Quotes

Categories are just for order and are continuously updated the more quotes are added and themes appear. Really, the relation between themes and quotes is many:many, not possible to display as a stream of text.

Relations

I have often thought that perhaps formal good manners may be a cushion against heartbreak.
– J Steinbeck, “East of Eden”

When a child first catches adults out—when it first walks into his grave little head that adults do not have divine intelligence, that their judgments are not always wise, their thinking true, their sentences just—his world falls into panic desolation. The gods are fallen and all safety gone. And there is one sure thing about the fall of gods: they do not fall a little; they crash and shatter or sink deeply into green muck. It is a tedious job to build them up again; they never quite shine. And the child’s world is never quite whole again. It is an aching kind of growing.
– J Steinbeck, “East of Eden”

Maybe I wanted to hand down the nonsense that passes for wisdom in a parent, to force it on my own helpless children.
– J Steinbeck, “East of Eden”

The greatest terror a child can have is that he is not loved, and rejection is the hell he fears. 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 in revenge for the rejection, and with the crime guilt—and there is the story of mankind. I think that if rejection could be amputated, the human would not be what he is. Maybe there would be fewer crazy people.
– J Steinbeck, “East of Eden”

I guess we were like a tough but inexperienced little boy who gets punched in the nose in the first flurry and it hurts and we wished it was over.
– J Steinbeck, “East of Eden”

Appearing vs. being

You can boast about anything if it’s all you have. Maybe the less you have, the more you are required to boast.
– J Steinbeck, “East of Eden”

People like you to be something, preferably what they are.
– J Steinbeck, “East of Eden”

Emotions

All great and precious things are lonely.
– J Steinbeck, “East of Eden”

There are no ugly questions except those clothed in condescension.
– J Steinbeck, “East of Eden”

Time

“It’s one of the great fallacies, it seems to me,” said Lee, “that time gives much of anything but years and sadness to a man.” “And memory.” “Yes, memory. Without that, time would be unarmed against us.
– J Steinbeck, “East of Eden”

It would be reasonable to suppose that a routine time or an eventless time would seem interminable. It should be so, but it is not. It is the dull eventless times that have no duration whatever.
– J Steinbeck, “East of Eden”

Every man has a retirement picture in which he does those things he never had time to do—makes the journeys, reads the neglected books he always pretended to have read.
– J Steinbeck, “East of Eden”

The split second has been growing more and more important to us. And as human activities become more and more intermeshed and integrated, the split tenth of a second will emerge, and then a new name must be made for the split hundredth, until one day, although I don’t believe it, we’ll say, “Oh, the hell with it. What’s wrong with an hour?”
– J Steinbeck, “East of Eden”

God

The proofs that God does not exist are very strong, but in lots of people they are not as strong as the feeling that He does.
– J Steinbeck, “East of Eden”

I actually think God is more of a brilliant marketing ploy.
– Abe Weissman in “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel”

Good and evil

To a monster the norm must seem monstrous, since everyone is normal to himself. To the inner monster it must be even more obscure, since he has no visible thing to compare with others. To a man born without conscience, a soul-stricken man must seem ridiculous. To a criminal, honesty is foolish. You must not forget that a monster is only a variation, and that to a monster the norm is monstrous.
– J Steinbeck, “East of Eden”

Maybe we all have in us a secret pond where evil and ugly things germinate and grow strong. But this culture is fenced, and the swimming brood climbs up only to fall back. Might it not be that in the dark pools of some men the evil grows strong enough to wriggle over the fence and swim free? Would not such a man be our monster, and are we not related to him in our hidden water? It would be absurd if we did not understand both angels and devils, since we invented them.
– J Steinbeck, “East of Eden”

Some men are friends with the whole world in their hearts, and there are others that hate themselves and spread their hatred around like butter on hot bread.
– J Steinbeck, “East of Eden”

I believe that there is one story in the world, and only one, that has frightened and inspired us, so that we live in a Pearl White serial of continuing thought and wonder. Humans are caught—in their lives, in their thoughts, in their hungers and ambitions, in their avarice and cruelty, and in their kindness and generosity too—in a net of good and evil. I think this is the only story we have and that it occurs on all levels of feeling and intelligence. Virtue and vice were warp and woof of our first consciousness, and they will be the fabric of our last, and this despite any changes we may impose on field and river and mountain, on economy and manners. There is no other story. A man, after he has brushed off the dust and chips of his life, will have left only the hard, clean questions: Was it good or was it evil? Have I done well—or ill?
– J Steinbeck, “East of Eden”

We have only one story. All novels, all poetry, are built on the never-ending contest in ourselves of good and evil. And it occurs to me that evil must constantly respawn, while good, while virtue, is immortal. Vice has always a new fresh young face, while virtue is venerable as nothing else in the world is.
– J Steinbeck, “East of Eden”

Adam could do no dishonesty. He didn’t want anything. You had to crave something to be dishonest.
– J Steinbeck, “East of Eden”

