Thursday, September 19, 1996
English - Summer Reading - East of Eden
Genesis 4:7 - Timshel - Thou mayest rule over sin
If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin lies at the door. And its desire is for you, but you should rule over it. (NKJV Genesis 4:7)
If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must master it. (NIV Genesis 4:7)
If thou doest well, shalt thou not be accepted? And if thou doest not well, sin lieth at the door. And unto thee shall be his desire, and thou shalt rule over him. (KJV Genesis 4:7)
It can be bright with joy if you will do what you should! But if you refuse to obey, watch out. Sin is waiting to attack you, longing to destroy you. But you can conquer it. (TLB Genesis 4:7)
Samuel is moved by the power that timshel gives to man. During his life, Samuel fulfills at least two biblical verse by being fruitful and multiplying and helping his neighbor. His accomplishments are possible because of his supporting family and the mutual love that is created within that social structure. He grieves for his lost daughter and loves even Doxology. Liza helps him with the children and some of his moral dilemmas, but otherwise, Samuel is a competent father, capable of completing all parental tasks. He conquers sin, defined by the self-evident duties and regulations of a member of society. In that sense, he does well in the spirit of Genesis 4:7.
Influenced by his wife, Samuel probably learns Genesis 4:7 as a command from God. Incumbent upon him is all the problems of the people of the world. The literal translation gives Samuel the choice of following the command of God. It is this choice and the power to determine his own actions that compels him to tell Adam the truth about Cathy. Timshel changes his view from the begrudging following of God to following Him by his choice.
Locked in by his responsibility and love of his family and friends, Samuel feels trapped to a degree. Lee's interpretation of that one Godly command helped Samuel realize that he has control over whether he will follow God or take another path. This release could be compared to Caleb's blessing as Samuel must similarly bear the load of expectations of his family. He also "hears" it from a figure he respects Lee and his interpretation of God's word, and Samuel's life ends, fulfilled and free.
Adam Trask lives a regimented life at home then in the army. He never has the opportunity or the desire to live a "normal" life until Cathy appears. With his unwavering image of her, Adam is lifted up. He probably feels at this point that he could overcome the hurdles of his past and live a life in society. With the departure of Cathy, Adam is sullen and lost. Raised by his servant, his children go unnamed. They grow up without adequate parental love. Aron's conversion into piety could be a replacement for the lack of his father's love or a plea for it, but Caleb never finds it. Adam probably stalemates with sin. He is overcome by the departure of Cathy which scars him for life. Yet, with the help of his friends, Adam is able to fulfill his obligations to his children. He never devotes a part of his life for himself or other. He is able to complete some of his duties with his friends, but alone he is unable. Thus, without this network of support, he would have failed.
An example of this is the rumors of Kate's place. Adam refuses to believe the rumor, but Samuel makes him listen, forcing him to face the truth and end his "living death." Without Samuel's help, Adam would never have come to terms with himself.
Lee thinks that timshel signifies triumph of men over sin and evil. Lee is unique in that he has no dependents which are involved in the plot. He goes beyond the role of a servant and becomes a surrogate father to the twins. He helps Samuel and Adam during crises. He becomes a valuable friend to both of them. However, good works do not determine the conquering of sin. His work is instrumental in shaping the young Trasks. He has conquered the sin that approached him by taking up those duties.
Lee had a choice. Adam asks him to leave at one point, but Lee comes back. Lee chooses to stay with his friend and Adam's children. He consciously makes the decision to do what is right.
Kate, otherwise known as Cathy, does some serious conquering during the book. Contrary to Steinbeck's statement that she is incomprehensible, Cathy presents a simple representation of a "greedy algorithm ." Her version of conquering sin means self control and the ability to execute her plans. Her ruthlessness is easily seen with Mr. Edward, Faye, and her plan for her death. In this way, she is most similar to the single-mindedness of the military. Using further Old Testament interpretations of God, one finds that Israel was commissioned to conquer using their military. We also note that the Old Testament does not stress the commitment from parents to children as much as devotion to God. By applying these interpretations, Kate conquers sin by controlling her actions and fulfilling her goals, yet the question remains, who is her enemy?
Cathy does not respect any authority or limitation other than her physical constraints. Likewise, she would reject the timshel notion of conquering sin, as it limited her to accomplishing tasks that conquer sin, not setting tasks that are for her best interests. She does not accept love nor does she freely give of it. Almost always cool and rational, Cathy rejects Adam and his unconditional adoration. Her enemy is either herself and finding a fitting place in society or society itself. Against society, she is triumphant and conquers sin, but against herself, she is lost and loses to sin. She battles against society and not so much against herself, as she is ruthless and through.
Cal lives in the shadow of his pious brother Aron. Their father states that he would try to convince Aron not to enlist, thus underlining his love for Aron. To Cal, timshel, being the last word of his father, has two meanings. One is, "I forgive and bless you." The other is similar to the Star Trek motto, "To boldly go where no one has gone before," and implies that Cal should live on to conquer sin. Through this last expression of his father's love, Caleb can now conquer sin.