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Summary of Beyond Eden
The steamroller of progress
Steinbeck's epic spans the period between the American Civil War (1861–1865) and the end of World War I in 1918. Within a single generation, the United States developed from an agricultural country to the greatest industrial power in the world. The basis for this was the modern railway network, which connected all large cities from the east to the west coast around 1890. Between 1860 and 1900 the population grew by 140%, new technologies revolutionized everyday life, and 1908 came with it Henry Fords Model T launched an automobile for the masses for the first time. Americans of all classes and colors embraced the new religion of progress.
California, the 31st state in the United States since 1850, epitomized this confidence in unlimited possibilities: cheap, fertile land and high wages attracted thousands of new immigrants. Of course, there were also many losers during this time: The native Indian population was almost exterminated in the course of the land grab. And the Chinese, who had been brought into the country as cheap workers to build the first transcontinental railroad, faced massive discrimination. They were not allowed to become American citizens or to testify against whites in court. The founding fathers' ideal of a nation of free, independent farmers was irrevocably lost. The future belonged to business people, advertisers and manufacturers.
Beyond Eden "Is the history of my country and my own history," wrote John Steinbeck in a letter to his editor. He had thought about the material for eleven years before he returned to his native Salinas in 1948 and began researching in the archive of the local newspaper. Detailed childhood memories flowed into the “Autobiography of the Salinas Valley”, as Steinbeck also called his work. Samuel Hamilton is based on Steinbeck's grandfather, and many anecdotes told in the book about the weird Hamilton actually happened that way. With the novel, the author wanted to bring his four and six year old sons closer to the colors, smells and sounds of their own childhood. In a first draft he addressed them directly and gave them fatherly teachings that later fell victim to the publisher's red pen.
Steinbeck was inspired by the Old Testament story about Cain's fratricide of Abel. As for the title, he initially dropped several ideas. Only after he had written down the 16 lines of the biblical story did he decide on the last three words. Stylistically, he distanced himself from the realism of earlier works and experimented with a more open form that enabled changing perspectives as well as philosophical and autobiographical excursions. Steinbeck's role models were for this André GidesThe counterfeiters, HermanMelvillesMoby Dick and Henry FieldingsTom JonesSteinbeck wrote that he had combined all of his literary experience in the novel epic: “I believe that everything else was basically just an exercise for it.” The balance of his artistic summit storm: The consumption of 300 pencils and 17,000 sheets of paper, 350,000 written words and a callus on the middle finger of the right hand.
The novel was published in September 1952 in a version shortened by 90,000 words. In no time led Beyond Eden the bestseller lists, but the criticism reacted sniffily: Many reviewers found the biblical allegories penetrative, the characters woodcut-like and, above all, the figure of Cathy untrustworthy. The New York Times Steinbeck called it “probably the most problematic book”, and that New York Review of Books etched: "Inflated, pretentious and insecure ... a pathetic and intrusive book." Steinbeck seemed to have foreseen this, because he made fun of the anticipated slippage in advance. Regardless of all criticism, he considered it his greatest work - the "great American novel" that he wanted to write.
Filmed in 1955 Elia Kazan the fourth part of the novel with the participation of Steinbeck. Boy James Dean celebrated his cinema debut as Cal and shaped the attitude towards life of a generation with the portrayal of the brooding rebel. In 1981 the US television station ABC produced a three-part mini-series that was more based on the novel. The talk show host opened in 2003 Oprah Winfrey their American Masters book club with the popular classic. Again many literary connoisseurs turned up their noses, but the reading people agreed with Oprah: 51 years after the first publication shot Beyond Eden in second place on the national bestseller list. To this day, critics and fans argue about Steinbeck's place in the American literary pantheon.
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