East of Eden (novel)

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This I believe: that the free, exploring mind of the individual human is the most valuable thing in the world.

East of Eden (1952) is a novel by John Steinbeck, often described as his most ambitious in its portrayal of the intricate details of two families, the Trasks and the Hamiltons, and their interwoven stories. As Steinbeck stated: "It has everything in it I have been able to learn about my craft or profession in all these years."


Centennial Edition (2002), Penguin Books, U.K., ISBN 0-14-200423-5
  • When a child first catches adults out — when it first walks into his grave little head that adults do not have divine intelligence, that their judgments are not always wise, their thinking true, their sentences just — his world falls into panic desolation. The gods are fallen and all safety gone. And there is one sure thing about the fall of gods: they do not fall a little; they crash and shatter or sink deeply into green muck. It is a tedious job to build them up again; they never quite shine. And the child’s world is never quite whole again. It is an aching kind of growing.
    • p. 19-20
  • I’ll have you know that a soldier is the most holy of all humans because he is the most tested — most tested of all. I’ll try to tell you. Look now — in all of history men have been taught that killing of men is an evil thing not to be countenanced. Any man who kills must be destroyed because this is a great sin, maybe the worst sin we know. And then we take a soldier and put murder in his hands and we say to him, “Use it well, use it wisely.” We put no checks on him. Go out and kill as many of a certain kind or classification of your brothers as you can. And we will reward you for it because it is a violation of your early training.
    • p. 24
  • nearly all men are afraid, and they don’t even know what causes their fearshadows, perplexities, dangers without names or numbers, fear of a faceless death. But if you can bring yourself to face not shadows but real death, then you need never be afraid again, at least not in the same way you were before. Then you will be a man set apart from other men, safe where other men may cry in terror. This is the great reward.
    • p. 26
  • The proofs that God does not exist are very strong, but in lots of people they are not as strong as the feeling that He does.
    • p. 69
  • Is it true that when you love a woman you are never sure — never sure of her because you aren’t sure of yourself?
    • p. 69
  • I believe there are monsters born in the world to human parents. ...They are accidents and no one’s fault, as used to be thought. Once they were considered the visible punishments for concealed sins. And just as there are physical monsters, can there not be mental or psychic monsters born? The face and body may be perfect, but if a twisted gene or a malformed egg can produce physical monsters, may not the same process produce a malformed soul? ...Sometimes when we are little we imagine how it would be to have wings, but there is no reason to suppose it is the same feeling birds have. No, to a monster, the norm must seem monstrous since everyone is normal to himself. ...To a man born without conscience, a soul-stricken man must seem ridiculous. To a criminal, honesty is foolish.
    • p. 71
  • Sometimes a kind of glory lights up the mind of a man. It happens to nearly everyone. You can feel it growing or preparing like a fuse burning toward dynamite…. A man may have lived all of his life in the gray, and the land and trees of him dark and somber. The events, the important ones, may have trooped by faceless and pale. And then — the glory — so that a cricket song sweetens his ears, the smell of the earth rises chanting to his nose, and dappling light under a tree blesses his eyes. Then a man pours outward, a torrent of him, and yet he is not diminished. And I guess a man’s importance in the world can be measured by the quality and number of his glories.
    • p. 130
  • Some forces seem evil to us, perhaps not in themselves but because their tendency is to eliminate the things we hold good.
    • p. 130
  • When our food and clothing and housing all are born in the complication of mass production, mass method is bound to get into our thinking and to eliminate all other thinking. In our time mass or collective production has entered our economics, our politics, and even our religion, so that some nations have substituted the idea collective for the idea God.
    • pp. 130-131
  • And this I believe: that the free, exploring mind of the individual human is the most valuable thing in the world. And this I would fight for: the freedom of the mind to take any direction it wishes, undirected. And this I must fight against: any idea, religion, or government which limits or destroys the individual.
    • p. 131
  • I can understand why a system built on a pattern must try to destroy the free mind, for that is one thing which can by inspection destroy such a system. Surely I can understand this, and I hate it and I will fight against it to preserve the one thing that separates us from the uncreative beasts. If the glory can be killed, we are lost.
    • p. 131
  • Maybe we all have in us a secret pond where evil and ugly things germinate and grow strong. But this culture is fenced, and the swimming brood climbs up only to fall back. Might it not be that in the dark pools of some men the evil grows strong enough to wriggle over the fence and swim free? Would not such a man be our monster, and are we not related to him in our hidden water? It would be absurd if we did not understand both angels and devils, since we invented them.
    • p. 132
  • A man's mind can't stay in time the way his body does.
    • p. 144
  • That's why I'm talking to you. You are one of the rare people who can separate your observation from your preconception. You see what is, where most people see what they expect.
    • p. 161
