East of Eden

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Love touched her heart, and lo! It beats high, and burns with such brave hearts.
Richard Crawshaw
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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

  • To a monster the norm must seem monstrous, since everyone is normal to himself. (p. 71)
  • 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)
  • 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)
  • 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)
  • I have wondered why is it that some people are less affected and torn by the verities of life and death that others.
    • Ch. 24 (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.
    • Ch. 24 (p. 293)
  • There's that fallow land, and here beside me is that fallow man. It seems a waste.
    • Ch. 24 (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.
    • Ch. 24 (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.
    • Ch. 24 (p. 302)
  • 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)
  • Yes, memory. Without that, time would be unarmed against us.
    • Ch. 30 (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)
  • In uncertainty I am certain that underneath their topmost layers of frailty men want to be good and want to be loved. Indeed, most of their vices are attempted short cuts to love. (pp. 412-413)
  • We have only one story. All novels, all poetry, are built on the never-ending contest in ourselves of good and evil. And it occurs to me that evil must constantly respawn, while good, while virtue, is immortal. Vice has always a new fresh young face, while virtue is venerable as nothing else in the world is. (p. 413)
  • It seems to me that if you or I must choose between two courses of thought or action, we should remember our dying and try so to live that our death brings no pleasure to the world. (p. 413)
  • 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 goddam 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)
  • 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 fightened 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)
  • Can you think that whatever made us — would stop trying? (p. 599)

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