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25/30 Day Book Meme: Character

Day 25: A character who you can relate to the most

Lee, the servant, is a far more significant character than any other in East of Eden. Steinbeck uses irony by portraying Lee as a simple-minded servant. There are numerous occasions where Lee fixes a problem in the Trask family. He is the reason that the Trasks stayed together as long as they did. He is a parent to Aaron, Cal, and Abra, a friend to Adam, and a philosopher of life. While I might not be the intellectual and bonding servant who philosophizes, I can relate to Lee because I prefer to be thriving in silence and not being at the center of the stage. I want to be exerting positive influence in people’s life without being recognized. Throughout the book, Lee’s social status presents tremendous irony. Being a servant, he is of a lower class than all other people. However, it’s evident that Lee is the most superior character in the story. To be honest, even after 20+ years in America, it gives me goosepimples when people identify me an “American” or “Asian American.” Eating habits you can assimilate, but not your roots. Sometimes I feel like being a second-class citizen, especially when you’re minority and gay.

The conversation between Lee and Sam Hamilton shows that Lee is only hiding behind the status of a servant, but in actuality, he is an intelligent, English speaking American. It’s odd for Lee to hold trust in people, but he immediately trusts Sam Hamilton when they meet. Sam Hamilton’s understanding of Lee is important because Lee now has someone to talk to about his insights on life. Throughout reading East of Eden, I questioned how the story might have turned out if Lee’s character doesn’t exist. The story is about the Trasks, but it is Lee that provides the nuts and bolts. Lee is not afraid of Cathy, but in fact makes her feel uneasy. Lee is obviously unique if Cathy, a quite conniving and manipulative person, cannot control him.

“Lee,” he said at last, “I mean no disrespect, but I’ve never been able to figure why you people still talk pidgin when an illiterate baboon from the black bogs of Ireland, with a head full of Gaelic and a tongue like a potato, leans to talk a poor grade of English in ten years”.
Lee grinned. “Me talkee Chinese talk” he said.

“Well, I guess you have your reasons. And it’s not my affair. I hope you forgive me if I don’t believe it, Lee.”
Lee looked at him and the brown eyes under their rounded upper lids seemed to open and deepen until they weren’t foreign any more, but man’s eyes, warm with understanding. Lee chuckled. “It’s more than a convenience,” he said. “It’s even more than a self-protection. Mostly we have to use it to be understood at all . . . . If I should go up to a lady or a gentleman, for instance, and speak as I am doing now, I wouldn’t be understood.”

“Why not?”

“Pidgin they expect, and pidgin they’ll listen to. But English from me they don’t listen to, and so they don’t understand it . . . . I think I can guess what your next question is.”


“Why am I content to be a servant?”

“How in the world did you know?”

“It seemed to follow.”

“Do you resent the question?”

“Not from you. There are no ugly questions except those clothed in condescension . . . . But a good servant, and I am an excellent one, can completely control his master, tell him what to think, how to act, whom to marry, when to divorce . . . ”

Pidgin English I don’t speak, but I feel so close to Lee and we’re perfectly aligned in our sentiment. Lee doesn’t crave recognition, wealth, or status, but Lee is unswervingly devoted to his master. At the end of the story, Lee makes a great effort to help keep what is left of the Trask family. The Trask are now at their worst moment, as Adam is on the verge of death, Cal is overwhelmed with guilt, and Aron has been killed in the army. Who would imagine a simple-minded servant be that influential?

3 Responses

  1. Lee is one of my favorite characters in what is one of my favorite books. I specifically remember that conversation because it speaks so much to what our expectations are of anyone. Interesting. Great post.

  2. IMHO he is one of Steinbeck’s most important characters and certainly my favorite in the story. The fact that Steinbeck created such a characters assures me of his brilliance as an author.

  3. […] 25: A character who you can relate to the most Lee, the servant from East of Eden by John […]

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