Once upon a time I fancied myself an English prof-to-be, and thus danced off to grad school at Ohio University. For my Master's thesis, I was lucky enough to spend months reading the original manuscript of East of Eden, one of my favorite books. After spending hours hunched over reading John Steinbeck's tiny scrawl, I knew my eyes would never be the same. (View the first page of the manuscript to see an example.) I managed to resurrect my thesis, which had been living on a 5 1/4 floppy disk, untouched since WordPerfect 5 (MS-DOS, oh yeah). I thought it would be fun to give it new life on the Internet, so here you go....
A proseminar essay
in partial fulfillment
of the requirements for the degree
Master of Arts
by Steven Mulder
June 10, 1992
For speculation turns not to itself,
Till it hath travell'd and is mirror'd there
Where it may see itself.
-- Shakespeare, Troilus and Cressida
In 1977 Roots hypnotized Americans in their living rooms. The television miniseries, based on the book by Alex Haley, traced back to Africa the generations of Haley's family. The people of his genealogy came alive for the viewers, who suddenly realized that their ancestors too might be interesting and important, and that maybe they too could learn more about themselves from the past. Roots began an obsession for genealogy that enthralled thousands, including my parents, who began to sift through libraries and pull faded memories from the minds of old Dutch relatives. The tree and stories that resulted somehow told us more of who we were, and all over America people felt somehow more themselves, as if they had had no identities until Roots told them to stop and look behind them.
These days Levar Burton, "Kunta Kinte" in the miniseries, co-stars in Star Trek: The Next Generation . One would think that this science fiction program would gaze in the opposite direction, forward to the future. But in fact references to the past abound, and even as the USS Enterprise moves forward away from earthly roots, the people onboard never tire of reflecting on where they came from or encountering alien civilizations that do the same. In one episode the starship encounters a civilization whose very language, which the crew cannot at first translate, reflects the notion that past defines present. The whole language is one of allusion. The creatures say, for instance, "Shakah, when the walls fell," when they feel defeat, failure, or misery, because in their history a mythic hero named Shakah was defeated when his ancient city's walls fell. Their language as well as our own, just like the actual aliens and the living room viewers, look back to define the present, which is partially a product of what has already been. As documentary filmmaker Ken Burns said in a recent speech, "Our future lies behind us." The feeling is that if we can somehow capture the essence of what has happened, we will completely understand the truth of who we are and where we are going.
But the Poststructuralists barged in earlier this century to inform us that "essence" and "Truth" are not the eternal and stable certainties we want them to be. Derrida, Foucault, and Friends overturned the tables of our rational temple, in which Truth was on an altar and easy to define and History was a linear sequence of cause and effect. We began to see that someone had built the altar and thus decided where Truth was going to be and what it would look like under the lighting. And when we realized this, Truth fell from the altar and, along with History, lost its capital letter. The congregation swarmed toward them and picked up the fragments that looked interesting to different individuals, and then dispersed into the relativistic world.
We can still sit in our living rooms and look for ourselves in our pasts, but now the looking is much more complicated. Now we have to recognize that the looker affects the looked-at, and that we will unavoidably place any genealogy we find under the specific lighting we prefer. Instead of recovering an objective past, we will create one from the fragments. Finding ourselves in the past will not surprise us, since we were active all along in its creation. Like the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle, in observing the electrons of reality around us we invariably change them. History is nothing we discover, but what we write out of the letters given to us. History is a fiction, just as all fiction also contains the history of "real" persons, characteristics, events, and so forth. All that we do is a combination of the two, a "fictory" of actual letters that we turn into words and sentences, or fragments we turn into an altar. All writing is somewhere on the continuum, and to believe we can separate fiction from history, illusion from truth, is to deny the active role of the believer. Without acknowledging the lighting, all is dark.
What we turn to, then, is an examination of the lighting we impose on what we see. Before recreating the past into "fictory," we must be self-conscious of our creating role, and so more aware of our coloring of people and events. We must try to recognize the allusions of our own language and the characteristics of our own cultures and civilizations to predict what we might impose on what we encounter. Only this self-awareness can prevent us from ignorantly building another temple. The paradox is that somehow we must know ourselves before looking at the past, which we do to get to know ourselves better in the first place. Self-identity may still be possible as long as it is self-conscious and hesitant, but, the Poststructuralists grin, the process is much more complicated than we thought.
In the late 1940's John Steinbeck was coming to grips with his own past and present, as Jackson J. Benson's thorough biography describes. Steinbeck's marriage to Gwyn Conger was disintegrating when, in May 1948, his friend and mentor Ed Ricketts died suddenly in an accident. Three months later Gwyn asked for a divorce. Steinbeck, shattered and depressed, fled New York and moved back into the family cottage in Pacific Grove, California, where he lived alone, drank excessively, and had numerous and brief sexual relationships. Fortunately he had met Elaine Scott, who turned his life around. Their relationship, cemented by marriage in December 1950, allowed Steinbeck the stability to pause and reflect on his own life, both where he was and where he had come from. East of Eden, the huge project that had been building up in his mind for years, was the result of this reflection.
Though he tried to begin the actual writing several times earlier, only in February 1951, after his marriage had steadied his life, could Steinbeck begin through writing to explore his life and himself. The book was, Benson states, "the last stage in putting himself back together again after the years that had torn him apart" (690). Only with Elaine's love and support could he gaze steadily at who he was at this point in his life. To do this, he gazed back into the past, for he too, like the many who later saw Roots, wanted to find himself in his past.
Yet Steinbeck also had a rather prophetic insight like that of the coming Poststructuralists. He knew that in studying the past we unavoidably create it, that as a writer he could not help but rewrite what he encountered. Self-conscious, he noted in a letter to Pascal Covici, "What it boils down to is that everything exists; it is what you pick out of the grab bag of experience that matters" (qtd Buerger 12). What he picked out became East of Eden , a history that is inevitably fiction, a chronicle that is flavored with the personal. It was Steinbeck's greatest challenge, a book he had worked toward all his life, and with "the successful completion of the novel, he became a whole man again. It was what might be called a 'healing'" (Benson 690).
He wrote the novel in a large ledger book given to him by Covici, most often with the text of the novel on one page and a corresponding personal journal on the facing page. Physically connected to the novel, Journal of a Novel is a window to the man behind the work seen struggling and triumphing in his daily stints of writing. It shows the active creator behind the work as well as the larger themes and philosophies in which book and creator are situated, and is thus vital for a complete understanding of the entire effort. Nancy Zane notes that if the novel is a "portrait of the artist," then the journal is "the portrait of the artist actually painting the portrait of the artist" (4). The journal is a sub-text of the novel that, collaboratively, reveals the true topics of the effort, and especially the self-conscious nature of Steinbeck's self-reflection and historical fictionalizing.
What Steinbeck wrote in 1951 is not what was published, and since the journal was written with the manuscript and not revised like the latter, it is best studied in reference to the original version of the novel. Steinbeck spent four months revising, and spent the time largely cutting some 90,000 words from the original. What is unknown is just who pushed the revision: the author or the editors at Viking. The first draft is far more digressive in nature, and as others have mentioned was written explicitly to his sons--the text begins, "Dear Tom and John" (5).1 It is a far more personal novel, one filled with the first-person "I" of creator creating, along with self-conscious discussions of the creating process. Roy Simmonds argues that the editors had much to do with the profound deletions, and I agree with him. Steinbeck was writing a book about who he was, both physically and mentally, and would not on his own accord cut most of the passages of artistic, philosophical or moral reflection. The letters to his sons and most of the "I"s were deleted, leaving what seems like a few instances of authorial intrusion that many find disrupting. The emotional nature of the letters to his sons was lost, and thus the passages of philosophical reflection that survived now seem colder and more preachy. Simmonds accurately states that what resulted "was the conversion of a work courageously experimental in nature into a flawed but publishable conventional novel" (20).
I submit that it is this original and courageously experimental novel that deserves further study. Early critics regularly rejected East of Eden as a failure because of the unbalanced and inappropriate revisions forced upon it, and only in recent years has the novel slowly gained favor. Now is the time to go back and restore the intriguing deletions and thus the complete effort, and examine just what Steinbeck was attempting his most personally important and reflective work. Critics have already taken comparative approaches to book and manuscript, but I insist that what is necessary is study of the manuscript as an autonomous work, whole and complete in itself. Undoubtably we will sacrifice some things, as for instance the "timshel" ending, which was substituted later for the rather bland ending of the manuscript. But we will also gain much of the self-reflection originally intended to drive the work forward and the artistic discussions that show Steinbeck aware of his fictionalizing role in dealing with his historical roots.
Clearly Steinbeck viewed this work as this kind of all-encompassing effort. In his journal he states simply that "my book is about everything" (116). It is his "big" book, and he writes to Mr. and Mrs. Elia Kazan, "I seem to have been writing it all my life and in one sense I have" (Life in Letters 426), because he has been writing his life for all these years. "This is a book unlike any other" (Journal 170), and he intends to put into it everything that he is. He is throwing away all literary tricks and "starting from scratch" (6), letting the style will establish itself as he writes. He is inventing something new, a type of book outside of the accepted mimetic tradition of the time. First, the effort is not Realistic, for he vows in the manuscript itself to write not only "what the people said and did," but "everything I know about them too. And I will even dare at the risk of being howled down by the 'realists,' to tell you what I think about the people and the events" (101). Second, the work is not Modernist: Steinbeck insists in the journal that the book "is quite different from the modern hard-boiled school" (158), and that "I don't think the lovers of Hemingway will love this book" (29). He is veering self-consciously from traditional expectations, as he so often did since he saw himself as an experimental writer. So Steinbeck boldly states, "Sherwood Anderson made the modern novel and it has not gone much beyond him. I think I am going beyond him" (Journal 124).
What is "beyond" Modernism is Postmodernism, a movement the Poststructuralists helped get going because of its extreme self-consciousness of the artificiality of art and the uncertain relationship between art and "reality." Interestingly, Steinbeck read and commented on Andre Gide just before he wrote East of Eden , and said that The Counterfeiters , a self-reflexive work concerning the fiction-making process itself, was "one of the greatest books that I have ever read." In his comments, Steinbeck insists on the importance of curiosity: "Our ideas are born from our curiosities. . . . And if I insist so vehemently about these curiosities, it is because when they are subjected to control--and control means death--control kills thought, and all mechanisms stop." Unwilling to submit to the control of Modernism or any other one movement, Steinbeck joined Gide in experimenting with what we now call Postmodern techniques. Of course Postmodern fiction did not flourish until about twenty years later, so Steinbeck clearly was unfamiliar with a movement hardly begun in 1951. So perhaps we should call what he attempted pre -Postmodern, for in many ways he prophesied some of what was to come in fiction and its theory. He inevitably used some of the techniques of Realism and Modernism along the way, but ultimately East of Eden is more experimental that traditional, especially in manuscript form as I intend to examine it.
This novel has taken such a beating over the years specifically because critics did not recognize it as such a profound experiment. To Peter Lisca it is a confusing mess that tries to do too much and, through the overdone A/C pattern, "badgers [the theme] into an uninteresting obviousness" (268). To F.W. Watt it is "a large, sprawling, discordant narrative" which as an overall failure deserves our "respect and sympathy" (93). The techniques of Postmodernism are simply seen as faults by these and other early critics. Only recently have some started to notice what Steinbeck was actually attempting and recognized similarities to a newer literary movement. John Ditsky sees Postmodern techniques mixed in with traditional ("I in Eden" 65), and in a footnote Robert DeMott sees the novel as one of "Steinbeck's tentative forays into meta-fiction" ("Cathy Ames" 81), another of the many names overlapping with Postmodernism. Daniel Buerger, in "'History' and Fiction in East of Eden Criticism," compares the "I" of the book with "many post-modern narrators" who are "fundamentally concerned with the process of writing" (12). He also brings in the Poststructuralist idea that we unavoidably fictionalize history when we try to tell it, and that Steinbeck does the same.