Suppose it were true - Adam, the most rigidly honest man it was possible to find, living all his life on stolen money. Lee laughed to himself - now this second will, and Aron, whose purity was a little on the self-indulgent side, living all his life on the profits from a whorehouse. Was this some kind of joke or did things balance so that if one went too far in one direction an automatic slide moved on the scale and the balance was re-established?
– J Steinbeck, “East of Eden”

Hate cannot live alone. It must have love as a trigger, a goad, or a stimulant.
– J Steinbeck, “East of Eden”

We think everybody is seeing into us. Then dirt is very dirty and purity is shining white.
– J Steinbeck, “East of Eden”

Capitalism

When our food and clothing and housing all are born in the complication of mass production, mass method is bound to get into our thinking and to eliminate all other thinking. In our time mass or collective production has entered our economics, our politics, and even our religion, so that some nations have substituted the idea collective for the idea God.
– J Steinbeck, “East of Eden”

Wealth

“Maybe everyone is too rich. I have noticed that there is no dissatisfaction like that of the rich. Feed a man, clothe him, put him in a good house, and he will die of despair.”
– J Steinbeck, “East of Eden”

And in our time, when a man dies — if he has had wealth and influence and power and all the vestments that arouse envy, and after the living take stock of the dead man’s property and his eminence and works and monuments — the question is still there: Was his life good or was it evil? — which is another way of putting Croesus’s question. Envies are gone, and the measuring stick is: “Was he loved or was he hated? Is his death felt as a loss or does a kind of joy come of it?”
– J Steinbeck, “East of Eden”

Riches seem to come to the poor in spirit, the poor in interest and joy. To put it straight — the very rich are a poor bunch of bastards.
– J Steinbeck, “East of Eden”

Society

The church and the whorehouse arrived in the Far West simultaneously. And each would have been horrified to think it was a different facet of the same thing. But surely they were both intended to accomplish the same thing: the singing, the devotion, the poetry of the churches took a man out of his bleakness for a time, and so did the brothels.
– J Steinbeck, “East of Eden”

Whenever a human has a nickname it is a proof that the name given him was wrong.
– J Steinbeck, “East of Eden”

It takes great courage to back truth unacceptable to our times.
– J Steinbeck, “East of Eden”

Isn’t it strange that today we have forgotten this? We remember World War I as quick victory, with flags and bands, marching and horseplay and returning soldiers, fights in the barrooms with the goddam Limeys who thought they had won the war. How quickly we forgot that in that winter Ludendorff could not be beaten and that many people were preparing in their minds and spirits for a lost war.
– J Steinbeck, “East of Eden”

I hope I’m not so small-souled as to take satisfaction in being missed.
– J Steinbeck, “East of Eden”

“And I like large parties. They’re so intimate. At small parties there isn’t any privacy.”
– F S Fitzgerald, “The great Gatsby”

“Everyone suspects himself of at least one of the cardinal virtues”
– F S Fitzgerald, “The great Gatsby”

“and I do not know, Mrs Elton, whether the uncertainty of our meetings, the sort of constant expectation there will be of his coming today or tomorrow, and at any hour, may not be more friendly to happiness than having him actually in the house. It think it is so. I think it is the state of mind which gives most spirit and delight.”
– J Austen, “Emma”

Power

When power is scarce, a little of it is tempting.
– M Atwood, “The Handmaid’s tale”

They kept order the way our poor species has ever learned to keep order. We think there must be better ways but we never learn them — always the whip, the rope, and the rifle.
– J Steinbeck, “East of Eden”

Hierarchy and class

I don’t know where being a servant came into disrepute. It is the refuge of a philosopher, the food of the lazy, and, properly carried out, it is a position of power, even of love. I can’t understand why more intelligent people don’t take it as a career—learn to do it well and reap its benefits. A good servant has absolute security, not because of his master’s kindness, but because of habit and indolence. It’s a hard thing for a man to change spices or lay out his own socks. He’ll keep a bad servant rather than change. 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, reduce him to terror as a discipline, or distribute happiness to him, and finally be mentioned in his will.
– J Steinbeck, “East of Eden”

American exceptionalism

A war comes always to someone else. In Salinas we were aware that the United States was the greatest and most powerful nation in the world. Every American was a rifleman by birth, and one American was worth ten or twenty foreigners in a fight. Pershing’s expedition into Mexico after Villa had exploded one of our myths for a little while. We had truly believed that Mexicans can’t shoot straight and besides were lazy and stupid. When our own Troop C came wearily back from the border they said that none of this was true. Mexicans could shoot straight, goddam it! And Villa’s horsemen had outridden and outlasted our town boys. The two evenings a month of training had not toughened them very much. And last, the Mexicans seemed to have outthought and outambushed Black Jack Pershing. When the Mexicans were joined by their ally, dysentery, it was godawful. Some of our boys didn’t really feel good again for years.
– J Steinbeck, “East of Eden”

