East of Eden

I recently finished East of Eden by Steinbeck. The book had been passing through our family here in NYC, and I was one of the last to complete our unofficial family book club assignment. The book retells the Biblical story of Cain and Abel through two generations of brothers with the names that reference their biblical counterparts: Adam and Charles Trask, and Cal and Aron Trask. The book suffers from some of the same character flatness that plagues The Fountainhead; at times the characters feel more like vessels to convey the author's message than real human beings, but at other times Steinbeck writes with a mythic insight into society and people.

A new country seems to follow a pattern. First come the openers, strong and brave and rather childlike. They can take care of themselves in a wilderness, but they are naive and helpless against men, and perhaps that is why they went out in the first place. When the rough edges are worn off the new land, businessmen and lawyers come in to help with the development--to solve problems of ownership, usually by removing the temptations to themselves. And finally comes culture, which is entertainment, relaxation, transport out of the pain of living. And culture can be on any level, and is.

The church and the whorehouse arrived in the Far West simultaneously. And each would have been horrified to think it was a different facet of the same thing. But surely they were both intended to accomplish the same thing: the singing, the devotion, the poetry of the churches took a man out of his bleakness for a time, and so did the brothels.

The very short story of Cain and Abel remains a mystery to me. I don't understand it, and its cryptic nature has always piqued my curiosity. Any insight from the ether is welcome.