Louis Owens in particular has explored East of Eden as a self-reflective work, and in "The Mirror and the Vamp: Invention, Reflection, and Bad, Bad Cathy Trask in East of Eden" he calls it "a novel about its own creation" (245). Through it Steinbeck explores his own identity and issues of the creative process, from his philosophies of art to his preferences of specific pencils. While Owens begins to explore these themes, however, he does not recognize Steinbeck's efforts as specifically Postmodern, nor do he and other critics examine the significance of such a discussion for the reader . Only this kind of reader-response extension can more fully resolve the alleged problems of authorial intrusion, inconsistent characterization, and excessive style in this much-debated novel, and help us discover just why Steinbeck was experimenting with Postmodern techniques in the first place. It is the reader who must decide what to do with Steinbeck's historical ruminating, and it is with the reader that we finally discover what this author was actually attempting in this bold and important work.
Reading East of Eden as Postmodern remains difficult, for as John Barth has noticed in "The Literature of Replenishment," the movement tends more than anything to elude any kind of strict definitions, and in fact defines itself in the very act of being. We could retreat into saying "it is what it is," but in fact recent studies such as Patricia Waugh's Metafiction: The Theory and Practice of Self-Conscious Fiction and Brian McHale's Postmodernist Fiction have helped organize a loose consensus on the techniques and themes of the movement. Waugh defines metafiction as "fictional writing which self-consciously and systematically draws attention to its status as an artefact in order to pose questions about the relationship between fiction and reality" (2). Self-reflexive and ever-restless, these writers never cease to question both the nature of reality and the nature of any fiction that tries to represent that reality.
In Postmodern thought the ontological is dominant, according to McHale. Ontologies or descriptions of the universe come into question, and we are forced to face problems of modes of being . We ask questions: What world is this? What is to be done about it? Which of my selves is to act? What is the status of existence of a text? (10). In an insecurity about what reality is and what kind of access language has to that reality, Postmodern thinkers are interested in how exactly humans reflect, construct, and mediate their experience of the universe around them. Reality is a construct, so we must turn and focus our attention on the constructors. The ideas of unified subject and stable reality are challenged, and according to Larry McCaffery we must "rethink so-called natural methods of organizing perception, expose their ideological origins, and pose new systems of organization" (xx). Postmodern writers often begin with actual historical content (versus the mythical structures of Modernism), but every move they make is self-conscious and questioning. They want a more "realistic" view of just what existing in this reality is like, but they are consistently unsure of just what "reality" is, and so their views are at best tentative.
East of Eden is clearly based in a historical context, and moves on self-consciously from there. Steinbeck begins with the "reality" of his past and present: his ancestors the Hamiltons are here, as well as his sons (explicitly in the letters to them and implicitly as Aron and Cal, who physically resemble Tom and John) and Gwyn (therapeutically dealt with through Cathy Ames). It is a book of his remembering both past and present and set firmly in the physical setting of the California he knows so well. He begins the manuscript with physical description of the Salinas Valley, and references to setting never leave the book, for place has great influence on people. Right near the beginning he writes to his sons, "All of us came from a place in California called the Salinas Valley. We were moulded and formed by this place, and I suppose to a certain extent you were also since no strong influence ever dies" (5). And so Steinbeck spends much time reviewing the place of his ancestors and its history, from the Indians and Spaniards to the settling Americans (9). He tells how his father bore a well into the valley and found that the history of the land went deep--there were layers of top soil, sea sand, and then earth with pieces of redwood before that. He also speaks of the weather of the valley, its soil and landscape, its droughts throughout history, and the variety of its crops. In the second chapter he refers to the book as "this history" (19) because he wants his sons to know that this book is, at least partially, an attempt to inform them where they came from through him. Going back to the origins of people like the Trasks is "about the only way you can know about people" (49), since all people are so influenced by their pasts.
Steinbeck pursues the notion that "blood" or heritage is highly influential in the way a person is, though he questions and complicates that notion later with the "thou mayest" idea of individual freedom. But to Steinbeck a person starts in a certain place, and that place will definitely affect the individual. Each future action is to some degree influenced by physical setting and also what has gone before--as if the future indeed lies behind us. He writes, "For we all dip our roots into the past and while there is great variation it is still to a certain extent true the old saying 'Know the breed and know the dog.' Within limits of course" (49). Thus he talks so much about the Trasks' background
because it seemed to make a channel in that blood line so that three generations, right down to the present were affected. And since the line goes on probably the tendencies are still there and will continue--probably as long as the blood line continues. I find the shadowy outlines of all of my relatives in me and you will in yourselves. (49)
He even traces the roots of the last names of Hamilton and Trask, for they too can influence individuals. Blood is strong and ties past to present and future, making physical setting and heritage vital to the understanding of oneself.
So Steinbeck wants to make clear his rooting of this book in reality, not only of the past as he sees it but also the present. Thus when he talks of certain items of the past, he also brings them into the future to tie past and present together as inseparable. He tells that the letter Adam keeps from Charles about their father still exists (55), as does Liza's parrot somewhere near Monterey (69) and Samuel's copy of Dr. Gunn's Family Medicine: "I have it still" (216). Speaking of Samuel's many inventions, he tells his sons, "I have those hopeful blueprints if you boys should ever want to see them. The paper is crisp now and hard to unfold" (67). Steinbeck wants the impression of true history as his base, both in physical setting and in people, so that his sons and his readers can see that any experience or perception must begin with referring to something outside of oneself, some grist for our perceptual mill.
But just as Steinbeck begins with the grist, he immediately recognizes that our perceptual mill unavoidably alters what is put into it. When Alex Haley, for example, presents his history, he cannot help but rewrite it--true mimesis is impossible, for no human can be a perfectly flat and reflecting mirror. Warps and scratches will distort what we try to reflect truthfully, and so all histories are in some sense fictional. History is, after all, filled with "story." Historical events and people are indeterminate until recontextualized by the act of writing them. In Postmodern thinking this is not necessarily a bad thing, but inevitable and worthy of continual examination. Reality is a series of constructions and always provisional; one reality exists until another mill comes along and does something a bit different with the grist.
Postmodern thought and writing are closely linked because, as Linda Hutcheon points out, this kind of fiction is "a continuation of that ordering, decoding, naming, fiction-making process that is part of the reader's normal coming-to-terms with experience in the real world" ("Metafictional Implications" 5-6). Writer and reader and everyone all go through the same process of dealing with reality and history through their own mills, and thus writing and the art of fiction is a useful window to all of human experience. Hutcheon's "historiographic metafiction" is the self-conscious blending of history and fiction that occurs in all human perception. All is "fictory," we might say. The past exists, but to Hutcheon "we can only 'know' that past today through its texts, and therein lies its connection to the literary" ("Historiographic Metafiction" 10). Postmodernism is mimetic, then, not in the product, but in the process of each individual's "writing" of reality. And now that the novelist better understands the medium of writing, adds William H. Gass, "he is ceasing to pretend that his business is to render the world; he knows, more often now, that his business is to make one" (24) from language, just as all humans do daily.
So when Steinbeck calls East of Eden a "history," he is also conscious that all histories are subjective, and that fiction slips in. In this sense, his is "historiographic metafiction," ever-conscious of the process of creating reality from the bits of experience taken in. The novel is "my culling of all books plus my own invention" (31), according to the journal. He knows that what he puts down will be but the "palest of reflections" (155) of some kind of objective reality, because no one can reflect perfectly. In the manuscript memory is the only window we have to our personal pasts, and yet memory is instable and changes the remembered: "There will be many things in this story which may not be exactly and objectively true. They seem to be true because I remember them. And you will find later in yourselves that you will remember things you can't prove" (5). He also says of memory:
When you go back in memory, the structure rises and has again the trappings of reality. A remembered rose is full colored and has its drop of dew and wilts again, and corpses spring up from their rotten oak full fleshed and young. Of course they can't be quite the same for the process that dried the rose and chewed the bodies back to earth has had its pleasure of me also. Building the old things back, can I be sure I build my old self back also. It is impossible. Perhaps it is not even close and the picture is distorted beyond old recognition. (214)
All pictures are distorted. Steinbeck realizes that people often "have built and believe a story and characters which have no relation to what really happened. . . . In this respect I am no different from anyone else" (19). Humans look at history the same way. For example, when the nation reached the year 1900 "what had happened was all muddled up by the way folks wanted it to be--more rich and meaningful the further back it was" (75). Whatever the topic, human perception alters it. In yet another delightful digression, Steinbeck writes, "When something happens to you it is one kind of thing. Then after time and your reaction and thought, it may be another thing not exactly like the first but it is still experience" (101)--it is still as close to "truth" as we can come.
This is the "truth" that is so important to Steinbeck in the same passage: the truth that the matter of this world, even when altered by subjective perception, is still true to those who alter it. And that is the only kind of truth that we can get at and the only kind that matters. He cries that "all of the arts are nothing but the long and hard and passionate search for true things" (101) just as he realizes the uncertain nature of truth. What becomes important, then, is the individual creativity that is the creator of the only possibly notion of truth. Therefore he writes, "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 unguided. . . . This is what I am and what I am about" (155).
In one passage in particular, a chapter cut from the published version, Steinbeck outlines the process by which the creative individual transforms experience into perception (and also writing). We start with the senses: "There has to be an eye opened on the world, distorted maybe but seeing," and also an ear to hear, and then smell and taste "have to pour their torrents up the nerve trunks to their own particular little kingdoms in the brain" (73). "And all of these make a federation of kingdoms in the cortex"--all the grist and raw matter of experience is thrown in, "all crashing into the hard mirror of memory." But then it is time for subjective selectivity: "But in this mess there is the boss, the monitor, maybe the trusty [trustee] to keep order and direct traffic. . . . [Trustee] nibbles some pieces and pushes some aside" (73). The senses and the brain take in everything, every perceptual bit, but what is selectively used and remembered is the important step in human perception. And even if this "trustee" is "wrong," he is still in charge of defining what "truth" is, and cannot be challenged or oversimplified (75). Steinbeck gets a bit carried away with effusive descriptions of the "trustee's" greatness and power, but makes it clear that only through this creative interpreter can all experience come to have meaning: "It is paraphrasing all right but before anything was, He is " (75). Thus in this and many other passages Steinbeck prophesies Postmodern thought that reality is an individual fiction. "This is how history is born of the glands of the historian" (77).
Throughout East of Eden Steinbeck adds his own "trustee" to the history of which he writes. Even though the Hamiltons are based on his ancestors, clearly he embellishes and changes and invents who they are. He admits he can't remember how Eliza dressed, and so assumes that "it must have been that she wore clothes that matched herself exactly" (17). In rewriting history he has the right to do whatever he wishes. He admits he knows little of daughter Lizzie, but nevertheless invents in her a capacity for hatred and bitterness toward her family (69). He constantly imagines how people must have felt given the actions he remembers of them--even to the extent of rewriting the mental state of his own mother Olive (180). He also makes his grandfather Samuel confess of a mythical lost love (334). Of Tom Hamilton (and in fact everyone else too), what he sets down "will be the result of memory plus what I know to be true plus conjecture built on the combination. Who knows whether it will be correct" (314). But "correct" is unimportant--true to him is. Thus in the manuscript he can even alter the topography of the Salinas Valley, move the rivers and hills and Trask farm, partially so "no one can identify the real farm" (19), but also because as a human being he has the right to make things however he sees them. A perfect example of this power and Steinbeck's delight in it occurs when deputy Horace, on his way to investigate Adam's gun injury, runs into "one of the Trescony boys, I forget which one. Maybe it was Julius say it was Julius anyway" (234). This passage was of course changed in the published version, removing yet another example of how Steinbeck sees himself as a creative writer and human being delighting in his "trustee" that rewrites reality.
