武夷山分享 http://blog.sciencenet.cn/u/Wuyishan 中国科学技术发展战略研究院研究员;南京大学信息管理系博导

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A Note Written after Reading "East of Eden"

已有 5555 次阅读 2007-10-1 07:53 |个人分类:阅读笔记

下面一段文字是我十几年前在美国工作期间阅读诺贝尔文学奖得主斯坦贝克的小说《伊甸园之东》(East of Eden)后写的读后感,经过英语老师(一位退休的美国中学教师)的少量修改。现放在这里,请英语学习爱好者批评指正。

 

Lee and Samuel As I See Them

 

As a Chinese, I like Lee enormously. At the same time, I find myself fascinated by Samuel, who was Irish in the novel, but is a Chinese in my memory.

Lee was a jack of all trades, in the positive sense of the expression. He was a cook, a very good one for that matter and also doctor, nurse, gardener and philosopher. An ordinary man, he is close to my ideal of a good person. The only pity I have for him is that he doesn’t have a nice wife to accompany him.

Lee was very kind, always ready to help, as typical of a Chinese. To my amusement, Steinbeck put forward his theory about origin of good and evil through Lee’s mouth. Lee said, “I think everyone in the world to a large or small extent has felt rejection. And with rejection comes anger, and with anger some kind of crime guilt----and there is the story of mankind…One child, refused the love he craves, kicks the cat and hides his secret guilt; and another steals so that money will make him loved; and a third conquers the world----and always the guilt and revenge and more guilt.” That is to say, Lee attributed the root of almost everything----from things as bad s stealing to things as great as conquering the world----to lack of love, a negative thing. Countless ancient Chinese philosophers thought totally otherwise. They emphasize positive motivations. Confucius said, “To be human is to be kind”. He was also believed to have remarked, “There are three immortal things in human life: to achieve virtue; to achieve feats; and to achieve writings”. In a word, he and many other Chinese thinkers wanted to promote the good with the good. There is no concept of  “Original Sin” in Chinese thought. That’s why the Chinese people are easily satisfied. Lee was typical in this regard. He was neither rich nor powerful, but he always lived his life in a serious and hopeful way, and I think he was happy. Behaving as he did, Lee should not have given a theory so strange to a Chinese. This incongruity of Lee’s character is Steinbeck’s  small failure. In spite of this, Lee is a quite successful figure among so many others created by the author.

Both China and Ireland have suffered a lot for so many years.  Maybe that’s why Lee and Samuel had natural empathy towards each other and had not a few commonalities.

Samuel’s inventiveness is also characteristic of many Chinese. Besides, he had got a big family of nine children. He loved to chat with his neighbors and friends, just as most contemporary Chinese do. He was talented in many things except for  making money. Although some Chinese individuals made great fortunes, as a nation, the Chinese people lack of the trait of achieving big in business. For instance, inventive Chinese in the Ming Dynasty made majestic ships and navigated , many times, to as far as Europe under the leadership of Cheng Ho, but they didn’t do business with European merchants as they got there. The sole purpose of these expeditions is just to show Ming Empire’s prestige. Today, Japan made much more profit than China through export of exquisite cloisonné and china products , which were invented in China centuries ago. Here lies another similarity between Samuel and Chinese. Samuel enjoyed helping others to the extent of being “nosy” ( as Adam chided him) sometimes. So do many Chinese. Samuel once advised Adam to keep on drilling wells and live with hope instead of being depressed forever. He himself had always lived with hope, no matter how bad a failure he got. A typical Chinese is also full of hope in life, even though when he or she is bogged in quagmire. As an indicator, suicide rate in China is much lower than in Western countries. Places were very important to Samuel. The ranch was a relative, and when he left it he plunged a knife into a darling.” This feeling towards land could probably be most easily shared with Chinese people, especially Chinese farmers. In recent years, the Chinese government experimented with a program of transferring farmers from the poorest areas to richer areas with more favorable natural conditions. These farmers either refused to leave their homeland, or took liberty of trekking back to their God-forsaken villages not long after they had been settled in new areas.

(Aside from Samuel, his wife Liza was also very much like a Chinese woman of old times, always hardworking, seldom complaining, putting her children way above herself. She  “was even suspicious of laughter”, while a decent Chinese woman was supposed to smile less and not to reveal her teeth even when she smiles.)

Samuel was good at creation, Lee was good at understanding and befriending a creative person. It’s not strange, therefore, that two became unique and permanent friends. Such coupling happens very often in real life. For example, Einstein’s best friend, Mr. Michele Besso, was a physics professor who didn’t publish many outstanding papers as Einstein did, but had surprising comprehension of Einstein’s seminal ideas. In a sense, Samuel is Einstein, Lee is Besso. I admire Steinbeck’s ability to abstract such a matching relationship from life and create these two immortal characters.

As a consequence, I love the true Chinese----Lee very much and the “quasi-Chinese”----Samuel none the less.              



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