“East of Eden”

Lee, the Chinese immigrant housekeeper, the novel’s main theme: timshel—“thou mayest”—the Hebrew belief in our power to choose between good and bad.

“We’re a violent people, Cal…Maybe it’s true, that we are all descendants of the restless, the nervous, the criminals, the arguers, and brawlers. But also the brave, and independent, and generous….We all have that heritage, no matter what old land our fathers left. 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. Can it be that our critics have not the key or the language of our culture? That’s what we are, Cal — all of us. You aren’t very different.”

East of Eden

I have seen beauty and evil. I have seen the choices people make. What are your choices?