With each human having a "trustee" in Steinbeck's Postmodern universe, we encounter the possible result: relativism. Some embrace the concept that all truths are subjective and equally valid, while others cry out and frantically seek other answers. The Postmodernists have no one solution to this quandary, but they do agree that we need to be self-conscious of ourselves accomplishing this creative process. The goal is to remain self-conscious of our roles as interpreters of reality, and not get caught up in the illusion that one person's truth is the truth. The process maintains high doses of self-analysis and hesitancy. We want to try to learn as much about the "trustee" as possible.
Therefore, at every step of the process of writing, Postmodern writers lay bare themselves, their themes, and their techniques so no one can accuse them of being didactic. According to Waugh, they want to critique their own methods of construction as they construct (2), and so make a statement about fiction and creation as they accomplish it. Their fictions will always be obviously fictional, so artificial that no one will confuse them with objective attempts at the truth. They share "a general sense that fiction needed to acknowledge its own artificial, constructed nature, to focus the reader's attention on how the work was being articulated rather than merely on what was happening" (McCaffery xxi). Literary conventions are not abandoned, for they are needed as a base or "control" from which experimentation can occur. So conventions are played with and parodied and foregrounded in such a way that the writers can explore new ontologies while showing that this exploration is merely a plaything, not a serious attempt to define and pin down the universe in some Realistic (or even Modernist) fashion. The alternate world set up by the fiction is always accompanied by a "metacommentary" that assures the reader that "this is make-believe"--hence the term "metafiction" which many use to refer to Postmodern fiction. As Martina Sciolino notes, "In reminding readers that the fiction in their hands is indeed fiction, metafiction allows writers to show social responsibility by insisting that all meanings are provisional" (144).
Steinbeck, with only a few exceptions, shows this self-consciousness throughout the original East of Eden . He makes it clear, first of all, that his work is an artificial construct. Over and over he explicitly calls it a "book" (75, 101, 2) or a "telling" (286, 310, 370, ) or "this book I am telling you, my sons" (95). He speaks of "the time about which I am writing" or "telling you" (127). When writing about the Trask ranch he reminds the readers that "I am making this up" (163). He even refers to his own breaks in the text by saying after starting Part II that "[t]hat was a good place to end a part of the telling" (246). Elsewhere he summarizes what is to come by starting with "[t]he rest of the telling before I stop for a while" , making it perfectly clear that this work is an artifice he is creating little by little each day. "Dear Tom and John: It has been many months since I started to tell you this book and the telling has grown but you have grown too" --the telling, like life, continues and grows with time, and Steinbeck is consistently self-aware of this parallel.
He also uses the language of books and writing to call attention to what he is doing. He writes, "Let's close [the century] like a book and go on reading. New chapter new life" (77). When he reconsiders the nature of Cathy, he uses specifically the language of proofreading and editing: "Now I have bent close with a glass over the small print of her, and reread the footnotes" (214). At one point Joe Valery speaks in "bold face type capital letters" (426). Steinbeck even tells a story within the text of himself as a writer being approached by an editor who has problems with "filthy" words in another book (97). Constantly we are reminded that this world in front of us is a construct, an illusion without the arrogance of pretending to be real and universal. Louis Owens recognizes, "We are allowed behind the curtain of the author's workshop" ("Story" 69)--we watch the great Wizard of Oz at work. Steinbeck does not want us to assume that fictional equals real, for he like other Postmodern writers is uncertain of the exact nature of reality. This is simply his speculation, attempted self-consciously each step of the way.
Steinbeck, in accordance with many Postmodern writers, uses a variety of techniques to ensure his "telling" maintains its obvious artificiality. He mixes in with his "fictory" many other non-fictional elements and discourses to show the complexity of human perception. His style and tone are blatantly excessive, parodic, playful, and artificial. Characters seem more abstract dehumanized statements than consistent people. Even names and words flaunt the seeming arbitrariness of the work and seem absurdly metaphorical and simplistic. The narration in particular is choppy and filled with disruptions, lest any reader get caught up in a smooth storyline and think it real. The narrator himself also comes under question and becomes a personal presence who is less godlike and more like just another character in the fiction. Finally, specific discussions of the art of writing punctuate the work, as if the author wants to make statements about writing and creation as he accomplishes them.
First, Postmodern writers tend to incorporate elements from various disciplines and areas of life into their composite portraits of reality. The dilemma is that the world can no longer be accurately mirrored or represented, so writers seek to represent instead the discourses around them that seem to make up the world. Unfortunately, as Patricia Waugh points out, they can only do so through some discourse, thus complicating any attempt at representation. Once again, there are no final answers to these kinds of relativistic quandaries, only self-conscious explorations of the dilemma. So the Postmodern condition, according to Brian McHale, is "an anarchic landscape of worlds in the plural" (37). Refusing to accept any one ontology, writers include as many voices and elements as possible in their constructions--much like making explicit Bakhtin's "dialogic" potential of the novel. What results is heteroglossia, a carnival-like confrontation of voices and ideologies that are laid bare so obviously before the readers that they cannot miss them.
This heteroglossia includes many differing elements, including news, autobiography, anachronism, rumor, art, politics, real-world figures interacting with fictional ones, literature, and any number of other incongruous voices from any given time. East of Eden is certainly filled with such a polyphony. Near the beginning of the book Steinbeck admits, "I must depend on hearsay, on old photographs, on stories told and on memories which are hazy and mixed with fable in trying to tell you about the Hamiltons. . . . And if my account is distorted I doubt whether anyone living will know it" (11). Nor will it matter, since any such construction will be a similar compilation of disparate data and invention. He also brings in historical data such as news of the world wars, information on weather and crops, the handwritten will of his sons' "three times great aunt" (374), references to the writings of Herodotus (153), and historical people such as Rockefeller (478), Hearst, Roosevelt (480), Pancho Villa, President Wilson (506), and General Pershing (534). He also moves up into his present time and fills this book about the past with anachronisms from the present such as television and movies (175) and even a news story he just read "[i]n the paper this morning" about a boy who shot his parents (214). Discourses of politics, history, psychology, literature, science, medicine, and war are all here, all giving a sense of excessive and self-conscious plurality to the collage of a world Steinbeck invents.
Determined to lay bare their techniques, Postmodern writers describe this collage with a style that is rarely Realistic, but more excessive, playful, and even self-indulgent in its artificiality, reminding readers that they are encountering a created environment with only linguistic status. Many critics such as Peter Lisca have railed against John Steinbeck for precisely this reason, for his writing is at times excessive and forced, completely foreign to what sounds real and natural. The descriptions seem overdone and indulgent, particularly at the start, and the dialogue in particular seems contrived--especially that of Lee and Samuel. A fine example of this comes from the latter, whose speeches hardly sound like those of one who came as a stranger to this country and language: "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" (228). In the passage in which Steinbeck outlines his speculations on human perception via the "trustee," he writes overabundantly there too about the power of this imagined monitor of experience:
He walks on the mountains maybe a hundred miles at a step and cliffs split off where his foot sets down. The landslides go on a long time after he has passed and the winds roar above the clouds where his head has been. . . . He has a voice too and it can rattle thunder down the sky and it can call as sweetly as wild doves in the evening by a beloved water. (75)
And on he gushes of his sweet invention, in language excessive enough to make readers realize that it is only language, a provisional and individual truth at best.
Not only language but also characters themselves often appear as overly artificial, as simplistic abstract statements instead of living people. Dehumanized, inconsistent, and often grotesque, they run no risk of being confused as real people--thus the overall sense of artificiality is maintained. They "may act in ways totally deviant in terms of the logic of the everyday 'commonsense' world," though perhaps consistent within the context of the fiction (Waugh 92-3). They, like fiction and reality in general, are no longer stable entities, but changeable and illusory, in fact more honestly and self-consciously what they really are.
Steinbeck states in his journal that some of "these people are essentially symbol people" in his book (27), and that he desires a combination of symbol and "real" for his characters. He realizes that his characters are not realistic in the expected sense and even has an imagined "Proofreader" say in the original dedication of the novel, "The characters aren't consistent" (Journal 181). The "Editor" of the same passage brings up objections Steinbeck is already aware of: "You make Cathy too black. The reader won't believe her. You make Samuel too white. The reader won't believe him. No Irishman ever talked like that" (181). Readers will not believe in these characters, nor are they supposed to, at least in the sense that the characters are real and living people. They are not; they are the creative inventions of an individual who wants to make sure people see his creation for what it is and no more.
Cathy Ames is a good example of this kind of excessiveness to the point of unreality. She is the black evil of the book, the incomprehensible darkness that is both part of us all and yet in its extreme foreign to our understanding. There is something missing in her, as if in lacking some light she symbolizes complete darkness. She is the self-admitted "devil" (148). She is described in animalistic terms: she is like a cat (143, 190) with small sharp teeth (202), and she bites Samuel with the snarling violence of a dog (224). She is also marked with a scar that Charles shares, connecting them both as symbols of evil. Her eyes are flat and expressionless, and "[t]here was no recognizable thing behind them. They were not human eyes at all" (206). She is so unlike other people that she remains a mystery to them and to us, black and impenetrable, with nothing familiar about her. She becomes a kind or type of creature, not a particular and real human being. She is instead a symbol, dehumanized even to the point that she is evil in the book. Through her influence and blood, "a cathyness will still be lurking" (99) even after this particular symbol-creature is gone.
At the opposite end of the spectrum, we encounter the excessively white and pure characters of Adam and Aron. Adam is the naive but good type, honest and kind to the point of becoming unbelievable. Lee sees Adam accurately: "I think in him kindness and conscience are so large that they are almost faults"; he is "maybe the goodest man I ever knew" (516). Adam is set apart from all others--"an invisible wall cut him off from the world" (634). He associates himself with the biblical Adam, and wants to build his own symbolical Eden (200). His actions are already laid down by the honesty and goodness of his past, for as Lee recognizes, "what you will do is written in every breath you've ever taken" (440). Thus he cannot help but tell Cathy of the money she's inherited from Charles, and he cannot gain from the war he works with through the draft board, even if it means destroying his son Cal by refusing his money. A symbol and not a real and complete person, Adam sees only the good and the correct: "That's his nature. It was the only way he knew. He didn't have any choice" (612).
Similarly, his son Aron also seems a symbol of pure good with no recognition of the darkness of Cathy. As a boy he is the angel whom everyone loves instinctively. His hair is fine and golden, and the sun lights up the top of his head like a halo to complete his "expression of angelic innocence" (392). Aron is compared to a beautiful fawn with little concern or responsibility (488). Like his father, he sets his path and follows it without being distracted by any evil around him, from which he is consistently protected by father and brother. He also is naive, and has "few facets and very little versatility" (488). He aims for perfection, both in school, which he finishes early, and in religion, which he vows to pursue as a vocation in the high church. As Abra notices, "He goes all one way" (560, 562), always to the extremes of purity and as a dehumanized symbol rather than a living person.
This symbolic pattern continues even in the characters' names, which set up a clearly artificial schema. Scholars have rejected the famous A/C pattern as too blatant, but that is exactly what Steinbeck has in mind at this point. Of course the A/C pattern and the biblical echoes are too obvious--Steinbeck wants them to be, so that the reader can see the creation in progress. Waugh notes, "Names are used to display the arbitrary control of the writer" (94) in Postmodern fiction, and they accomplish the same thing in East of Eden. The "world" is at the mercy of the "word." Mountains such as the Gabilans and the Santa Lucians become mere symbols for good and evil (5), and the letters A and C as the same. Adam is here; Cain and Abel are supposedly not here, but in fact they are here so obviously as Cal and Aron that no reader can miss them. The characters and names exist in a kind of surreality separate from our own. All along Steinbeck self-consciously flaunts the linguistic status of his characters to the point and goal of disbelief.
