Chapter 51, section 2
“You’re pretty full of yourself. You’re marveling at the tragic spectacle of Caleb Trask—Caleb the magnificent, the unique. Caleb whose suffering should have its Homer. Did you ever think of yourself as a snot-nosed kid—mean sometimes, incredibly generous sometimes? Dirty in your habits, and curiously pure in your mind. Maybe you have a little more energy than most, just energy, but outside of that you’re very like all the other snot-nosed kids. Are you trying to attract dignity and tragedy to yourself because your mother was a whore? And if anything should have happened to your brother, will you be able to speak for yourself the eminence of being a murderer, snot-nose?”
Cal turned slowly back to his desk. Lee watched him, holding his breath the way a doctor watches for the reaction to a hypodermic. Lee could see the reactions flaring through Cal—the rage at insult, the belligerence, and the hurt feelings following behind and out of that —just the beginning of relief.
Lee sighed. He had worked so hard, so tenderly, and his work seemed to have succeeded. He said softly, “We’re a violent people, Cal. Does it seem strange to you that I include myself? Maybe it’s true that we are all descended from the restless, the nervous, the criminals, the arguers and the brawlers, but also the brave and independent and generous. If our ancestors had not been that, they would have stayed in their home plots in the other world and starved over the squeezed-out soil.”
Chapter 55, section 3
He went on, “I had to find out my stupidities for myself. These were my stupidities: I thought the good are destroyed while the evil survive and prosper.
“I thought that once an angry and disgusted God poured molten fire from a crucible to destroy or purify his little handiwork of mud.
“I thought I had inherited both the scars of the fire and the impurities which made the fire necessary—all inherited, I thought. All inherited. Do you feel that way?”
“I think so,” said Cal.
“I don’t know,” Abra said.
Lee shook his head. “That isn’t good enough. That isn’t good enough thinking. Maybe—” And he was silent.
Cal felt the heat of the liquor in his stomach. “Maybe what, Lee?”
“Maybe you’ll come to know that every man in every generation is refired. Does a craftsman, even in his old age, lose his hunger to make a perfect cup—thin, strong, translucent?” He held his cup to the light. “All impurities burned out and ready for a glorious flux, and for that—more fire. And then either the slag heap or, perhaps what no one in the world ever quite gives up, perfection.” He drained his cup and he said loudly, “Cal, listen to me. Can you think that whatever made us—would stop trying?”
East of Eden