  • There are no ugly questions except those clothed in condescension.
    • p. 163
  • It was well known that Liza Hamilton and the Lord God held similar convictions on nearly every subject.
    • p. 178
  • We think of strangers as stronger and better than we are.
    • p. 194
  • Maybe the foolishness is necessary, the dragon fighting, the boasting, the pitiful courage to be constantly knocking a chip off God's shoulder, and the childish cowardice that makes a ghost of a dead tree beside a darkening road. Maybe that's good and necessary, but--
    • p. 194
  • You're going to pass something down no matter what you do or if you do nothing. Even if you let yourself go fallow, the weeds will grow and the brambles. Something will grow.
    • p. 213
  • They were not pure, but they had a potential of purity, like a soiled white shirt.
    • p. 216
  • You might get the idea that they howled truth and beauty the way a seal bites out the National Anthem on a row of circus horns.
    • p. 216
  • Once he had accepted the end as desirable, he should forget it completely and concentrate solely on the means.
    • p. 238
  • All the names but one in here have two dates.
    • p. 255
  • It takes great courage to back truth unacceptable to our times. There's punishment for it, and it's usually crucifixion.
    • p. 262
  • But isn't it odd that Cain is maybe the best-known name in the whole world and as far as I know only one man has ever borne it?
    • p. 264
  • He told me how a man, a real man, had no right to let sorrow destroy him. He told me again and again how I must believe that time would take care of it. He said it so often that I knew he was losing.
    • p. 283
  • I have wondered why is it that some people are less affected and torn by the verities of life and death than others.
    • p. 290
  • When you know a friend is there you do not go to see him. Then he's gone and you blast your conscience to shreds that you did not see him.
    • p. 292
  • Maybe you're playing a part on a great stage with only yourself as audience.
    • p. 293
  • There's that fallow land, and here beside me is that fallow man. It seems a waste.
    • p. 293
  • [The Hebrew] word timshelThou mayest — that gives a choice. It might be the most important word in the world. That says the way is open. That throws it right back on a man. For if Thou mayest — it is also true that Thou mayest not... [Thou mayest] makes a man great, that gives him stature with the gods, for in his weakness and his filth ... he has still the great choice. He can choose his course and fight it through and win.
    • p. 301
  • And I feel that I am a man. And I feel that a man is a very important thing — maybe more important than a star. This is not theology. I have no bent toward gods. But I have new love for that glittering instrument, the human soul. It is a lovely and unique thing in the universe. It is always attacked and never destroyed — because Thou mayest.
    • p. 302
  • . . . it is true of the spirit as it is true of battles -- only the winners are remembered.
    • p. 307
  • It was not laziness if he was a rich man. Only the poor were lazy. Just as only the poor were ignorant. A rich man who didn't know anything was spoiled or independent.
    • p. 339
  • The storytellers at the city gate twist life so that it looks sweet to the lazy and the stupid and the weak, and this only strengthens their infirmities and teaches nothing, cures nothing, nor does it let the heart soar.
    • p. 356
  • Yes, memory. Without that, time would be unarmed against us.
    • p. 373
  • Perhaps she wasn't even pretty, but she had the glow that makes men follow a woman in the hope of reflecting a little of it.
    • p. 387
  • There's nothing sadder to me than associations held together by nothing but the glue of postage stamps. If you can't see or hear or touch a man, it's best to let him go.
    • p. 415
  • I am incomparably, incredibly, overwhelmingly glad to be home. I've never been so goddamn lonesome in my life.
    • p. 417
  • He said there couldn't be any more universal philosophers. The weight of knowledge is too great for one mind to absorb. He saw a time when one man would know only one little fragment, but he would know it well.
    • p. 538
  • Maybe the knowledge is too great and maybe men are growing too small. Maybe, kneeling down to atoms, they're becoming atom-sized in their souls. Maybe a specialist is only a coward, afraid to look out of his little cage. And think what any specialist misses — the whole world over his fence.
    • p. 538
  • With a few exceptions people don't want money. They want luxury and they want love and they want admiration.
    • p. 538
  • Every man has a retirement picture in which he does those things he never had time to do — makes journeys, reads the neglected books he always pretended to have read.
    • p. 559
  • "Where is he?" "How do I know?" said Cal. "Am I supposed to look after him?"
    • p. 562; cf. Genesis 4:9 ("Am I my brother's keeper?")
  • All colors and blends of Americans have somewhat the same tendencies. It's a breed — selected out by accident. And so we're overbrave and overfearful — we're kind and cruel as children. We're overfriendly and at the same time frightened of strangers. We boast and are impressed. We're oversentimental and realistic. We are mundane and materialistic — and do you know of any other nation that acts for ideals? We eat too much. We have no taste, no sense of proportion. We throw our energy about like waste. In the old lands they say of us that we go from barbarism to decadence without an intervening culture.
    • p. 568
  • Riches seem to come to the poor in spirit, the poor in interest and joy. To put it straight — the very rich are a poor bunch of bastards.
    • p. 581
  • And now that you don’t have to be perfect, you can be good.
    • p. 583
  • Can you think that whatever made us — would stop trying?
    • p. 599
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