Steinbeck's use of narration is perhaps the clearest sign of the presence Postmodern self-consciousness. Rejecting the traditional linear narrative as too simple and as deceiving the reader into thinking the fiction is real, Postmodern writers disrupt the narrative flow into a wide variety of jerking eddies and swirling currents. Most common is a dislocation that consists of third-person narration with first-person intrusions, keeping the alternative world far from stable and autonomous. Few would disagree that East of Eden displays such disruptions, from its large number of digressions on every subject to its abrupt shifts between those digressions and the fictional plot. Steinbeck admitted in an interview, "There will be no plot in the true sense of the word" (qtd Hollimon 50). The book skips around in time--it describes family histories (19), details the present, and also tells what is to come in the book (like Adam and Cathy's marriage (97) and Adam's realization that Aron is missing ). There are far more digressions in the manuscript than in the published version, and often Steinbeck gets lost in a digression and must "get back to" the story (63). The constant tensions between the Trask story, the Hamilton "history," and Steinbeck's own digressions prevent any smooth narrative.
The narrating "I" breaks in constantly to disrupt the text, often just when the readers have adjusted to third-person narration. This keeps them on their toes, lest they forget this is a constructed reality told by an individual. Steinbeck writes in Journal of a Novel, "For many years I did not occur in my writing. . . . But in this book I am in it and I don't for a moment pretend not to be" (24). He is a personal and close presence, unlike the detached ironic narrator of much of Modernism. Mark W. Govoni sees that "he was destroying the modernist credo of the removed artist" (102). In the manuscript itself Steinbeck discusses the detachment Modernism attempted, and the author's attempt to disappear. But Steinbeck realizes that the writer always "chose the story, and he chose the details and picked out the words, and arranged the sequence. The writer was in every line, hiding" (101). Authors cannot pretend to be apart from their work, and so Steinbeck has decided to delight in his obvious presence.
He is committed emotionally to his work, like most Postmodern writers, even if that commitment is hesitant and self-conscious. First and foremost, Steinbeck is a personal presence as a father writing to his sons. "Dear Tom and John" is the recurring theme of the manuscript and keeps the abstract philosophy balanced with emotional concreteness. Here is a father telling a story to his sons, stopping to reflect on its relation to their lives and even giving them occasional fatherly advice about morality and behavior. He pauses at times to talk of Tom's efforts in learning to read and his own problems once with the very same task (370). He even tells the story of his recent disciplining of Tom with the silent treatment, and admits that he is the one who learned from the experience . The book is filled with such personal father-son moments. He writes in his journal, "This is a personal book and every now and then I have to yank it back to the personal" (80).
This personal book is based on the rememberings and creatings of one man, and his presence dominates the text. "Now I think I will tell you a book" (5), he begins, relaxed and conversational. He balances the excessive language of some passages with the simple storyteller's words: "You see, Tom and John--that's what the Trasks came from" (49). He tells of himself: for example, he hates debt like his mother did (180). Everything is personalized with "I think" (180) and "I think perhaps" (182), letting us know that what we hear is one man's opinion, no more.
It is a book of "I remember" more than anything else, with both the memory of history and the "I" that interprets it. Steinbeck the narrator remembers the "pince nez and thin white lips" of Lizzie Hamilton, and then embellishes her character from there (69). He remembers walking into the Hamilton's house to find Liza and Samuel drunk (71). He remembers the advent of World War I when "[w]e, I my family and friends had kind of bleacher seats and it was pretty exciting" (554), at least until local boys started dying. The book and everything in it starts from the "I remember" of this personal voice.
This Postmodern voice is not only personal, but also a changing and quite real human being, not the authorial god-like creator seen in so many Realistic works. Instead of being detached, omniscient and omnipotent, the narrating "I" is more like just another character in the drama, learning and changing and inconsistent like the rest of them. Postmodernism questions the notion of novelist as God by stripping the author of his traditional authority over the text. Charles Caramello says that this fiction "transforms the authorial self as the constituter of fiction into a textual self constituted by fiction" (3). Writers cannot assume that the "I" of their tales is any more stable or "real" than the characters or events in the tales, and so the "I" is demoted. Traditional fictional levels of author-narrator-character are collapsed, since all is a blend and "fictory" anyway and we cannot make such distinctions so clearly in a Poststructuralist world. So the focus of such novels often turns back to the "I," since its movements are most revealing as to what is occurring. Thus the fiction often "stages a conceptual drama of the authorial self" (Caramello 25). The "I" enters the frame, no longer capable of the fixed vantage point of traditional fiction, and becomes another character for the reader to observe.
Some critics have already identified the narrator of East of Eden as such a being. Louis Owens observes the merging of autobiography and fiction, "with the authorial voice joining the authorial constructs as a participant--a character--within the fiction" ("Story" 70). Karen J. Hopkins concludes, "He, as narrator, is exploring the universe fully as much as his characters are" (72). Yet this narrating "I" has not been examined near enough, considering the importance he has from a Postmodern perspective. He is more than just personal--he is the main character of the book, tracing the process of human perception and laying it bare for all to see, and finally encouraging the reader to take up the process from there.
The narrator accomplishes this in the manuscript by first demoting himself from a god-like height down into the fiction itself. He is not only the "I" telling the story, but an "I" within it. His presence is as divided and unstable as that of any of the characters and also as that of real people. The narrator is no simple being, but a collage of disparate identities that suggests that even the self, like truth, is no longer a stable object. The self is split and pluralistic, as Lacan declared, and incapable of reaching a consensus even about its own nature. Thus the narrator we see in the novel plays many roles: observer of a "history," author telling a fictional story to readers, father telling a story to his sons, personal presence who interacts with the text as a character does, child version of the "I" that tells of his experiences years ago, and the same child version but referred to in third person. All of these are the narrator; are any of them actually John Steinbeck?
The narrator makes it clear that what he is is not what the book is in its totality. The journal reads, "The book is a thing in itself, and it is not me . There is no ego in it. I am glad that you sense that while I am in it and of it, I am not the book. It is much more than I am" (125). He pursues this line of thought in the "trustee" chapter of the manuscript. He asks rhetorically what a "book" is, then tries to answer: "It is a mystery for the book isn't me, it can't be. A book has a life of its own. It is compounded of me I guess but it is more than I am and different from me" (73). The brain, which takes in all sensory data without prejudice, "perhaps is the me--but the monitor, the [trustee], the traffic director that's the He and He is the book not necessarily like the Me at all" (75). The idea is to turn attention away from the "me" or "I," for the book exceeds any simple self, and toward the "He" that somehow exceeds the "I." Yet this "He" obviously must also be simultaneously contained within the "I"--there is only one person, after all, who is writing this book. Thus the narrator is both the observer and the teller, the doctor of the text and its patient.
He is also the writer of "Dear Tom and John," and thus the father talking to his sons, as we have already seen. Yet beyond that he is also a son himself, at least as projected back into the past time of the book. The narrator remembers, in first person narration, lying on aunt Mollie Hamilton's bearskin rug (69). The "I remember" already discussed implies a narrator once witness to what he tells. Thus we hear the "I" as the only son of Olive Hamilton, a son who contracts pneumonia at age sixteen and is pushed back to health by his mother (179-80). "We" in this context refers to himself and his sister Mary, who waited as children for uncle Tom to visit and slip gum under their pillows (314). The young "I" vividly remembers Tom taking him fishing--the child narrator has seemed to usurp control of the book until, almost as if a person with multiple personality disorder were guiding us through the story, the narrator flips back into another role.
Strangely, we see this child narrator later, but now from the outside, in third person from the perspective of the "observer" narrator who has been following Adam around Salinas. Adam visits Ernest and Olive Steinbeck at 130 Central Avenue, and "Mary and John peeked around the edges" of their mother to look at him (446). One of the other personalities is in charge now, and the child narrator is suppressed. This "I" is clearly not a stable or simple being, but a complex polyphony of voices that refuse to be pinned down as much as truth or history do in the novel. The narrator, and in a similar way the human self, is a construct as provisional as that of reality in the Postmodern sensibility.
This narrator, whoever he is, is obviously no longer the "god" who rules over all in detachment. He is instead on equal status with the characters and readers, and is no longer omniscient or omnipotent. He does not, for instance, know why Samuel came to the Salinas Valley, nor how he met Liza (11, 13). He has no idea why Dessie did not marry the man she loved (69), and can't say how Cathy heard about Mr. Edwards (129). Over and over again we hear "I don't know" from the narrator now fallen from the heights of omniscience--"I don't know what became of [Charles] finally" (157) or who the man was that called on the sheriff and asked him to burn Kate's horrible pictures (632). He cannot remember the name of particular streets in Salinas (252), nor even the sound of Tom Hamilton's voice or the words he used (318). His knowledge is incomplete and changing, just like that of a character.
Almost as ignorant as his readers, the narrator approaches the material of his text and his past just like his readers do--by filling in the details himself. We've noticed this already as his fictionalizing of history. When he speaks of Alice, he prefaces her actions with "[i]t is probably that" (27). It was "Tom I think" who gave her mother the parrot (69). He, like his readers, can only speculate on what might have been: "It is probable" that Aron would have come to Salinas even if Adam hadn't moved them there (488)--but ultimately the narrator can't say for sure. Several times he says, "Come to think of it" (450, 590), as if he is surprised or uncertain. The narrator encounters the novel's material just as the others do, and acts and reflects on the material like they do: "At such a time it seems natural and good to me to ask myself these questions. What do I believe in? What must I fight for and what fight against?" (155).
Demoted to equal status with the characters, the narrator can ask questions like these and, correspondingly, learn from them and change throughout the book just as characters and readers do. He states at one point, "In the process of trying to relate this story to you, I have remembered things I had forgotten" (370). He is not static but changing. "Digging back and setting down in some kind of sequence, I am learning, too. Some things which had not seemed important have taken on a golden shine, and others that seemed sharp and strong have faded. You will find that true in yourselves, sometime" (370)--since no person's thoughts remain constant and unalterable. The father narrator even learns when he recalls his disciplining of his son Tom. He sees that his punishment was not for Tom's good, but for his own ego. Thus "I, who thought I was teaching--learned" .
The most famous example of the narrator's changing nature is undoubtably his "recanting" of the nature of Cathy Ames, something which miraculously survived revision. At first she is a character of total evil and one we cannot gain access to: "It is impossible to go into the mind of Cathy. What you would find there would seem gibberish. . . . With a Cathy there can be no actual empathy" (105). She is a total "monster," born lacking any conscience or good, incapable of regret or love. And then, in a well known passage, the narrator changes his mind: "It seemed to me when I told you Cathy was a monster that it was so. Now I have bent close . . . , I wonder if it was true" (214). A curious kind of sympathy grows for her, as well as descriptions of her inner mind that was previously called "gibberish." The narrator wonders, "What could have been her thoughts," and then answers, "She was trapped" (214). From here on the narrator can suddenly access Cathy's mind, can share in her methodical planning and scheming (272) and finally can fully express her wandering thoughts before she commits suicide (618ff). Suddenly she feels a kind of love for Aron and a desire to protect him, and then the regret and "lonely fear" she remembers feeling as a child (618). The inaccessible devil has changed into a semi-sympathetic, understandable young girl and old woman.
Critics have blasted Steinbeck repeatedly for this change, accusing him of inconsistency and indecisiveness. I don't deny those characteristics in the narrator, but instead see them as part of the intent. The Postmodern narrator, demoted from his god-like status, welcomes involvement in the fictional world on its own level. He is a character who can be instable, ignorant, and changed just like anyone else. And to let readers see this changeability, he leaves in the various stages of his "education." No longer willing to claim authority as the holy source of truth, he exposes his presence in the work. The Wizard of Oz steps out from behind the curtain and self-consciously admits the creative role he has taken and the artificiality of his creation.
