John Steinbecks novel lays in my suitcase of most treasured things and the magnificence of this inspiring book I first read as a teenager , remains . It tells an epic story about good and evil and the life of two families , the Trasks and Hamiltons that span three generations . The setting is Northern California and Steinbeck weaves his masterful tale amongst gorgeously saturated descriptions of the Salinas Valley . Retelling the Biblical story of Cain and Abel it is more a story of America , ” a monster of a land”. Mr. Steinbeck received the 1962 Nobel Prize for Literature ,”for his realistic and imaginative writings combining as they do sympathetic humor and keen social perception”. East of Eden along with his other beautifully written books are social novels dealing with the economical problems of rural labor but always with a streak of worship of the soil .
The above photograph and the one following are by Dorothea Lang from her series , “Harvest Gypsies” . The San Francisco News in 1936 commissioned her and John Steinbeck to collaborate on several articles about Salinas Valley migrant workers .
Themes and Symbols:
classic struggle between good and evil
mystery of identity
inexplicability of love
murderous consequences of loves absence
human capacity for self destruction , guilt and redemption
The film version was the first starring vehicle for explosive 1950’s screen personality , James Dean , who received his first Oscar nomination for Best Actor .
” And now that you don’t have to be perfect , you can be good”.
“A kind of light spread out from her and everything changed color . And the world opened out . And a day was good to awaken too . And there were no limits to anything . And the people of the world were good and handsome . And I was not afraid anymore”.
“Thoughts are slow and deep and golden in the morning”.
Personal note :
The morning air had that distinct mossy feel that happens just before the rains fall . One thousand swallows flew above with a surprising and unexpected sound . For a long while I had been resting on the warming earth under a clouded blue sky letting my dogs roam the golden pastures surrounding the village . Standing , I called for them , and began walking with a hesitation in my step , still wanting to remain on this hill of quiet beauty where most mornings life itself accepted my place in this distant foreign country . A song floats by on the wind … long ago remembered lyrics now … and drifting to my consciousness … ” there’s a feeling I get when I look to the west and my spirit is crying for leaving , … in my thoughts I have seen rings of smoke through the trees and the voices of those who stand looking …Oh , it makes me wonder , oh it makes me wonder “.
And then I saw it ! On my way home from somewhere , there she was standing at the edge of my life . A horse . The farmer leading her with a hand on her chestnut colored neck , back towards the stonewalled enclosure . I stopped , and all I saw was this immense creature of power and beauty , the kind that makes you sigh as to its sheer existence walking God’s world with you . And with a second sigh , she fell to her knees , rolled over heavy on her back and her slow movements loved with the earth beneath her . No bridle or saddle or cart behind , imprisoned her and as the old man coaxed her up , she pranced with a pride and grace like a satin nightgown fluttering in the breeze or a petal from a rose after being thrown into a River stream floating gently with the current . I had fallen in love with this creature on the outskirts of town and stood watching on the stairway to heaven .
Dedicated to to my dad who rode off to eternity on the back of his beloved horse , Kentucky Belle …