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I'm trying to find out who I can attribute a well-known quotation from John Steinbeck's East of Eden to, but I can't access a copy of the book, and my internet research only comes up with "John Steinbeck". Well, of course – he's the author of the novel. But they're not words directly from his own mouth (for example, in an author's preface to the book). I'd like to know which character in the novel says these words:

And this I believe: that the free, exploring mind of the individual human is the most valuable thing in the world. And this I would fight for: the freedom of the mind to take any direction it wishes, undirected. And this I must fight against: any idea, religion, or government which limits or destroys the individual. This is what I am and what I am about.
[p. 131 of Penguin's Centennial Edition (2002), according to Wikiquote]

Since merely supplying the character's name would make for a dull answer, it would also be nice to know whether that character stays true to who they are and what they're about, and whether the outcome of the plot should be seen as vindication or rejection of that character's belief and principles. In other words, was Steinbeck merely using that character as a pulpit for Steinbeck's own moral/political view (as expressed in the quotation), or was he using his novel more objectively as a means to explore and test the stated viewpoint?

Those aren't additional questions, but they'd be interesting details if someone would like to offer a fuller answer.

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  • [I have a] dumb question: Isn't it just the narrator, who's said to be a version of Steinbeck himself?
    – CDR
    Feb 23 at 15:06

1 Answer 1

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The snippet in question is not attributed to any of the characters. It is from Chapter 13 Section 1, which is narrated in the neutral third person point of view that governs the novel. You can find the passage here in the 1995 Book of the Month Club edition.

Although not omniscient, this narrator is not presented as unreliable either. There is no authorial distancing from the narrative voice. So it seems acceptable to assume that the narrator is a version of Steinbeck, and that the views are indeed attributable to the author himself. That said, if the goal is to claim that Steinbeck had libertarian leanings, it seems advisable to provide additional evidence, either from some non-fiction source of Steinbeck's, or by showing a pattern of such thinking across his narrators in multiple novels. A single fictional narrator isn't the safest vehicle for drawing conclusions about what the author himself believed.

Steinbeck, John. East of Eden. 1952. New York: Book of the Month Club, 1995. p. 132. Accessed on archive.org 23 February 2023.

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  • [I have another] dumb question: Why/how is it third person?
    – CDR
    Feb 23 at 21:15
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    It's third person in the sense that the narrator is not a direct participant in the action. Even though the narrator says I, it's not the I or a character in the novel, the way (say) Nick Carraway is I in The Great Gatsby. Though what makes Steinbeck's I third- rather than first-person would be a good question for the site.
    – verbose
    Feb 23 at 21:33
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    yeah, I figured as much upon reflection, and, yes, that'd be an interesting question. If you don't ask it soon, I will :)
    – CDR
    Feb 23 at 21:57
  • @CDR I'm not planning to ask it.
    – verbose
    Feb 23 at 22:22
  • Your excellent answer identifies what I needed: I can attribute the statement to "the narrator". Thanks also for the link – very useful for the context for the quotation, but also to read the opening of the novel to get a sense of how the narrator is introduced to the reader (i.e. first person, but anonymous). Mar 5 at 0:10

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