Bo McGinnis emailed me last year to tell me that East of Eden was in the midst of replacing Beowulf as his favorite book. He was about 100 pages from finishing, and hoped that Steinbeck wasn’t going to do anything at the end that would disappoint him.
As I read, I could see how he’d been inspired. The characters of Samuel Hamilton, Lee, and (eventually) Adam Trask are surely worth admiring, and the discussions they have help a principled person discover the foundations of his or her principles. This excerpt, from chapter 24, part 2, is one such discussion.
The key word of the story, timshel, is introduced in this particular discussion. If youre a sucker for redemption narratives (like I am), this word is especially powerful.
As you read, I hope that you’ll consider our class theme of dialogue as you read. In this excerpt, Steinbeck is having a dialogue not only with those 16 lines of Genesis, but also with the ideas of good and evil, as well as the power that resides within us to change from what we are to what we want to be.
As a little bonus, you can see how one writer considers the presence of this story in our fundamental American identity.