Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for the ‘United States’ Category

John Steinbeck (USA, 1902-1968)

John Steinbeck is my favorite novelist. In college I became obsessed with his novel East of Eden. The story centers around the Hamiltons, who are based on Steinbeck’s own family. Below is a section from that novel and three clips from the 1955 movie East of Eden, starring James Dean and Julie Harris. The middle clip is a scene between James Dean and actress Jo Van Fleet, who won an academy award as best-supporting actress in that movie. Van Fleet’s resemblance, mannerisms and attitude so remind me of my mother I cry each time I see it.

Here is the section from the novel on the Hebrew word timshel:

“Do you remember when you read us the sixteen verses of the fourth chapter of Genesis and we argued about them?”
“I do indeed. And that’s a long time ago.”

Samuel Hamilton was Steinbeck's grandfather, who died in 1904. He came to the U.S. from Ireland in 1846 and moved to Salinas, California in 1873.

“Ten years nearly,” said Lee. “Well, the story bit deeply into me and I went into it word for word. The more I thought about the story, the more profound it became to me. Then I compared the translations we have—and they were fairly close. There was only one place that bothered me. The King James version says this—it is when Jehovah has asked Cain why he is angry. Jehovah says, ‘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.’ It was the ‘thou shalt’ that struck me, because it was a promise that Cain would conquer sin.”
Samuel nodded. “And his children didn’t do it entirely,” he said.
Lee sipped his coffee. “Then I got a copy of the American Standard Bible. It was very new then. And it was different in this passage. It says, ‘Do thou rule over him.’ Now this is very different. This is not a promise, it is an order. And I began to stew about it. I wondered what the original word of the original writer had been that these very different translations could be made.”
Samuel put his palms down on the table and leaned forward and the old young light came into his eyes. “Lee,” he said, “don’t tell me you studied Hebrew!”
Lee said, “I’m going to tell you. And it’s a fairly long story. Will you have a touch of ng-ka-py?”
“You mean the drink that tastes of good rotten apples?”
“Yes. I can talk better with it.”
“Maybe I can listen better,” said Samuel.

The Hamilton family. There are nine children in the Hamilton family in the novel.

While Lee went to the kitchen Samuel asked, “Adam, did you know about this?”
“No,” said Adam. “He didn’t tell me. Maybe I wasn’t listening.”
Lee came back with his stone bottle and three little porcelain cups so thin and delicate that the light shone through them. “Dlinkee Chinee fashion,” he said and poured the almost black liquor. “There’s a lot of wormwood in this. It’s quite a drink,” he said. “Has about the same effect as absinthe if you drink enough of it.”
Samuel sipped the drink. “I want to know why you were so interested,” he said.
“Well, it seemed to me that the man who could conceive this great story would know exactly what he wanted to say and there would be no confusion in his statement.”
“You say ‘the man.’ Do you then not think this is a divine book written by the inky finger of God?”
“I think the mind that could think this story was a curiously divine mind. We have had a few such minds in China too.”
“I just wanted to know,” said Samuel. “You’re not a Presbyterian after all.”
“I told you I was getting more Chinese. Well, to go on, I went to San Francisco to the headquarters of our family association. Do you know about them? Our great families have centers where any member can get help or give it. The Lee family is very large. It takes care of its own.”
“I have heard of them,” said Samuel.
“You mean Chinee hatchet man fightee Tong war over slave girl?”
“I guess so.”
“It’s a little different from that, really,” said Lee. “I went there because in our family there are a number of ancient reverend gentlemen who are great scholars. They are thinkers in exactness. A man may spend many years pondering a sentence of the scholar you call Confucius. I thought there might be experts in meaning who could advise me.

Liza Hamilton was Steinbeck's grandmother.