So is the Wizard in this book, the narrator, equivalent to Steinbeck the author? After the structuralist work of Wayne Booth and others to break down the many "tellers" of stories, we instinctively want to say no. John Ditsky says we need to separate them in East of Eden, though he doesn't prove his case ("I in Eden"). Daniel Buerger says the same thing, explaining that the voice in the journal is different from that of the "authorial narrator" of the novel, and thus they are not equivalent (12). He and others like to assume that Steinbeck "knew what he was doing," and thus his "recanting" of Cathy was planned as part of the demoting and learning process of the narrator. And yet if we take Buerger's stance that the journal reveals the true author, we run into a problem, for even in the journal Steinbeck's view of Cathy changes. On May 30 he writes, "I am limited here by not being able to go into Kate's mind" (95), but by July 9 he says her "life is one of revenge on other people because of a vague feeling of her own lack" (124). The author who supposedly knows what he is doing writes earlier, "This is a very headstrong story, Pat. It has taken its head and it goes as it wishes and I learn from it" (29).
One of two things must happen. Either we abandon Buerger's assumption that the voice of the journal is Steinbeck himself, or we admit that Steinbeck himself changes and learns as he writes, thus partly sacrificing the idea that he knew what he was doing at every stage. If we opt for the first, we reach the fascinating conclusion that in this work Steinbeck the author created an implied author who wrote a journal that refers to a book in which the implied author in turn created a narrator with something resembling multiple personality disorder. This complicated possibility stands rather in line with the Postmodern self-concern for what makes a text and teller, and we see that neither is stable or simple. And if we take the other option, we simply admit that Steinbeck, like all humans, knows that versions of reality, like versions of fiction, are provisional and can evolve or be changed. He thus flaunts that process of construction in both novel and journal.
The fact remains that the narrator is highly self-conscious of what he does, thus laying bare for the reader all of his Postmodern techniques. Any apparent didacticism is always undermined by this personal presence and the flaunting nature of his creating process. Even when the father narrator appears to be preaching objective truths to his sons, these truths are implicitly hesitant and provisional, the best he can do at the moment from his experience. For example, he states, "Development of a new country seems to follow a pattern," and then shows how the explorers lead to businessmen and in turn culture (250). Yet this apparent preaching is surrounded by "I"s that undermine its universality, and the very chapter begins as a conversational letter to Tom and John. The same self-conscious framing occurs later when the narrator sets down the profound influence, in his mind, of the automobile and its speed and power (372). It is a book about beliefs and morality, but self-consciously so.
In only one instance is this self-consciousness questionable. At the start of the last book we hear, "I know few things to which there are no buts, no on-the-other-hands, no with-the-exception-ofs but this I know--that underneath their topmost layers of frailty men want to be good and want to be loved" (480). The narrator seems to maintain a kind of objectivity here, though his insistence is a bit overdone and in fact draws more attention than the "truth" itself. This might be a point at which Steinbeck is pre-Postmodern, for in his experimenting he still held onto the shadows of Realism and Modernism and could not help but use their seeming objectivity at times.
The final way in which Steinbeck achieves self-consciousness in East of Eden is regular discussion about the writing process itself. Postmodern writers, Waugh notes, "all explore a theory of fiction through the practice of writing fiction" (2). Uncertain of what reality actually is, they focus instead on the "how" of its representation, both on the page and in the minds of individuals. As Rudiger Imhof puts it, "It is the creative process itself on which the interest rests" (295). This is certainly true for Steinbeck, whose sense of writing is that of discovery, both of self and of reality. Mark Govoni has noticed that the process of his writing and the work itself fuse into one complete effort (74). Louis Owens has explored this angle too, and sees East of Eden as "the study of the creative process itself, with the focus being the mind of John Steinbeck" ("Story" 62). He, or at least the narrator, is the pivot of the meeting of fiction and history, of theory and practice, and thoughts and images of the writing act inundate the work.
We have already examined the "trustee" chapter in this regard, for it is an obvious example of the narrator exploring the act of writing as he does so. He asks, "What is it like to tell a book?" and then tries to speculate. Elsewhere in the manuscript he continues this speculation. As father narrator he asks himself what exactly he's going to tell his sons of evil in the world, considering the repressive barriers society puts up to hide evil. But he concludes that he must "tell you everything that is or seems to me to be true" (95)--an important distinction, as he wants his attempts at "truth" to remain self-conscious and tentative, solely his own constructions.
The narrator distinguishes between "truth" and "lie" when he calls Cathy the latter, and then defines a story as something that "utilizes the trappings and appearance of truth for the interest of the listener as well as the teller. A story has in it neither gain nor loss" (105)--it simply is , for it honestly includes both the history and fiction which make up all acts of perception. A lie, on the other hand, "is a device for gain or escape" (105). A lie tries to be all history or all fiction and so exclude one of the ever-present elements. This escape cannot succeed, and so the story actually comes closer to the truth, because of its Postmodern awareness, than any lying attempt to write an objective "history." "Fictory" is truer than "fact."
The narrator also digresses to explore the theory of writing prevalent in Steinbeck's time. He tells us of the kind of story Ernest Hemingway writes and its powerful influence on other writers: "Its intention was to project a story and a mood on the reader's mind as though it were happening to the reader at that moment" (99). Thought and criticism are left for later in this movement, and so the writer disappears from the book, or tries to--an illusion that Steinbeck, as we have seen, cannot accept at this point in his experimental career. What the Modernists or Realists leave out he wants to include, and so achieve a more comprehensive "mimesis" of reality, one in which teller reveals himself so all readers can see him. References to writing abound in the manuscript, from lectures on the "literature of the developing West" (175) to distinctions between chronicler and novelist (310). An example of metafiction, East of Eden is about fiction as much as it is fiction.
Another way Steinbeck achieves this metafictional nature is inclusion of other physical books throughout the story. Robert DeMott's introduction to Steinbeck's Reading: A Catalogue of Books Owned and Borrowed presents the many reading influences behind East of Eden , a book for which "[t]he sacrosanct nature of books and the creative tradition of reading formed a strong impulse in Steinbeck's imagination" (xxxii). Dr. Gunn's Family Medicine is a kind of bible for the Hamilton family. We also find William James' The Principles of Psychology, The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius that Lee reads, and of course Cathy's copy of Alice in Wonderland . Books and allusions to books fill these pages with their pages, increasing the many discourses present while commenting on the fictionality of this fiction.
East of Eden is a book about the making of books, and in a parallel vein it is an act of perception about the process of perceiving. Readers are allowed behind the Wizard's curtain to see for themselves what happens. Theory as well as practice is here. We hear of Hemingway and truth and abstract philosophies of the art of fiction, but also of the physical dimensions of the work. Journal of a Novel reveals the workshop itself, with Steinbeck's constant concern with such details as the angle and brightness of his desk and the condition of his specifically procured pencils. Text and sub-text combine so we can see the entire creative process from start to finish. It's as if Steinbeck says to us: Watch as I incorporate other constructions into my own construction of history, then expose myself and the construction for what they are, since I want you to see exactly what I'm doing and how I'm doing it.
In its resistance to a single objective ontology, Postmodernism moves beyond both Realism and Modernism in yet another way. The two latter movements are somewhat traditional antitheses of each other. As John Barth discovers, Realism and Modernism set up the extremes of a continuum that Postmodernism tries to transcend:
If the modernists, carrying the torch of romanticism, taught us that [Realism's] linearity, rationality, consciousness, cause and effect, naive illusionism, transparent language, innocent anecdote, and middle-class moral conventions are not the whole story, then from the perspective of these closing decades of our century we may appreciate that the contraries of these things [the tenets of Modernism] are not the whole story either. (70)
Modernism, as simply the opposition to Realism, gives the other half of the complete picture, and it is that complete (and incredibly complex) picture of reality that Postmodernism comes closer to achieving. It is an attempt to synthesize the two movements by saying that there are no simple binary oppositions. Reality does not consist of computer-like ones and zeros, but all of the infinite numbers in between and around them. As Brian McHale illustrates, Postmodernism exhibits a hesitation between the "real" and the fantastical, or the literal and the metaphorical. Simple allegory cannot survive, but is more often set against itself and falls apart within the text to show that no simple oppositions can encompass what reality is all about. A work is neither fiction nor history, but a complex combination of the two. The world is not black and white, but a complex gray without any simple answers.
Steinbeck seems to rejoice in this gray, for ultimately in East of Eden there are no simple oppositions or allegories. As we have already seen, the book is a self-conscious mixture of history and fiction. So also do we encounter syntheses of determinism/freedom, good/evil, and the A/C pattern discussed earlier. All these elements co-exist in this alternate world as well as in our own, and are essentially indistinguishable. In an insightful article, "'I' in Eden: The Narrational Voice in Steinbeck," John Ditsky explores these dualities. He sees that the novel tempts us to accept the oppositions just listed. "But the novel strikes me now as being about precisely the discarding of simplistic dualities" (66). He goes on to argue that this view of reality is not non-teleological, since it doesn't reduce experience, "computer-wise, to data no more troublesome than 1 and 0" (66). I have problems with this definition of non-teleology, since I would think a non-teleological stance is more concerned with honest and comprehensive presentation of the world than with simplification of it. I would agree with Jackson J. Benson that non-teleological vision is a focus on what is , and though he insists that the narrator must be detached to accomplish this ("John Steinbeck"), I submit that even with the narrator personally present the novel achieves a kind of non-teleological vision, though of a different kind than in The Grapes of Wrath . I will pursue the exact nature of this vision shortly.
Steinbeck's most obvious embracing of gray is his insistence on the co-existence of good and evil. The last book begins with an explicit discussion of this mingling:
There is only one story in the world and only one continuing thought and wonder. Humans are caught, in their lives, in their thoughts in their hungers, ambitions, in their avarice, and cruelty and in their kindness and generosity in a net of good and evil. This is the only story we have and it occurs on all levels of intelligence. Virtue and vice were warp and woof of our first consciousness and they will be the fabric of our last, no matter what changes we may impose on field and river and mountain, on economy and manners. (478)
We cannot escape the totality of what we are, which is good and evil. Near the end of the novel the narrator pauses to check if his readers understand what his story is about. "Does it say that good and evil coexist and not only that but that they are inextricably woven together" ? For the narrator "all things are related with an incalculable complexity"  and it is that complexity that gives beauty to the world. So only the complex things are real and can survive; the simple are always false.
We saw earlier how Postmodern fiction often reduces characters to simplistic abstractions, how even their names can be metaphors for concepts and have nothing to do with real people. Cathy was all black, Aron all white. The notion of breakdown of binary oppositions would seem to contradict that simplistic system, and yet both are present in many Postmodern works. Authors first set up a simplistic system or allegory so that they can show it collapse upon itself in the face of complex reality. Without an allegory to tempt us with simple truths, we cannot learn that no simple truths can hold up.
So Cathy Ames begins as simply black, but as we have seen she changes into a character much more complex. The narrator's incomprehension of her character turns into a kind of pity, and he says that it's "easy to say she was bad but there is no meaning unless we know why" (214). At first Cathy feels complete and superior to others, but suddenly Adam visits her in the brothel and she senses something in him that she lacks and does not understand; this makes her feel "helpless and shaken" (414). We see the once-stoic Kate cry, grow old, feel fear and regret, and move away from the simplistic images of her we first had. We find out she looks like Aron, of all people, and wants to protect him--Steinbeck slowly tears the simple "devil" away from us to show us that there are no such creatures to that extreme. We end up with a little girl worthy of some pity who, in quaking fear of what she lacks as a person, commits suicide while wishing to be with Alice in Wonderland.
