15th February 2021

Today’s first reading at Mass was the story of Cain and Abel which we rarely hear about these days. It only comes up in the readings at Mass every so often and increasingly many people in the country will never have read it or come across it. Yet there are phrases in it like ‘Am I my brother’s keeper?’ ‘his blood crying out from the earth to me,’ ‘the mark of Cain,’and ‘east of Eden,’ that appear in daily use or in literature. The whole theme of jealousy between siblings, the rash act of assault, of murder, the exile and being forced out of the community to wander are themes that run through so much literature and we could possibly say are intrinsic to humanity in our current state (not that jealousy always leads to murder by any means, but damage often.) What we fail to realise sometimes is that the mark on Cain is not to single him out for punishment like Nathaniel Hawthorne’s scarlet letter, but a sign that on Cain’s pleading for mercy he has God’s protection and no one must touch him. Even after so violent and shocking crime as fratricide, for which he is punished, God will protect him. These early stories are all about the human condition. Trying to explain in story form what humanity is like and seek to answer why. But I would guess that many a class studying Steinbeck’s work would have to have the significance of his title ‘East of Eden’ explained to them. They could watch the film of course with James Dean, which, I find hard to believe, came out the year I was born.

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