“They are fine old men. They smoke their two pipes of opium in the afternoon and it rests and sharpens them, and they sit through the night and their minds are wonderful. I guess no other people have been able to use opium well.”
Lee dampened his tongue in the black brew. “I respectfully submitted my problem to one of these sages, read him the story, and told him what I understood from it. The next night four of them met and called me in. We discussed the story all night long.”
Lee laughed. “I guess it’s funny,” he said. “I know I wouldn’t dare tell it to many people. Can you imagine four old gentlemen, the youngest is over ninety now, taking on the study of Hebrew? They engaged a learned rabbi. They took to the study as though they were children. Exercise books, grammar, vocabulary, simple sentences. You should see Hebrew written in Chinese ink with a brush! The right to left didn’t bother them as much as it would you, since we write up to down. Oh, they were perfectionists! They went to the root of the matter.”
“And you?” said Samuel.
“I went along with them, marveling at the beauty of their proud clean brains. I began to love my race, and for the first time I wanted to be Chinese. Every two weeks I went to a meeting with them, and in my room here I covered pages with writing. I bought every known Hebrew dictionary. But the old gentlemen were always ahead of me. It wasn’t long before they were ahead of our rabbi; he brought a colleague in. Mr. Hamilton, you should have sat through some of those nights of argument and discussion. The questions, the inspection, oh, the lovely thinking—the beautiful thinking.

Olive Hamilton was Steinbeck's mother.

“After two years we felt that we could approach your sixteen verses of the fourth chapter of Genesis. My old gentlemen felt that these words were very important too—‘Thou shalt’ and ‘Do thou.’ And this was the gold from our mining: ‘Thou mayest.’ ‘Thou mayest rule over sin.’ The old gentlemen smiled and nodded and felt the years were well spent. It brought them out of their Chinese shells too, and right now they are studying Greek.”
Samuel said, “It’s a fantastic story. And I’ve tried to follow and maybe I’ve missed somewhere. Why is this word so important?”
Lee’s hand shook as he filled the delicate cups. He drank his down in one gulp. “Don’t you see?” he cried. “The American Standard translation orders men to triumph over sin, and you can call sin ignorance. The King James translation makes a promise in ‘Thou shalt,’ meaning that men will surely triumph over sin. But the Hebrew word, the word timshel—‘Thou mayest’— that gives a choice. It might be the most important word in the world. That says the way is open. That throws it right back on a man. For if ‘Thou mayest’—it is also true that ‘Thou mayest not.’ Don’t you see?”
“Yes, I see. I do see. But you do not believe this is divine law. Why do you feel its importance?”
“Ah!” said Lee. “I’ve wanted to tell you this for a long time. I even anticipated your questions and I am well prepared. Any writing which has influenced the thinking and the lives of innumerable people is important. Now, there are many millions in their sects and churches who feel the order, ‘Do thou,’ and throw their weight into obedience. And there are millions more who feel predestination in ‘Thou shalt.’ Nothing they may do can interfere with what will be. But ‘Thou mayest’! Why, that makes a man great, that gives him stature with the gods, for in his weakness and his filth and his murder of his brother he has still the great choice. He can choose his course and fight it through and win.” Lee’s voice was a chant of triumph.

Adam Trask is based on Steinbeck's father John E. Steinbeck.

Adam said, “Do you believe that, Lee?”
“Yes, I do. Yes, I do. It is easy out of laziness, out of weakness, to throw oneself into the lap of deity, saying, ‘I couldn’t help it; the way was set.’ But think of the glory of the choice! That makes a man a man. A cat has no choice, a bee must make honey. There’s no godliness there. And do you know, those old gentlemen who were sliding gently down to death are too interested to die now?”
Adam said, “Do you mean these Chinese men believe the Old Testament?”
Lee said, “These old men believe a true story, and they know a true story when they hear it. They are critics of truth. They know that these sixteen verses are a history of humankind in any age or culture or race. They do not believe a man writes fifteen and three-quarter verses of truth and tells a lie with one verb. Confucius tells men how they should live to have good and successful lives. But this—this is a ladder to climb to the stars.” Lee’s eyes shone. “You can never lose that. It cuts the feet from under weakness and cowardliness and laziness.”
Adam said, “I don’t see how you could cook and raise the boys and take care of me and still do all this.”
“Neither do I,” said Lee. “But I take my two pipes in the afternoon, no more and no less, like the elders. And I feel that I am a man. And I feel that a man is a very important thing—maybe more important than a star. This is not theology. I have no bent toward gods. But I have a new love for that glittering instrument, the human soul. It is a lovely and unique thing in the universe. It is always attacked and never destroyed— because ‘Thou mayest.’”