Even Aron, the seemingly pure angel, is complicated. Physically he looks like his whore mother. In his holy quest to enter the church he often remarks that he feels inadequate for the task. He says at one point, "Sometimes I feel dirty. I want to get away from the dirt and be clean" (548). Aron certainly remains more angelic than demonic, but the complication is there. The famous A/C pattern collapses under its own weight even within the text. Characters and people are both good and bad, both determined and free, both fictional and historical. The breakdown of dualities crescendos in the character of Cal, the battlefield of good and evil who learns to accept both and find a hopeful co-existence of both armies within him.
In a letter to Covici Steinbeck writes, "Cal is my baby. He is the Everyman, the battle ground between good and evil, the most human of all, the sorry man. In that battle the survivor is both" (Life in Letters 429). In Cal we see the explicit struggle between dualities--since, after all, he is the product of A and C. From early childhood, he looks more like his father but feels more like his mother inside. He manipulates his brother like Cathy manipulates others, but also feels a regret for doing so, and prays to God that he be more like Aron and not mean or lonely (440). A few years later, in the throes of puberty, he is torn even more painfully between extremes: "In one moment he was dedicated and pure and devoted and in the next, he wallowed in filth and in the next he groveled in shame and emerged rededicated" (518). He begins to deny that he is simply a reproduction of his mother, because at least he is sorry for his manipulations (528). His conscience allows him to self-reflect and thus face the dualities warring within him. Lee admits, "Cal's trying to find himself" (546), and what he learns through the refused gift to Adam is that good and evil don't have to be warring tribes within him, but that they can co-exist and mingle if he can only accept them both and work with them. He learns from Lee that he is not unique in feeling torn, but only "a snot nose kid--mean sometimes, incredibly generous sometimes" (642). Blessed by his father for all that he is, Cal can come to grips with the synthesis Lee teaches: "He's crammed full to the top with every good thing and every bad thing" (655)--so is everyone else, though perhaps less obviously. The battle is over, and Cal, a more complex and thus "real" character than anyone else, has the most hope for the future, for he is at the end the most self-aware.
It is this self-awareness that makes for the non-teleological vision necessary for survival in a post-Edenic world. People must see themselves completely, for all that they are; they must be open to accepting an existence in which reality and fiction merge, as do good and evil and determinism and freedom. Oversimplification is disastrous, and anyone who tries to construct a reality unaware of the sum total will inevitably fail. Various characters in East of Eden try to "write" their lives or realities without this Postmodern perception, and each attempt ends in failure.
Adam is a prime example of someone who acts before truly seeing the nature of himself and of reality. Jackson J. Benson sees Adam as victimized by his "own stubborn lack of perception" ("John Steinbeck" 263)--he lacks a non-teleological vision for much of the novel, and it shows. Ever since his childhood he has a "covered brain" and looks out "the long tunnels of his eyes" (31) at the world. He believes in his father despite any evidence of latter's wrongdoing. He also creates an illusion of Cathy, whom he sees as "a helpless child" (149) that he can care for. He sees her the way he wants to, and lacking complete perception can accept no other vision: "Perhaps Adam did not see Cathy at all so lighted was she by his eyes. Burned in his mind was an image of beauty and tenderness, a sweet and holy girl, precious beyond thinking, clean and loving and that image was Cathy to her husband and nothing Cathy did or said could warp Adam's Cathy" (157). When she threatens to leave him, Adam cannot conceive of it and so ignores it. His single-minded vision of creating an Eden for himself and his family will not be shattered.
But of course his illusions are shattered by a gunshot, and Adam withdraws from the world that now seems anarchic to him. When Samuel confronts him his eyes "were dull as though he did not use them much for seeing" (292). Nor has he ever. Adam begins to realize that the Cathy he saw was his creation, and that he knows little of the "true" Cathy. Samuel advises, "You should let the real Cathy kill the dream Cathy" (334), which is exactly what happens when he visits her in her brothel and discovers to his amazement a person he never knew at all. He says significantly, "Now I see you. . . . I remember your face but I had never seen it. Now I can forget it" (358). Of course it's not so easy to escape built illusions, and when Cathy dies he mourns, "Oh my poor darling" (636). But Adam does make progress toward achieving a kind of Postmodern vision of the world. He does, finally, on his deathbed recognize the good and evil of his son Cal and blesses him. He sees, for perhaps the first time, that a person is not good or evil, determined or free, but a compilation of them all. At the end his eyes have "great depth and clarity" (662).
Other characters who try to "write" their lives without complete perception are not so lucky, for they never achieve the balance Adam does. On one side, Aron never learns to accept evil as a part of him, but instead must fight it and seek a complete purity impossible to attain. So he invents Abra in like form, something she despises but doesn't know how to stop without collapsing his whole world. He falls in love with the "immaculate dream" he has created (588). So also does Aron create his mother, out of "everything good he could think of" (562). Of course his illusions do not last, for Abra is not the Lily Maid, nor is his mother even close. Unable to admit evil into his vision of the world, Aron surrenders himself to the army and dies a meaningless death.
On the other extreme, Cathy also stops short of a non-teleological vision that would allow her a full and clear life. At the end her vision of herself is shattered, but unlike Adam there is nothing to replace it, no Samuel to shake her up and get her to see. She is alone, capable of realizing she lacks something that others have but incapable of knowing what that is and thus seeing the whole picture of reality. In the end the light simply hurts her eyes (524) and she builds herself a dark lean-to to hide in rather than face a reality she cannot know.
Samuel and Lee have the best grip on this complete reality from the beginning. They are the "seers" of the book, the prophets who glimpse the complexities of the world and will not settle for simple binary oppositions. Samuel knows the land and soil of this valley, knows the people, feels both the good and evil of it all. He sees Adam's illusion-building early on and knows he must be the one to destroy it and free Adam from his blindness (200). Unlike Liza, who reads the Bible without questioning and sees it as black and white (290), Samuel is a questioner: "I take a pleasure in inquiring into things" (300). Even when Lee disrupts his reality with musings on the Genesis story, Samuel is more joyful than shattered.
He passes this joy on to Lee, who shares his love for books and his passion for questioning. Lee, a foreigner and thus better suited to observe the worlds of the Salinas Valley and the United States for what they are, sees the sum total of what is around him rather than a tiny part. He sees beyond Adam's determinism and Cathy's evil and discovers "Thou mayest" and "the glory of the choice. That makes a man a man" (342). He would rather know everything than be caught in a world of lies, even if the knowledge is painful. As his father told him, "There's more beauty in the truth even if it is dreadful beauty" (418). He is also one of the few characters who can face his past head on, without flinching or profound warping of what it means to him. He abhors covering up any truth; he hates selectivity. Thus he encourages Cal to see his goodness as well as his badness, his freedom as well as his determined "blood." He also embraces change instead of fearing it, for in his non-teleological mind the more complexities he is opened up to the better he will know the universe around him and even himself. In a key passage Lee tells Samuel: "[Y]ou 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" (194).
Unfortunately Samuel dies, and Lee is old and finds a permanent home with Adam. The future is left to Cal. Lee helps pass on this non-teleological, Postmodern vision to Cal, who is young and facing an uncertain but hopeful future with Abra and her strength. After all, Caleb did make it to the Promised Land. And Cal has that potential here, as long as he keeps his eyes open to who he is and what has happened to him. He and Abra walk to the edge of town, and "blackness lay ahead of them and the road was unpaved" (666). They must write their own futures now, armed with self-knowledge and an open vision.
This vision is both non-teleological and Postmodern, because as it observes all it can about the complexities of reality and the self, it does so with a self-conscious recognition that "reality" and "self" are constructions, and that any vision of the universe is tentative at best. There is therefore an unceasing process of self-reflection occurring simultaneously with the construction of one's own world. People need to be aware of themselves, especially where they have been or come from, in order to write their futures with any kind of success. This is Steinbeck's guide to living.
The steps to accomplishing this vision are laid out clearly in East of Eden. As we have seen perception begins with a definite place, a physical setting that people and events come out of and that consciousness reacts to. We need grist to put in the mill. The grist is very real matter, the raw material without which thought would be impossible. The mountains to the west and east, the Salinas Valley, Samuel Hamilton, and John Steinbeck are all real things.
But the grist then goes into the mill of the human mind, and the raw material is transformed into abstract products. The human mind likes allegory and simple answers to complex questions, and therefore tends to impose patterns and binary oppositions on what it takes in. The mountains, therefore, seem at first glance evil on one side and good on the other, producing simplistic reactions: "Wherefore I always found in myself a dread of west and a love of east" (5). The mind wants to accept Bible stories at face value, in black and white, and copy the mythical archetypes onto the world around it. In the stage of simple abstraction, we see the world as we want to see it.
But the next step is recognition of the previous steps. With that awareness comes the understanding of what we have imposed on reality with our minds and how much our minds want to simplify reality despite the danger of doing so. And now we have a chance, because we are conscious of our own roles as shapers of what is around us. This is the entry point of Postmodernism. What we do next is dark and unpaved, like Cal's future, but at least we are more aware of what we are and are thus better equipped to affect our futures. We can write our futures only after reading our own pasts as accurately and self-consciously as possible.
This is exactly what East of Eden is all about, and on several different levels. First, we see characters within the work coming to this Postmodern awareness; Cal especially exhibits the process of coming to be that Steinbeck implies is universal. Second, the narrator himself serves as a case study of this process. The narrator, through various "personalities," explores his own past, starting with place and people, moving through the allegories and patterns of A/C, good/evil, determinism/freedom, and fiction/history, and gradually becoming self-aware and abandoning the simple dualities in favor of a more accurate and complex vision of reality. He reads his past in order to see his present and be able to write his future. And it is John Steinbeck's search, either through the voices of a narrator or his own. It is his own Roots , written at a time in his life when he needed to pause and reflect on who he was and where he was going.
East of Eden, as a case study of characters and John Steinbeck, does not stop with them. At its broadest and most important level it moves into the hands of its readers, who are the ones left to decide what to do with the Postmodern creation before them. Because the author/narrator has been demoted and is now part of the fiction instead of god above it, there is a power vacuum in the work. There is no longer anyone left to put it all together. If it is a case study, it must be a case study for someone else. That someone is the reader. This work is ultimately for the readers, who become writers and interpreters of this story as well as their own.
Clearly Steinbeck wants the involvement of his readers, as his journal attests. "I want the participation of my reader. I want him to be so involved that it will be his story" (123)--the role is not a passive one, but dynamic and engaging. He states his desires for this reader: "My wish is that when my reader has finished with this book, he will have a sense of belonging in it. . . . I want it to be a life experience. I would like the reader to forget where he read the little essays and even think he invented them himself" (61-2). Reader becomes writer, and pre-Postmodern Steinbeck doesn't mind the loss of authority one bit.
The readers' presence is already within the text itself. But who are these readers? There is no simple "reader," one being with whom we can identify. Instead there are many levels of readers, just as there were personalities of narrators. In East of Eden there are not only many of what Gerald Prince calls "signs of the 'You'" (17), but there are many different "you's" as well. Steinbeck, it appears, sticks to some kind of Postmodern polyphony even to the point of the readers of his work.
First and most explicitly, we have his sons Tom and John, to whom the book is ostensibly written. They are young boys when he writes, but on another level he knows it "may be many years before you read this book" (5). We constantly come back to "Dear Tom and John," and thus remember that some of the narrator's preaching is fatherly in nature. Another class of readers are the "old men" the narrator imagines reading of the Salinas Valley and objecting because it's not a true representation of place and time from their own experience. He addresses them directly: "Do you remember hearing [the sparrows], old men" (252)? He imagines them reading this book, hating him for getting it wrong, but nevertheless pleasantly remembering how it was (252). These two levels, sons and old men, might be what Gerald Prince calls the "virtual reader" or "narratee," for whom the author most thinks he's writing and on whom he endows certain qualities to make them something like ideal readers for his text.