Freedom

And this I believe: that the free, exploring mind of the individual human is the most valuable thing in the world.
– J Steinbeck, “East of Eden”

“Don’t you see?” he cried. “The American Standard translation orders men to triumph over sin, and you can call sin ignorance. The King James translation makes a promise in ‘Thou shalt,’ meaning that men will surely triumph over sin. But the Hebrew word, the word timshel—’Thou mayest’—that gives a choice. It might be the most important word in the world. That says the way is open. That throws it right back on a man. For if ‘Thou mayest’—it is also true that ‘Thou mayest not.’ Don’t you see?”
– J Steinbeck, “East of Eden”

Any writing which has influenced the thinking and the lives of innumerable people is important. Now, there are many millions in their sects and churches who feel the order, ‘Do thou,’ and throw their weight into obedience. And there are millions more who feel predestination in ‘Thou shalt.’ Nothing they may do can interfere with what will be. But ‘Thou mayest’! Why, that makes a man great, that gives him stature with the gods, for in his weakness and his filth and his murder of his brother he has still the great choice. He can choose his course and fight it through and win.”
– J Steinbeck, “East of Eden”

It is easy out of laziness, out of weakness, to throw oneself into the lap of deity, saying, ‘I couldn’t help it; the way was set.’ But think of the glory of the choice! That makes a man a man.
– J Steinbeck, “East of Eden”

All good things are wild and free.
– H J Thoreau, “Walking” (lecture)

Inequality

The problem with borders, I was beginning to realize, isn’t that they are monstrous, offensive and unnatural constructions. The problem with borders is the same as the problem with evil that Hannah Arendt identified: their banality. We subconsciously accept them as part of the landscape - at least those of us privileged by them, granted meaningful passports - because they articulate our deepest, least exalted desire, for prestige and permanence, order and security, always at the cost of someone or something else.
– K Harris, “Lands of lost borders”

Greatness and mediocrity

It isn’t what we say or think that defines us, but what we do.
– Jane Austen, “Sense and Sensibility”

There you have the difference between greatness and mediocrity. It’s not an uncommon disease. But it’s nice for a mediocre man to know that greatness must be the loneliest state in the world.” “I’d think there are degrees of greatness,” Adam said. “I don’t think so,” said Samuel. “That would be like saying there is a little bigness. No. I believe when you come to that responsibility the hugeness and you are alone to make your choice. On one side you have warmth and companionship and sweet understanding, and on the other—cold, lonely greatness. There you make your choice. I’m glad I chose mediocrity, but how am I to say what reward might have come with the other?
– J Steinbeck, “East of Eden”

Being knowledgeable

A man who is certain he is right is almost sure to be wrong.
Attributed to M Faraday, from a speech he gave in 1819.

The medical profession is unconsciously irritated by lay knowledge.
– J Steinbeck, “East of Eden”

Intelligence

Shrewdness tells you what you must not do because it would not be shrewd.
– J Steinbeck, “East of Eden”

Creativity

Our species is the only creative species, and it has only one creative instrument, the individual mind and spirit of a man. Nothing was ever created by two men. There are no good collaborations, whether in music, in art, in poetry, in mathematics, in philosophy. Once the miracle of creation has taken place, the group can build and extend it, but the group never invents anything. The preciousness lies in the lonely mind of a man.
– J Steinbeck, “East of Eden”

You are one of the rare people who can separate your observation from your preconception. You see what is, where most people see what they expect.
– J Steinbeck, “East of Eden”

In human affairs of danger and delicacy successful conclusion is sharply limited by hurry. So often men trip by being in a rush. If one were properly to perform a difficult and subtle act, he should first inspect the end to be achieved and then, once he had accepted the end as desirable, he should forget it completely and concentrate solely on the means. By this method he would not be moved to false action by anxiety or hurry or fear. Very few people learn this.
– J Steinbeck, “East of Eden”

Learning

There is only one corner of the universe you can be certain of improving, and that is your own self.
– A Huxley

Mathematics

One of the most painful parts about teaching mathematics is seeing students damaged by the cult of the genius. The genius cult tells students it’s not worth doing mathematics unless you’re the best at mathematics, because those special few are the only ones whose contributions matter. We don’t treat any other subject that way!
– J Ellenberg, “How not to be wrong”

Environment

for if people see themselves as distinct and separate from the natural world, they believe they risk nothing in destroying it. What Thoreau was really saying was that he’d travelled wildly in Concord, that you can travel wildly just about anywhere. The wildness of a place or experience” isn’t in the place or experience, necessarily, but in you - your capacity to see it, feel it.
– K Harris, “Lands of lost borders”

“I lay in my sleeping bag, aching all over, and fervently hoped humans never made it to Mars. We didn’t deserve a new world; we’d just wreck it all over again.
– K Harris, “Lands of lost borders”