Here are three clips of James dean with:

Julie Harris

Jo Van Fleet

Raymond Massey

Advertisements

Read Full Post »

Ernest Miller Hemingway (USA, 1899-1961)

Hemingway won the Nobel “for his mastery of the art of narrative, most recently demonstrated in The Old Man and the Sea,” published in 1952. Here is an excerpt from the book: Sometimes someone would speak in a boat. But most of the boats were silent except for the dip of the oars. They spread apart after they were out of the mouth of the harbour and each one headed for the part of the ocean where he hoped to find fish. The old man knew he was going far out and he left the smell of the land behind and rowed out into the clean early morning smell of the ocean.

In the dark the old man could feel the morning coming and as he rowed he heard the trembling sound as flying fish left the water and the hissing that their stiff set wings made as they soared away in the darkness. He was very fond of flying fish as they were his principal friends on the ocean. He was sorry for the birds, especially the small delicate dark terns that were always flying and looking and almost never finding, and he thought, “The birds have a harder life than we do except for the robber birds and the heavy strong ones. Why did they make birds so delicate and fine as those sea swallows when the ocean can be so cruel? She is kind and very beautiful. But she can be so cruel and it comes so suddenly and such birds that fly, dipping and hunting, with their small sad voices are made too delicately for the sea.”

Read Full Post »

William Faulkner (USA, 1897-1962)

The following excerpt is from Faulkner’s novel If I Forget Thee Jerusalem, published in 1939: When the belated and streaming dawn broke, the two convicts, along with twenty others, were in a truck. A trusty drove, two armed guards sat in the cab with him. Inside the high, stall-like topless body the convicts stood, packed like matches in an upright box or like the pencil-shaped ranks of cordite in a shell, shackled by the ankles to a single chain which wove among the motionless feet and swaying legs and a clutter of picks and shovels among which they stood, and was rivetted by both ends to the steel body of the truck.

Then and without warning they saw the flood about which the plump convict had been reading and they listening for two weeks or more. The road ran south. It was built on a raised levee, known locally as a dump, about eight feet above the flat surrounding land, bordered on both sides by the barrow pits from which the earth of the levee had been excavated. These barrow pits had held water all winter from the fall rains, not to speak of the rain of yesterday, but now they saw that the pit on either side of the road had vanished and instead there lay a flat still sheet of brown water which extended into the fields beyond the pits, ravelled out into long motionless shreds in the bottom of the plow furrows and gleaming faintly in the gray light like the bars of a prone and enormous grating. And then (the truck was moving at good speed) as they watched quietly (they had not been talking much anyway but now they were all silent and quite grave, shifting and craning as one to look soberly off to the west side of the road) the crests of the furrows vanished too and they now looked at a single perfectly flat and motionless steel-colored sheet in which the telephone poles and the straight hedgerows which marked section lines seemed to be fixed and rigid as though set in concrete.

