Sunday, October 11, 2009

Existentialism in East of Eden

Sartre says that determinism would mean there is nothing special about human life and that it is a cop out, basically saying that you are not free, that you are governed by a certain thing. In class we discussed the idea of saying "oh, it's just in my genes" or my parents did so and so or had some disease or act a certain way, so I'm destined to do the same, which is also a cop out--it is saying that you have no control over your life and that you're just making excuses, and we know what Sartre would say about that--NO EXCUSES!

Anyway, this made me think of Cal in East of Eden. If you haven't read it, Cal is the son of Adam Trask and also has a twin brother Aron. In a nut shell, their birth mother Cathy Ames is the embodiment of evil in the book and extreamely manipulative and parastic became depressed after giving birth and wanted to kill the twins, as she did not want them in the first place and also didn't even want to marry in the first place. So instead, she shot Adam, her husband whom she didn't love (obviously), in the shoulder and and left him and the twins to be "free" and become a prostitute. In addition to killing her parents when she was a child, she also poisons and kills another woman. Overall, she is obsessed with committing sin and again, the embodiment of evil. So, when Adam finds out she is a prostitute he obviously wants to keep her identity concealed from his boys and does not want them to find out. But eventually, Cal, the darker of the twins who has evil tendencies does find out and hates her--however, he is also concerned about being just like his mother too:
'"I hate her because I know why she went away. I know--because I've got her in me." His head was down and his voice was heartbroken."

..Then Lee, their wise lifetime housekeeper and cook says:

"'Listen to me! You wouldn't even be wondering if you didn't have it. Don't you dare take the lazy way. It's too easy to excuse yourself because of your ancestry. Don't let me catch you doing it! Now--look close at me so you will remember. Whatever you do, it will be you who do it--not your mother."'

So first of all, Cal is fears he is just like his mother and destined to fail at life and that there's no hope f0r him. But lee then basically reiterates Sartre's ideas about breaking free from the idea of determinism and changes his mind. Go Lee!! Then, a little later, Cal actually goes to visit his mother he said to her: "I was afraid I had you in me," and she says "you have," and then finally he says "No, i haven't. I'm my own. I don't have to be you." This is the perfect example of realizing you are you and no one else and that you don't have to be tied down by determinism. You could either take the easy way out and give in or you can rise above determinism and become your own person.
Also, this brought up another point about Sartre's "Bad Faith." Adam Trask conceals the truth that he knows about the twin's mother to protect them. I know this is bad faith, but i guess it's almost like saying that it is lying, but lying to conceal an ugly truth--like "lying in a good way," if there is such a thing, which according to Sartre, I'm sure there's not, but personally I would not be about to tell my children my wife shot me in the shoulder, didn't really love me, and left them to become a prostitute. Just sayin' I think I would have to go ahead and be in bad faith on this one, Sartre.

1 comment:

  1. I really like your example from East of Eden. If Cal really wanted to push hard determinism with Lee though, I think that he could have just figured that even Lee’s advice was determined, that his doubt was determined, that everything was determined and that there was no escaping it. On the other hand, he chose not to believe in determinism and so escape by his acknowledgement that what he does is what he does freely of himself. The hard determinist would still be able to argue that what he does is exactly what he will always have done, that he has no choice even though he believes he is free. I think it interesting that since it is impossible to really say one way or another that life is determined, or free, or a little bit of both, that maybe the best choice is to believe that we are free, even if we actually aren’t. Existentialism as a way of life seems to embrace this outlook, since the Existentialist freedom basically seems to be choosing in every situation to believe that one is free to choose, even while this perceived freedom may all just be an illusion.


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