Monday, May 20, 2013

Did Steinbeck Write A Bromance?

By Alan Chin

I’m not one of these people who look through rainbow-color lenses and sees shades of gay in everything that comes my way, at least I try not to be. But I recently read East of Eden by John Steinbeck, and what I interpreted was an inspiring, non-sexual intimacy between Adam Trask and his Chinese cook/housekeeper Lee.

The main theme for the novel revolves on the translation of the Hebrew word timshel, which appears in the Cain and Abel story in Genesis, when God discusses sin with Cain. It basically means God gave man the ability to choose between good and evil. That is the choice each of East of Eden’s characters face—as does, ultimately, every person. The story puts forth the idea that no matter how deep-rooted a person’s sin, there is always a chance for redemption. Thus, God gave man the ability to overcome evil.

This beautifully crafted novel presents a modern version of the Cain and Able story, where twin brothers (Caleb and Aaron) live with their father (Adam), and Lee cares for the Trask family.  It is clear that Adam is deeply in love with Kate, the mother of the boys. But she abandons the family to become a prostitute shortly after giving birth. For the seventeen years that follow, Lee becomes mother, cook, confidant, money manager, and companion to the boys and to Adam. Lee is unmarried, and shows no interest in women. The intimacy between Adam and Lee grows to a point beyond friendship. It is as close to a gay relationship as Steinbeck could write in his day.

The question that I’m struggling with is did the author intend that relationship to be a romance, or am I reading much more into it than he envisioned.  Not matter what Steinbeck’s intentions, I found both the story and the relationship between Adam and Lee to be brilliant, one of the best gay reads I’ve had in years.


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