It was perfectly motionless, perfectly flat. It looked, not innocent, but
bland. It looked almost demure. It looked as if you could walk on it. It looked so still that they did not realize it possessed motion until they came to the first bridge. There was a ditch under the bridge, a small stream, but ditch and stream were both invisible now, indicated only by the rows of cypress and bramble which marked its course. Here they both saw and heard movement – the slow profound eastward and upstream (« It’s running backward, » one convict said quietly) set of the still rigid surface, from beneath which came a deep faint subaquean rumble which (though none in the truck could have made the comparison) sounded like a subway train passing far beneath the street and which inferred a terrific and secret speed. It was as if the water itself were in three strata, separate and distinct, the bland and unhurried surface bearing a frothy scum and a miniature flotsam of twigs and screening as though by vicious calculation the rush and fury of the flood itself, and beneath this in turn the original stream, trickle, murmuring along in the opposite direction, following undisturbed and unaware its appointed course and serving its Lilliputian end, like a thread of ants between the rails on which an express train passes, they (the ants) as unaware of the power and fury as if it were a cyclone crossing Saturn.

Read Full Post »

Pearl S. Buck (USA, 1892-1973) The truly creative mind in any field is no more than this: A human creature born abnormally, inhumanely sensitive. To them... a touch is a blow, a sound is a noise, a misfortune is a tragedy, a joy is an ecstasy, a friend is a lover, a lover is a god, and failure is death. Add to this cruelly delicate organism the overpowering necessity to create, create, create -- so that without the creating of music or poetry or books or buildings or something of meaning, their very breath is cut off... They must create, must pour out creation. By some strange, unknown, inward urgency they are not really alive unless they are creating.

Pearl S. Buck (1892-1973) is the first American woman to win the Nobel Prize and the first woman to win both the Nobel and Pulitzer prizes. She won both awards for her book The Good Earth, published in 1931, which revolves around family life in a Chinese village before the 1949 Revolution.

Here are two quotes from the novel: “There was only this perfect sympathy of movement, of turning this earth of theirs over and over to the sun, this earth which formed their home and fed their bodies and made their gods…Some time, in some age, bodies of men and women had been buried there, houses had stood there, had fallen, and gone back into the earth. So would also their house, some time, return into the earth, their bodies also. Each had his turn at this earth. They worked on, moving together-together-producing the fruit of this earth.”

“As he had been healed of his sickness of heart when he came from the southern city and comforted by the bitterness he had endured there, so now again Wang Lung was healed of his sickness of love by the good dark earth of his fields and he felt the moist soil on his feet and he smelled the earthy fragrance rising up out of the furrows he turned for the wheat.”

Buck is also known for her humanitarian work: “In 1949, outraged that existing adoption services considered Asian and mixed-race children unadoptable, Pearl established Welcome House Inc., the first international, interracial adoption agency. In nearly five decades of work, Welcome House has placed over five thousand children. In 1964, to support children who were not eligible for adoption, Buck established the Pearl S. Buck Foundation to ‘address poverty and discrimination faced by children in Asian countries.’ In 1965, she opened the Opportunity Center and Orphanage in South Korea, and later offices were opened in Thailand, the Philippines, and Vietnam. When establishing Opportunity House, Buck said, “The purpose…is to publicize and eliminate injustices and prejudices suffered by children, who, because of their birth, are not permitted to enjoy the educational, social, economic and civil privileges normally accorded to children.” (source Wiki). The Pearl S. Buck International Web site can be found at www.psbi.org.

Here are the opening paragraphs from her biography, Pearl S. Buck, A Cultural Biography, written by Peter Conn published in 1996: In April, 1899, six-year-old Pearl Sydenstricker wrote a letter from Chinkiang, China, to the editor of the Christian Observer, in Louisville, Kentucky. It was her first published writing, and it appeared under the headline “Our Real Home in Heaven”:

‘I am a little girl, six years old. I live in China. I have a big brother in college who is coming to China to help our father tell the Chinese about Jesus. I have two little brothers in heaven. Maudie went first, then Artie, then Edith, and on the tenth of last month my little brave brother, Clyde left us to go to our real home in heaven. Clyde said he was a Christian Soldier, and that heaven was his bestest home. Clyde was four years old, and we both love the little letters in the Observer. I wrote this all myself, and my hand is tired, so goodbye….’

