Further East From Eden
Our spiritual archeology is the myths and legends of our collective history, culture and religions. The Jesus story, the Mosses story, the Buddha story, Confucius, Krishna, Lao Tzu, they all have great lessons and insights for those who are willing to dig through the layers piled on top of them to get to the treasures. And there isn’t a richer trove, especially for us in the West, then the Jewish Bible. From Adam to Abraham to Noah to Samson to Isaiah to Jesus and the Apostles, it has enriched almost every aspect of our life…rather we like it or not, these stories are stuck to our bones. One of the earliest and darkest and deepest is the tragic killing of Able by his brother Cain. This is the conflict behind John Steinbeck’s epic novel, “East of Eden” published in 1952
When I first read Steinbeck’s “Eden” fifty years ago (I was 20,) I missed the whole point. I read it as a really great soap opera extremely well written. I could see how he was dealing the very human problem of delusional good vs. pure evil but I missed the issue of male violence and the healing of the sins of the fathers. Wow, what a difference 50 years make. We are now even further East from Eden.
There is also the problem of the film directed by the amazing Elia Kazan and released in 1955 just three years after the book. It’s a good movie and, of course, James Dean was stellar. If you see the movie as a re-telling of the book, it doesn’t work. Kate is not sympathetic in the novel and her pure evil is smoothed over in the movie. Adam Trask is a very complex character who is stereotyped in the movie and the last scene is moving in the right direction but comes off a bit corny and doesn’t quite get there.
If you see the movie as loosely based on the book, you can tolerate it but to appreciate the movie, I had to separate it from the book. The novel spans three generations of two families from the Civil War to World War One. The film just covers the third generation of one family, the Trasks. In the novel, by the time you get to the first scene, the characters are fully developed. In the film they have to be introduced and developed from scratch. In all honesty, Elia Kazan did a good job with an almost impossible task. But still, you have to read the book to get the whole picture…