In 1911, Samuel is stricken with grief after his favorite daughter, Una, dies shortly after moving to a remote area of Oregon with her husband. When the Hamilton children visit Samuel and Liza for Thanksgiving, they notice that the previously youthful Samuel has suddenly aged significantly. The children devise a plan get their parents off the ranch by taking turns hosting them for long periods of time. Tom disapproves of the plan, saying it indicates to the aged Samuel that his life is essentially over. The other children, however, like the plan and present the idea to Samuel as though it were a vacation. Samuel accepts the plan but confides to Tom that he sees through it and realizes that his children are helping him transition into old age.
“[T]he 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”
Before he leaves his farm to stay with his children, Samuel goes to see Adam Trask. Samuel talks to the twins, now eleven years old, and reflects upon the fact that the easygoing Aron (he has dropped the first A in Aaron) reminds him of Abel and the closemouthed Caleb reminds him of Cain.
Samuel, Adam, and Lee discuss the biblical story of Cain and Abel. Lee says that he has been troubled by a discrepancy in the story that arises from two different translations of the Bible—according to one translation, God promises Cain that he will overcome sin; in another translation, God orders Cain to overcome sin. According to Lee, the Hebrew word in question is timshel. After researching the matter for several years, Lee has determined that timshel means “thou mayest.” Lee considers this translation of timshel to be an extraordinary revelation, as it implies that God has given human beings the choice of whether or not to overcome sin—essentially giving humans the freedom to choose their course in life.
The men go for a walk, and Samuel asks Adam if he is happy. Adam does not answer. Samuel, hoping to force Adam to forget about Cathy, reveals to Adam that Cathy runs the most depraved whorehouse in the entire valley. Overcome with shock, Adam hurries away.
Samuel Hamilton dies of old age. After the funeral, Adam goes to Cathy’s brothel. As soon as he sees that Cathy is no longer beautiful and that she is actually a monster, Adam realizes that he finally can put her out of his mind. When he tells her as much, she responds that he is wrong to condemn her for her views, for there is nothing but depravity and evil in the world.
Cathy shows Adam photos of some of the most powerful and important men of the Salinas Valley performing sadomasochistic sex acts with her whores, and she brazenly admits to blackmailing the men with the pictures. As Adam rises to leave, Cathy suddenly panics, feeling him slip away—she even offers to sleep with him. When Adam shudders in disgust, Cathy cruelly claims that Charles is the twins’ real father, for she slept with Charles on the night of her marriage to Adam. Adam says that he does not believe her and that it does not matter anyway, even if she is telling the truth.
The narrator is actually John Hamilton, the grandson of Samuel Hamilton and the son of Olive Hamilton.
17 out of 96 people found this helpful
Actually, the narrator is John Steinbeck. Olive Hamilton is married to a Steinbeck and the novel often mentions the "Steinbeck House" and her husband and children. It's supposed to be an ironic little pun he puts in there.
9 out of 11 people found this helpful
Come on people, John Steinbeck is the narrator and Olive Hamilton is his mother. Samuel is his grandfather.
2 out of 4 people found this helpful