Summary: Chapter 41

As it appears that war may break out in Europe, Cal convinces Aron to finish high school and begin college early. Cal even promises to help Aron pay for college. When Lee finds out about Cal’s plan, he offers to help with $5,000 he has saved over the years. Then, Cal talks to Will Hamilton about making money. Will is impressed with Cal’s openness and pragmatic business sense. Will takes Cal out to the Trask ranch and asks whether he wants a business partner. He tells Cal about a plan he has to make a great deal of money exporting beans in the wartime economy.

After the war breaks out, patriotic spirit explodes in Salinas. Cal and Will buy beans from local farmers for two-and-a-half cents a pound and sell them in England for twelve cents a pound. Cal plans to make enough money to restore the fortune Adam lost in his botched attempt at the refrigerated shipping business.

Summary: Chapter 42

The narrator briefly discusses the onset of World War I and how it affects Salinas. Telegrams begin to arrive informing families that their sons have been killed—a reality that gradually destroys the townspeople’s myth that the war could never affect them directly.

Summary: Chapter 43

Adam, proud of Aron’s decision to finish high school early, tells Lee that he wishes Cal had the same ambition. Lee replies that Cal may surprise Adam. Aron, busy with his studies in school and at church, hears that a local madam has begun attending church services.

The war continues, and Liza Hamilton dies. Aron passes his graduation exams but does not tell his father; Aron tells Cal that he does not think his father would even care about the exams. Lee, however, tells Aron that his father is immensely proud and that he was planning to give Aron a gold watch for graduation.

Summary: Chapter 44

Abra starts to spend time with Lee and Adam after Aron leaves for Stanford University. She confides in Lee and asks him if it is true that Aron’s mother is a prostitute. Lee confesses that it is indeed true. He worries that Aron will find out and that he will never understand that Adam lied to him about it in order to protect him. Meanwhile, Cal tells Lee that he has made enough money to pay back his $5,000, along with an additional $15,000 on top of it. Cal plans to give the money to his father on Thanksgiving.

One day, Abra tells Cal that Aron said he does not want to marry her, for he wants to be in the clergy. Cal says that Aron might still change his mind. Abra asks Cal if he visits prostitutes, and Cal confesses that he does. Abra tells Cal that she is sinful too, but Cal is skeptical. He tells Abra that life with Aron will force her to be moral.

Analysis: Chapters 41–44

These transitional chapters continue to undermine our original assumption that Aron is destined for good and Cal for evil. Instead, both boys exercise the free will implied by the concept of timshel, although they do so to different ends: Aron chooses a life of security and illusion, while Cal struggles to be moral amid the realities and evils of the world.

Cal encounters several important moral decision points in these chapters, and we see that he does not always choose well, despite his good motivations. Cal’s desperation to make back his father’s lost fortune leads him to go along with Will Hamilton’s morally dubious scheme to make money on the bean market in the wartime economy. The scheme, though legal, amounts to war profiteering, as it involves buying beans at cheap prices from California farmers who have no buyers and reselling the beans at high prices to English consumers whose wartime rations are running short. In addition to his questionable business dealings, Cal also admits that he frequents prostitutes. However, Cal’s decision to go along with Will’s scheme is grounded in love for Adam, and his decision to visit prostitutes illustrates that Cal, unlike Aron, lives in the real world and does the best he can with temptation. The celibate, indulgently idealistic Aron simply cuts himself off from temptation by withdrawing from the world, which comes across as a somewhat of an escape.

Adam, meanwhile, continues to place all his stock in Aron, despite the fact that Cal is the one who has the courage to struggle with and face the problems of the real world. Just as his own father, Cyrus, arbitrarily favored Adam over Charles, Adam himself now idealizes Aron and fails to see the promise in Cal. Adam mistakes Aron’s flight to Stanford as ambition, failing to realize that it is just another form of escape. He lavishes expensive graduation presents on Aron while lamenting the fact that Cal does not share Aron’s seeming drive and ambition. Lee, however, sees the potential in Cal and tells Adam, rightly, that Cal may surprise him one day.