Brown 1 Summer Brown Mrs. Somers Block 1, AP Literature 3 September 2016 Not So Lonely I once considered the theory that nobody believes they are bad or evil, people generally think that they’re doing the right thing. And for some completely delusional or sociopathic people, this is true, but I realized that real human beings make intentional choices. The point of John Steinbeck’s novel,East of Eden,is this choice between a known good and evil. Steinbeck wanted to compliment our evil for making us human, and our choices for making us who we are. While the majority of the characters lead predetermined, strictly benevolent or malevolent lives, it is through Cal that Steinbeck portrays his theme, that evil and good is inside of us, and we are the only ones who control which voice we choose to follow. The most important thing to remember when it comes to this internal battle, is that it is a battle. It is to remember “timshel” (thou mayest). The idea that we achoicein who we become. This is something Cal does not realize until late in the novel. After finding out the truth about his mother and her hateful nature, the boy begins to relate some of his thoughts and actions with his mother’s. He confides in his surrogate father, Lee, about the knowledge of his ancestry and about his inherent evil that could only have been passed down from her. Appalled at the thought of Cal believing such self-deprecating thoughts, he assures with the utmost genuity “Whatever
you do, it will be you who do it --- not your mother” (445). To Cal, these words kick started a curiosity in the choice Lee spoke about. To support this theory that could save his life (metaphorically), Cal stalks and works his way up to meeting his mother. This interaction, to me, would be the most pivotal point in the book. As his informal interview with his long lost mother progresses, Cal begins to realize more and more that his evils are independent from hers. When Cal admits to his mother that he was afraid her evil was inside of him, when she assures
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Brown 2 him he does, Cal refutes and assures Kate “I’m my own. I don’t have to be you” (466). His epiphany at this point is the secret ingredient to the theme of the novel. The ‘eureka’, to the once confusing and uncontrollable perception Cal possessed of himself, was knowledge of the choice. Steinbeck utilized Kate’s nature, for the blossoming of Cal’s character. And we all realize the power choice in one way or another. Sometimes by making, the wrong or right decision, sometimes just through insight or moral sense. But ‘thou mayest’ is embodied in its purest form with Cal, and through his relationship with his mother, ‘thou mayest’ could not mean more to a single person on the planet, than liberated Cal. Throughout the novel, the only one who makes actual character-defining decisions is Cal. Perceivably, every other character is rather static, their choices are foreseen and predictable. As if there is onlyoneoption.Those who surround him have no trouble in making the decisions of their fate. This idea is portrayed many times in the text. “Your course is drawn. What you will do is written—written in every breath you've ever taken […] Faced with two sets of morals, you'll follow your training. What you call thinking won't change it. The fact that your wife is a whore in Salinas won't change a thing” (376) are words Lee says to describe how Adam has dealt with Timshel. But, aside from the prophetic oracles Lee and Samuel, and the internally tortured Cal, the other characters do not possess this burden. To Aron, Cathy and Adam their is no struggle, just clear black and white. And even for Cathy, though her actions may be evil, she always “chooses” evil. So, the question may be asked, if there is only one option, is it still considered a choice? Perhaps this is why it is easier to empathize with Cal. The truth is, he is the only character with this beautiful human struggle. Also, Cal (and his parallel Charles) are the only ones that feel guilt through the whole novel. In his childhood, adolescence, and into adulthood, Cal’s manipulation and malice towards his brother has always been preceded with large doses of remorse and guilt. The most crucial of his torture practices was following a tense interaction with his father. Cal had earned fifteen thousand dollars for his father, since Adam had lost a great deal of money in a business venture. He worked hard and saved up to honor the
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