Yet obviously, in spite of these kinds of readers, Steinbeck is aware of writing a book to be published at large, and a broader reading audience also is implied. He says at one point "[o]ur children" know cars from childhood (422), implying an audience of approximately his own age. At yet a broader level, he speaks to whomever will listen. He notes in his journal, "I want to tell [my sons] directly, and perhaps by speaking directly to them I shall speak directly to other people" (4). He is very much aware of "the general reader" (40). He discusses in the manuscript the fact that some "words may set off an explosion in one reader and have no effect on another" (97). The reading public is hardly consistent or predictable, as he knows so well from his past experiences. All these levels of readers are mutually exclusive, for when Steinbeck addresses a broader audience, for example, his sons become "my sons" and "them," not "you" (39).
In fact we might theorize that the levels of narrator and reader correspond loosely. A possible schema is shown below:
|Father||Sons Tom and John|
|Child John Steinbeck (first or third person)||"Old men" who remember Salinas|
|Observer of "history"||General audience (Steinbeck's approx. age)|
|Writer/Teller of total work or "fictory"||General audience (public at large)|
In a sense the levels get broader, from the narrative role of father to that of self-conscious creator of a complex fictionalizing of history, and from two specific boys to the public at large. This chart may not be exhaustive, but it suggests a way to view the various "personalities" involved in narrator and reader. As the original dedication to the novel suggests, Steinbeck intends to dramatize the reader as well as the author: "And from this meeting [of Writer, Editor, and Proofreader] a new character has emerged. He is called the Reader. . . . Well, by God, Pat, he's just like me, no stranger at all. He'll take from my book what he can bring to it" (Journal 182).
Reader involvement fits quite naturally into Postmodern fiction, since the latter seeks to dramatize within it all aspects of the fiction-making process. Both narrator and reader join characters in the text. If, according to Linda Hutcheon, the novel is "a continuation of that ordering, fiction-making process that is part of our normal coming to terms with experience" (Narcissistic Narrative 89), then readers are very much involved in the entire effort. Their presence is as essential as that of author or characters. Waugh believes that in this fiction authors are themselves "'invented' by readers who are 'authors' working through linguistic, artistic and cultural conventions" (134). Readers face the arbitrary and complex alternate reality and are co-creators of its meaning or significance. No longer manipulated by a god-like authorial figure, the reader "extracts, invents, creates a meaning and an order for the people in the fiction" (Federman 14). The reader takes charge of the situation.
First, readers must participate with characters and narrator in meeting the material of this particular text. In the chaos of self-conscious techniques, allegories that collapse, and discussions of the theory of writing, readers step in to try to understand what's happening and why. Without readers there would be no one to understand the experimental nature of East of Eden, no one to put the puzzle together. The story on its own is unfinished; it is a "writerly" text that needs the reader to achieve its clarity and its broader goal, which we will get to shortly.
The literary theory of Wolfgang Iser fits well into this discussion, for in it we find the process by which readers participate in the co-creation of a text's meaning. According to Iser's "phenomenological theory" laid out in The Implied Reader, both text and readers converge to bring the literary work into existence (275). The text itself contains inherent component parts (be they words or sentences or whatever)--stable points like stars in the sky. Readers, using their individual imaginations, cause these parts to interact and gives them a sense of wholeness--readers create the constellations out of the given stars. To use another metaphor, readers have the opportunity "for filling in the gaps left by the text itself" (280). The process of reading is a series of attempts to accomplish this, ever-changing because new stars are coming to be and changing the sky as one reads. Readers set up expectations or "pre-intentions" of which constellations they see, but these expectations are continually undermined or shown inadequate by the text itself. Thus "[a]s we read, we oscillate to a greater or lesser degree between the building and the breaking of illusions" (288). Through the dynamic and discursive process of trial and error, readers attempt to give order to a text's components. Though the text limits what constellations can be produced by placing the actual stars, readers still have great authority in creating one out of a wide variety of possible constructions, each reflecting the disposition of a particular reader. So, as Iser clarifies in Prospecting, reading is "the reader's transformation of signals sent out by the text" (4).
East of Eden, especially in manuscript form, is just such a text ready for transformation. Interestingly, Lee even uses the metaphor of the stars and constellations in the novel when he says that looking for meaning is "our prime occupation": "Remember the old argument--do the stars make designs or do we make designs and the stars conform" (664). Iser would answer, "Both." Regardless, readers are the ones to "concretize" (to use Ingarden's term) this work, the ones needed to fill in the gaps--because East of Eden leaves holes in it and does not tell everything on its own. For instance, the narrator never says explicitly that Cathy puts her medicine in Adam's tea so that he falls asleep (153), nor do we know for sure if Kate fakes being sick or actually is after Faye rewrites her will (274). The readers assume these things occur--they fill in the gaps. Mr. Rolf tells of a woman who has begun attending his church, and only the readers can put it all together and see that it is Kate (548). Earlier in the manuscript the narrator digresses about being approached by an editor about problems with "filthy words" in another of his books. They go over it and find none, for the "readers had filled them in out of their own store" (97).
The readers co-create East of Eden , fleshing out the skeleton the narrator gives them. Steinbeck notes in his journal that he is trying "to keep it in an extremely low pitch and to let the reader furnish the emotion" (49). He does this, for example, with the scene of the birth of the twins, which is told simply, focusing only on the characters and their reactions, not on any deep thought or reflection. Steinbeck makes Covici aware in the journal that "you furnished every one of those details yourself" (86). He may give the readers the stars to work with, but they form the constellations.
But the readers have a broader role as well, one not confined to this particular text, and it is at this level that the book takes its ultimate meaning. If this text is a case study for the process of the individual coming to be, then it is the readers who read this case study and have the opportunity to apply it to their own lives. If this is a book about fiction-making, so is it also about reality-making and life-making. Readers can follow the examples they see before them to learn about their own pasts and selves. They too, like the narrator, can learn to read their pasts and thus find their present and write their futures.
Steinbeck wants his readers to go beyond his particular text to the texts of their own lives. He realizes that truly successful books burrow into the readers' minds and make a change, and that readers are most interested in using texts which relate to their own persons. In the manuscript Lee says that "people are only interested in themselves. If a story is not about the hearer, he will not listen" (304). East of Eden is very much about the hearers, for it shows them how to find themselves. In the journal he insists, "I shall want to draw the reader into the personal so that he is reading about himself" (145). This should happen mostly at an unconscious level--this thesis "should sink deeply under the skin" (123). The big book is "a wedge driven into a man's personal life" (66): the mind changes to accommodate the wedge, and when the book is done "the mind cannot ever be quite what it was before" (67). It is better, more aware of self and its own perceptions of reality.
This is precisely the goal of Postmodern fiction, and the point at which reader-response criticism intersects and collaborates with it. "In showing us how literary fiction creates its imaginary worlds, metafiction helps us to understand how the reality we live day by day is similarly constructed, similarly 'written'" (Waugh 18)--the readers learn about the process of perceiving reality. The fiction teaches the readers how to create a universe. Distinctions between "real" and "imaginary" are irrelevant, because as we have seen each and every "writing" contains both aspects. As Wendy Deutelbaum puts it, reading is both a realizing of a text by "selves-projection" and a rewriting of one's self through interaction with the created world (100). Or, as Wolfgang Iser concludes, "with every text we learn not only about what we are reading but also about ourselves" (Prospecting 29).
One critic who has explored this self-realization is Norman N. Holland, who in 5 Readers Reading offers his own model of the interaction of self and text, with emphasis on the former. Holland gives birth to the interesting notion of "identity theme," which is a particular reader's own version of reality, or "lifestyle," or "personality." It is the "individual's characteristic way of dealing with the demands of outer and inner reality" (8), and is used every time an individual interacts with the world. Thus readers bring their "identity themes" along when they encounter a text and read that text through the lenses of their own identities. For Holland, "Each reader 'storied his story.' He created his experience of the literary work from his own lifestyle" (63). Individuals react to a book as they do to everyday experience--by assimilating it into the visions of reality they've already established for themselves. The reader uses the book's "physical reality as grist with which to re-create himself" (129).
One thing that Holland does not emphasize as much is the changeability of the individual. Holland views the "identity theme" as fairly constant throughout a person's life, as if the lens through which I see things never changes from age 7 to 70. Common sense tells us differently; like the image of book as "wedge," reality has a way of changing who we are, little by little. Thus the identity theme changes too over time. We adjust our perceptions of reality as we encounter more of it, constantly seeking to impose new orders on it. In this way we apply what Iser says of a text to what we encounter in everyday life.
This is also true in East of Eden . What happens in the text parallels what happens in life, and the readers, watching it all happen, learn the process. By watching the narrator, for example, come to terms with his past and his self, the readers can do the same for themselves outside of the text. This process, as we have noticed, begins with recognizing the physical setting from which we came, with its people and land and blood. Our identity theme grows out of a sense of time and place. Next our minds generalize the concrete into the abstract, and so ideas evolve from physical setting in the form of simplistic dualities and patterns and allegories. These are our "pre-intentions," our early philosophies of what reality objectively is. But the next step is self-consciousness of our own roles in that philosophy-building. As creators we inevitably affect our creations, thus removing any hope of achieving the universality or objectivity that we crave to impose on reality. Dualities and allegories fall in the face of a reality much more complex than the patterns we want to impose on it. We've now reached the Postmodern world, one in which there is no one ontology but a polyphony of discourses that are aware of themselves as such. And only with the honest recognition of that world have we any hope of moving forward without delusion. As Steinbeck wrote in the manuscript, "This is how history is born of the glands of the historian" (77). It is time we get to know the historian. Only then can we proceed with Cal into the unpaved future, armed with a Postmodern and non-teleological vision.
East of Eden is about life as much as it is about fiction. It is an exhibition of the process by which the individual human comes to be, and as such is also a guide to that process. Through the use of Postmodern techniques Steinbeck lays bare what he does; the walls are removed so we can see the scaffolding and the building process. Then we can build our own creations, our own "fictories"--whether on paper or in daily life. Perhaps, Steinbeck implies, we can find our own stories in this story, and with more self-knowledge be able to write our stories to come.
I use the word in at least two of its senses--as an expression of regret and as a justification or defense.
In the imminently famous (I hope) "trustee" chapter of the manuscript, John Steinbeck glorifies the directing "He" of the book to the point of deification. The book is more than Steinbeck the "I" is. And even if the "trustee" is opinionated or wrong, "He is what we have and anyone who scrapes him off and cleans and polishes him will be wronger, for he is the boss" (75). Anyone who tries to simplify or improve upon or interpret this book is "wronger." It is what it is, and it cannot be talked of or written about without changing and becoming less. This warning is for reviewers, speakers, critics, scholars--and me.
I understand what Steinbeck is saying when he calls me "wronger." He says that East of Eden is his work, his construct, and an alternate world under his authority alone. His pre-Postmodern thinking tells him that no one has the right to touch his construct of reality, for he has the right to write whatever he pleases of the perceptual data around him. It's his mill and he'll grind what he wants to.
With the same reasoning, I deny that I am "wronger." As does he, so do I have the right to construct what I wish. And now that I've incorporated East of Eden into my own pile of grist, I can make of it what my "identity theme" directs. The book is now mine, under my authority. The only Postmodern rule is that I'm conscious of myself as a mill, as he is--otherwise some wayward and vulnerable reader could assume I am setting forth objective truths which are unattainable in a Postmodern setting.
So I must follow the rule: This is my thesis. I wrote it and created it. This is my building, individually inspired and corrupted. Whether it touches a sense of truth in another, I cannot say. My regret is that, in the Postmodern framework I have established, I cannot be more certain.
