is to be loved? Why is it that when this love is denied we can seethe with hatred and seek revenge? If we can’t have the goodness we seek in love, why do we often fill the void with darkness instead of warm empathetic understanding? How strange that we willingly choose to rot; to live lives of sorrow when golden goodness is free for the taking.

What is it in us that enjoys nursing pain? We choose to believe that we are unique in our filth or sadness. We are alone, we are victims, we are misunderstood. Why do we find pleasure in nurturing this gloom? Maybe it is necessary to fully appreciate our moments of goodness and triumph; we close our eyes and savor the melting of bitter chocolate so to retain in memory the contrast of wild strawberries.

Maybe it is easier to wallow in our fallen state than to meet the pressure of perfection. To believe that we are noble is to expect nothing less than greatness in ourselves. Yet it is only by believing in our promise that fallen hopes can emerge; we can only conceive of our depravity by realizing our potentiality. Maybe the greatest among us are also those with the darkest moments of self-loathing.

I am grateful for the moments of despair, of sorrow, of self-judgment and condemnation. I am also grateful for the moments of clarity when I can raise my face contented towards the sky and love everything that is in me—appreciating all that I am and each of the experiences that have helped me arrive.

Many more thoughts about this book that crept up through the reading. I resonated with Tom and empathized with his passion—grateful that I have it in much smaller measure, or have learned to contain it over the years. I felt sorrow for his character and the many artists, dreamers, creators, inventors, and believers over history that have thrown themselves without reserve into the human condition—only to lose their lives and sanity in the process. I envy Samuel’s wisdom, humor, creativity, vitality, and reach. I respect Cal’s humanity and struggle, and Lee’s quiet dignity and strength.
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