“Sometimes a Kind of Glory”

East of Eden coverFrom the thirteenth chapter of Steinbeck’s East of Eden:

Sometimes a kind of glory lights up the mind of a man.  It happens to nearly everyone.  You can feel it growing or preparing like a fuse burning toward dynamite.  It is a feeling in the stomach, a delight of the nerves, of the forearms.  The skin tastes the air, and every deep-drawing breath is sweet.  Its beginning has the pleasure of a great stretching yawn; it flashes in the brain and the whole world glows outside your eyes.  A man may have lived all of his life in the gray, and the land and trees of him dark and somber.  The events, even the important ones, may have trooped by faceless and pale.  And then—the glory—so that a cricket song sweetens his ears, the smell of the earth rises chanting to his nose, and dappling light under a tree blesses his eyes.  Then a man pours outward, a torrent of him, and yet he is not diminished.  And I guess a man’s importance in the world can be measured by the quality and number of his glories.  It is a lonely thing but it relates us to the world.  It is the mother of all creativeness, and it sets each man separate from all other men.

The thing about Steinbeck’s fiction, at least from my limited exposure to it, is that it is populated with earnest characters.  Not all likable, not all saints, but almost everyone one of them earnestly himself, defiantly herself, each fully rendered in the simplest of terms.  I get that sense sometimes in movies, though it’s been a while.  It is both a comfort and a frustration.  A comfort because it resonates; a frustration because it seems so rare in the world outside of fiction.

(image from amazon.com)

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