As an adult, she would completely reject the religion in which she was raised, but it was the source of everything she learned about values as a child. Living in a small Chinese city, she was separated from her own country and its culture almost from birth….In the end, Pearl was inevitably shaped by both her parents. She rejected her father’s religious beliefs and his narrow-mindedness, but she inherited his evangelical zeal, his sense of rectitude, his passion for learning. Though she stopped believing in Christian ideas of salvation, she became, in effect, a secular missionary, bringing the gospels of civil rights and cross-cultural understanding to people on two continents.

Here is a clip from the 1937 film:

Read Full Post »

“I have never had a home, never had a chance to establish root. I grew up in hotels…. It’s strange, but the time I spent at sea on a sailing ship was the only time I ever felt I had roots in any place.” Eugene O’Neill (1888-1953)

O’Neill won the Nobel Prize for his plays: Beyond the Horizon (1920); Anna Christie (1922); Strange Interlude (1928); and Long Day’s Journey Into Night (1957). Here’s a scene from Anna Christie with Greta Garbo:

Read Full Post »

Sinclair Lewis (USA, 1885-1951)

Sinclair Lewis (USA, 1885-1951)

Lewis was the first American to win the Nobel Prize in Literature. He was awarded the prize for his “vigorous and graphic art of description and his ability to create with wit and humour, new types of characters.” Here are a few paragraphs from his novel Babbitt, published in 1922:

His name was George F. Babbitt. He was forty-six years old now, in April, 1920, and he made nothing in particular, neither butter nor shoes nor poetry, but he was nimble in the calling of selling houses for more than people could afford to pay.

BabbitHis large head was pink, his brown hair thin and dry. His face was babyish in slumber, despite his wrinkles and the red spectacle-dents on the slopes of his nose. He was not fat but he was exceedingly well fed; his cheeks were pads, and the unroughened hand which lay helpless upon the khakicolored blanket was slightly puffy. He seemed prosperous, extremely married and unromantic; and altogether unromantic appeared this sleeping-porch, which looked on one sizable elm, two respectable grass-plots, a cement driveway, and a corrugated iron garage. Yet Babbitt was again dreaming of the fairy child, a dream more romantic than scarlet pagodas by a silver sea.

For years the fairy child had come to him. Where others saw but Georgie Babbitt, she discerned gallant youth. She waited for him, in the darkness beyond mysterious groves. When at last he could slip away from the crowded house he darted to her. His wife, his clamoring friends, sought to follow, but he escaped, the girl fleet beside him, and they crouched together on a shadowy hillside. She was so slim, so white, so eager! She cried that he was gay and valiant, that she would wait for him, that they would sail—

Rumble and bang of the milk-truck.

sinclair-lewisBabbitt moaned, turned over, struggled back toward his dream. He could see only her face now, beyond misty waters. The furnace-man slammed the basement door. A dog barked in the next yard. As Babbitt sank blissfully into a dim warm tide, the paper-carrier went by whistling, and the rolled-up Advocate thumped the front door. Babbitt roused, his stomach constricted with alarm. As he relaxed, he was pierced by the familiar and irritating rattle of some one cranking a Ford: snap-ah-ah, snap-ah-ah, snap-ah-ah. Himself a pious motorist, Babbitt cranked with the unseen driver, with him waited through taut hours for the roar of the starting engine, with him agonized as the roar ceased and again began the infernal patient snap-ah-ah—a round, flat sound, a shivering cold-morning sound, a sound infuriating and inescapable. Not till the rising voice of the motor told him that the Ford was moving was he released from the panting tension. He glanced once at his favorite tree, elm twigs against the gold patina of sky, and fumbled for sleep as for a drug. He who had been a boy very credulous of life was no longer greatly interested in the possible and improbable adventures of each new day.

He escaped from reality till the alarm-clock rang, at seventwenty.

Read Full Post »