I close by paraphrasing John Steinbeck: Cervantes ends his prologue with a lovely line. I want to use it, Bob, and then I will have done. He says to the reader: "May God give you health--and may He be not unmindful of me, as well."
1 I'll be using the hand-written page numbering that survives throughout the entire manuscript and includes the journal pages--though I have decided for legibility reasons to use the published version of the journal for quotations. I'll also be correcting only minor spelling errors in the manuscript, since otherwise Steinbeck's erratic spelling would fill my study with "sics." My thanks to the Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center, the University of Texas at Austin, for use of the manuscript.
2 The page numbers in brackets signify pages not numbered with the continuing system mentioned above. For these five pages (which follow page 626), I will use the other hand-written numbers that appear and place them in brackets for differentiation.
I. Primary Works
Steinbeck, John. East of Eden. Autograph ms. The Pascal Covici-Steinbeck Collection. The Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center, The University of Texas at Austin.
---. East of Eden. NY: Penguin, 1987.
---. "Un Grand Romancier de Notre Temps." Hommage a Andre Gide. Ed. Jean Schlumberger. Paris: n.p., 1951. N. pag.
---. Journal of a Novel: The East of Eden Letters. NY: Penguin, 1990.
---. Steinbeck: A Life in Letters. Ed. Elaine Steinbeck and Robert V. NY: Viking, 1975.
II. Secondary Works--John Steinbeck
Benson, Jackson J. "John Steinbeck: Novelist as Scientist." Novel: A Forum on Fiction 10 (Spring 1977): 248-64.
---. The True Adventures of John Steinbeck, Writer. NY: Penguin, 1984.
Buerger, Daniel. "'History' and Fiction in East of Eden Criticism." Steinbeck Quarterly 14.1-2 (Winter-Spring 1981): 6-14.
Covici, Pascal, Jr. "From Commitment to Choice: Double Vision and the Problem of Vitality for John Steinbeck." The Fifties: Fiction, Poetry, Drama. Ed. Warren French. Deland, FL: Everett/Edwards, 1970. 63-71.
Cox, Martha Heasley. "Steinbeck's Family Portraits: The Hamiltons." Steinbeck Quarterly 14.1-2 (Winter-Spring 1981): 23-32.
DeMott, Robert J. "Cathy Ames and Lady Godiva: A Contribution to East of Eden's Background." Steinbeck Quarterly 14.3-4 (Summer-Fall 1981): 72-83.
---. Steinbeck's Reading: A Catalogue of Books Owned and Borrowed. NY: Garland, 1984.
Ditsky, John. "The 'East' in East of Eden." John Steinbeck: East and West. Ed. Tetsumaro Hayashi. Steinbeck Monograph Series, No. 8. Muncie, IN: The John Steinbeck Society, Ball State UP, 1978. 61-70.
---. "'I' in Eden: The Narrational Voice in Steinbeck." Kyushu American Literature 27 (Sept. 1986): 57-69.
---. "Outside of Paradise: Men and the Land in East of Eden." Essays on East of Eden. Ed. John Ditsky. Steinbeck Monograph Series, No. 7. Muncie, IN: The John Steinbeck Society, Ball State UP, 1977. 15-40.
---. "Towards a Narrational Self." Essays on East of Eden. Ed. John Ditsky. Steinbeck Monograph Series, No. 7. Muncie, IN: The John Steinbeck Society, Ball State UP, 1977. 1-14.
Fontenrose, Joseph. John Steinbeck: An Introduction and Interpretation. NY: Holt, Rinehart & Winston, 1963.
French, Warren. John Steinbeck. Twayne's United States Authors Series. 2nd rev. ed. Boston: Twayne Publishers, 1975.
---. "John Steinbeck and Modernism." Steinbeck's Prophetic Vision of America. Ed. Tetsumaro Hayashi and Kenneth D. Swan. Upland, IN: Par UP, 1976. 35-55.
Govoni, Mark W. "'Symbols for the Wordlessness': A Study of John Steinbeck's East of Eden." Diss. Ohio U, 1978.
Hollimon, Jack. "Country History: Writer to Chronicle Changes Since 1900." Conversations with John Steinbeck. Ed. Thomas French. Jackson: UP of Mississippi, 1988. 49-51.
Hopkins, Karen J. "Steinbeck's East of Eden : A Defense." Itinerary: Criticism: Essays on California Writers. Ed. Charles L. Crow. Bowling Green: UP of Bowling Green, 1978. 63-78.
Jones, Lawrence William. John Steinbeck as Fabulist. Ed. Marston LaFrance. Steinbeck Monograph Series, No. 3. Muncie, IN: The John Steinbeck Society, Ball State UP, 1973.
Levant, Howard. The Novels of John Steinbeck: A Critical Study. Columbia, MO: U of Missouri P, 1974.
Lisca, Peter. The Wide World of John Steinbeck. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers UP, 1958.
Marks, Lester Jay. Thematic Design in the Novels of John Steinbeck. The Hague: Mouton, 1969.
Owens, Louis. John Steinbeck's Re-Vision of America. Athens, GA: U of Georgia P, 1985.
---. "The Mirror and the Vamp: Invention, Reflection, and Bad, Bad Cathy Trask in East of Eden." Writing the American Classics. Ed. James Barbour and Tom Quirk. Chapel Hill: U of North Carolina P, 1990. 235-57.
---. "The Story of a Writing: Narrative Structure in East of Eden." Rediscovering Steinbeck: Revisionist Views of his Art, Politics and Intellect. Ed. Cliff Lewis and Carroll Britch. Studies in American Literature. Vol. 3. Lewiston, NY: Edwin Mellen Press, 1989. 60-76.
Pratt, John Clark. John Steinbeck: A Critical Essay. Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans, 1970.
Simmonds, Roy. "'And Still the Box Is Not Full': Steinbeck's East of Eden." Keynote Speech. Steinbeck Festival XI. Salinas, CA, Aug. 1990.
Timmerman, John H. John Steinbeck's Fiction: The Aesthetics of the Road Taken. Norman, OK: U of Oklahoma P, 1986.
Watt, F.W. John Steinbeck. NY: Grove Press, 1962.
Zane, Nancy. "The Romantic Impulse in Steinbeck's Journal of a Novel: The East of Eden Letters." Steinbeck's Posthumous Work: Essays in Criticism. Ed. Tetsumaro Hayashi and Thomas J. Moore. Steinbeck Monograph Series, No. 14. Muncie, IN: The John Steinbeck Society, Ball State UP, 1989. 1-12.
III. Secondary Works--Postmodernism and Reader-Response Criticism
Alexander, Marguerite. Flights from Realism: Themes and Strategies in Postmodernist British and American Fiction. London: Edward Arnold, 1990.
Alter, Robert. Partial Magic: The Novel as a Self-Conscious Genre. Berkeley: U of California P, 1975.
Barth, John. "The Literature of Replenishment." Atlantic 245.1 (Jan. 1980): 65-71.
Bleich, David. Subjective Criticism. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins UP, 1978.
Booth, Wayne C. The Rhetoric of Fiction. 2nd ed. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1983.
Burns, Ken. "An Evening with Ken Burns." Ohio University, 12 May 1992.
Caramello, Charles. Silverless Mirrors: Book, Self and Postmodern American Fiction. Tallahassee: UP of Florida, 1983.
Christensen, Inger. The Meaning of Metafiction: A Critical Study of Selected Novels by Sterne, Nabokov, Barth and Beckett. Bergen: Universitets-forlaget, 1981.
Deutelbaum, Wendy. "Two Psychoanalytic Approaches to Reading Literature." Theories of Reading, Looking, and Listening. Ed. Harry R. Garvin. London: Bucknell UP, 1981. 89-101.
Federman, Raymond. "Surfiction--Four Propositions in Form of an Introduction." Surfiction: Fiction Now... and Tomorrow. Ed. Raymond Federman. Chicago: Swallow Press, 1975. 5-15.
Gass, William H. Fiction and the Figures of Life. NY: Alfred A. Knopf, 1970.
Gordon, Lois. Robert Coover: The Universal Fictionmaking Process. Carbondale, IL: Southern Illinois UP, 1983.
Holland, Norman N. 5 Readers Reading. New Haven: Yale UP, 1975.
---. "The New Paradigm: Subjective or Transactive?" New Literary History 7 (Winter 1976): 335-46.
Holub, Robert C. Reception Theory: A Critical Introduction. London: Methuen, 1984.
Hutcheon, Linda. "Historiographic Metafiction: Parody and the Intertextuality of History." Intertextuality and Contemporary American Fiction. Eds. Patrick O'Donnell and Robert Con Davis. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins UP, 1989. 3-32.
---. "Metafictional Implications for Novelistic Reference." On Referring in Literature. Ed. Anna Whiteside and Michael Issacharoff. Bloomington: Indiana UP, 1987. 1-13.
---. Narcissistic Narrative: The Metafictional Paradox. Waterloo, Ontario: Wilfrid Laurier UP, 1980.
Imhof, Rudiger. "The Concept of Character in Contemporary Metafiction." Literatur in Wissenschaft und Unterricht 18 (Dec. 1985): 289-308.
Iser, Wolfgang. The Implied Reader: Patterns of Communication in Prose Fiction from Bunyan to Beckett. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins UP, 1978.
---. Prospecting: From Reader Response to Literary Anthropology. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins UP, 1989.
Lee, Alison. Realism and Power: Postmodern British Fiction. London: Routledge, 1990.
McCaffery, Larry. Introduction. Postmodern Fiction: A Bio-Bibliographical Guide. Ed. Larry McCaffery. NY: Greenwood Press, 1986.
McHale, Brian. Postmodernist Fiction. NY: Methuen, 1987.
Mailloux, Steven. Interpretive Conventions: The Reader in the Study of American Fiction. Ithaca: Cornell UP, 1982.
Motto, Anna Lydia, and John R. Clark. "Intrusion, Obstruction, and the Self-Reflexive Narrator in So-Called Post-Modern Literature." Classical and Modern Literature 7.1 (Fall 1986): 31-37.
Nelson, Lowry, Jr. "The Fictive Reader and Literary Self-Reflexiveness." The Disciplines of Criticism: Essays in Literary Theory, Interpretation, and History. Ed. Peter Demetz, Thomas Greene, and Lowry Nelson, Jr. New Haven: Yale UP, 1968. 173-91.
Pearce, Richard. "Enter the Frame." Surfiction: Fiction Now... and Tomorrow. Ed. Raymond Federman. Chicago: Swallow Press, 1975. 47-57.
Prince, Gerald. Narratology: The Form and Functioning of Narrative. Berlin: Mouton, 1982.
Rabinowitz, Peter J. "Truth in Fiction: A Reexamination of Audience." Critical Inquiry 4 (Autumn 1977): 121-41.
Sciolino, Martina. "Mourning, Play, and the Forms of Fiction in Europe." Postmodern Fiction: A Bio-Bibliographical Guide. Ed. Larry McCaffery. NY: Greenwood Press, 1986. 143-56.
Suleiman, Susan R., and Inge Crossman, eds. The Reader in the Text: Essays on Audience and Interpretation. Princeton, NJ: Princeton UP, 1980.
Tompkins, Jane P., ed. Reader-Response Criticism: From Formalism to Post-Structuralism. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins UP, 1980.
Waugh, Patricia. Metafiction: The Theory and Practice of Self-Conscious Fiction. London: Methuen, 1984.
Wicks, Ulrich. "Borges, Bertolucci, and Metafiction." Narrative Strategies: Original Essays in Film and Prose Fiction. Ed. Syndy M. Conger and Janice R. Welsch. Macomb: Western Illinois UP, 1980. 19-36.