Can I say WOW. This novel is truly exceptional; and that may be stating the obvious[I mean, HELLO, it's an American CLASSIC, it has to be of great quality], but this is the FIRST older American classic I've fallen in love with. It's the kind of book I could rave about for posts and posts(which is the plan), the kind of book that keeps me guessing and keeps me perpetually intrigued. And, it's a CLASSIC, a book that all too often falls into the unfortunately disregarded pile of "stuffy" books such as The Scarlet Letter by Hawthorne and Oliver Twist by Dickens. I really should make a post about the differentiation of classics in general, but for now, I'm content with simply stating that this is a book that cannot, will not, fall arbitrarily into that pile.
Rather than post an automatic synopsis, I'm going to provide my own run-down of the novel up until Chapter 21.
Now, at the beginning, the story starts out a bit too slowly for my liking---I really couldn't care less about the mountains and hills and dryness of the Salinas Valley---but YOU MUST CONTINUE GOING, screams Chapter 2. Enter the cast. I love how the book introduces the characters; there's no exaggerated opening of a girl's clumsy collision into the perhaps glittering pale hero of the novel. Instead, the characters are laid out in all their realism and tangibility. However, since the former characteristic is heavily disputed, I'll elaborate on that later[Cathy!]. Samuel Hamilton's a pretty chill guy--imaginative, selfless, innovative--but the thing that really annoys me regarding EVERY single male in the novel thus far[including Adam T. and Charles T. and even Lee, a little] is that they all have WASTED POTENTIAL. Samuel and Adam both suffer naivete, although Adam's was borne of love and Samuel's was...just Samuel. Charles needs to stop getting so hung up on the past, and move forward instead of clinging to his farm so complacently, and Lee---Lee is capable of doing anything he sets his mind to---definitely a favorite character of mine.
The next few chapters regard another family, the Trasks---and in retrospect, Charles Trask's occasional rabidness, spurred by jealousy of his younger brother Adam---directly mirrors Cathy's wildness provoked by alcohol.
HOW DARE YOUR PUPPY WIN YOU BROWNIE POINTS -Charles
HOW DARE YOU MAKE ME DRINK ALCOHOL YOU FOOL[referring to either Mr. Edwards or Faye]-Cathy
For that reason, even many years later, after Charles has stopped resorting to bats and fists, Cathy perceives a commonality between herself and Charles. The "sixth-sense" concept is heavily dispersed in this novel--and adds to its compelling nature.
Brothels are a major feature of this novel as well---interestingly, they are depicted as home-like and even church-like. Without going into too much academic analysis, I would comment that this novel is positively bursting with religious allusions and satire; for some of you, that alone may be incentive to take the reading journey.
Now, brothels and Cathy seem to go hand-in-hand, especially towards Chapters 18-20. But firstly let's go back and introduce Cathy, for in my opinion, she is the most magnetic and indecipherable character in this book. I haven't finished the book yet, but I KNOW.
Cathy Ames was delineated comprehensively---her nature was illustrated from childhood, and it is clear that Steinbeck's pronouncement of "monstrous" is felicitous, seeing as how she exploited sexual fascination from the very beginning. The concept of "monstrous" stresses, rather than gruesomeness, a perverseness identified by society, an aberration, something inexplicable and innate. Thus, this marks Cathy quite well. Her impenetrable eyes, her heartless heart, her incomprehensibly evil actions, are done in a manner of utter complacency so that it is clear that she doesn't find a single thing amiss. As Steinbeck argues, to monsters, we seem the monsters. Conversely, is it possible that we are the monsters?
Even after Cathy burns her home down with her parents inside, even after she detrimentally seduces a priestly teacher, even after she psychologically tortures Mr. Edwards whilst leaching wealth from his stores, all with a beautiful face that only occasionally is torn apart by a frenzy of feral emotion(and alcohol), NO ONE can challenge her. Or any that attempt to do so languish. Take Adam. Cathy didn't want to go to California, she didn't want to have a child, yet Adam, blinded by love and hope in a "glory", Adam, living literally for the future, couldn't anticipate the annihilation of his present: Cathy ironically gave birth to twins(double joy or double sorrow), told Adam that he had made a mistake crossing her and that she would tolerate no setbacks to her "ultimate objectives"---what those are, I don't know as of yet. After inviting her frightened husband to throw their newborn infants down a well, she apologizes to the dim-witted Adam before shooting him and vanishing.
At this point...does it make you immoral if you actually feel that Cathy was somewhat justified? Adam, a total fool, didn't heed a word Cathy said. He essentially violated her ambitions, and he'd had clear warning. And this is Cathy. But... this is the same Cathy who deceived and harmed so many who did little or nothing to her. Then you think...but they did pose some kind of a threat to her...
Perhaps we all have a monster within us.
Let me know what you think.