The Changes of Cain

The Changes of Cain: Violence and the Lost Brother in Cain and Abel Literature

Ricardo J. Quinones
Copyright Date: 1991
Pages: 292
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    The Changes of Cain
    Book Description:

    Era by era, from the writings of the classical Christian epoch up to East of Eden and Amadeus, from Philo to Finnegans Wake, Ricardo Quinones examines the contexts of a master metaphor of our culture. This brilliant work is the first comprehensive book on the Cain and Abel story.

    "Ricardo Quinones takes us on a grand tour of Western civilization in his admirable book, which reveals the riches of the Cain-Abel story as it develops from its Biblical origin to Citizen Kane and Michel Tournier. This is cultural history and literary criticism of the first order, finely written, formidably but gracefully erudite, and illustrating the capacity of Judeo-Christian culture and the modernity emerging from it constantly to criticize the darker side of its own foundations and realizations."--Joseph Frank

    "Ricardo J. Quinones skips Biblical and Talmudic exegesis to follow Cain and Abel through later centuries, from classical times to the present. What he uncovers sheds light on important shifts of consciousness and behavior in European and American culture. . . . Quinones writes with true eloquence and conviction. . . ."--James Finn Cotter, The Hudson Review

    "Quinones's study of how [the] three Cains were transformed by Romanticism and Modernism into a sometimes positive, sometimes negative, but always necessary archetype of the modern world is literary and cultural analytic history at its very best."--Choice

    Ricardo J. Quinones is Josephine Olp Weeks Professor of English and Comparative Literatures, and Director of the Gould Center for Humanistic Studies, at Claremont McKenna College in Claremont, California. He is the author of The Renaissance Discovery of Time (Harvard), Dante Alighieri (Twayne), and Mapping Literary Modernism: Time and Development (Princeton).

    Originally published in 1991.

    ThePrinceton Legacy Libraryuses the latest print-on-demand technology to again make available previously out-of-print books from the distinguished backlist of Princeton University Press. These paperback editions preserve the original texts of these important books while presenting them in durable paperback editions. The goal of the Princeton Legacy Library is to vastly increase access to the rich scholarly heritage found in the thousands of books published by Princeton University Press since its founding in 1905.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-6214-6
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
    (pp. vii-2)
    (pp. 3-20)

    Out of the vast repertoire of Western myth, one myth stands apart for the extraordinary longevity and variousness of its appeal. This is the Cain-Abel story, which has been present to the Western consciousness since the biblical era as one of the defining myths of our culture. The dramatic elements of the story are powerful enough—the first murder, banishment, the first city—but as we probe the inner resources of the story, we find many other qualities that account for the proliferating and enduring strength of the theme. Very early the theme entered into alliance with the foundation sacrifice,...

  5. Part One: The Three Traditions
    • Chapter One CITIZEN CAIN
      (pp. 23-40)

      From the outset it must be recognized that the greatest revolution—certainly the longest-lasting—in the history of the Cain-Abel theme was the first, when the biblical brothers were transformed by Philo and later by Augustine into universal, rival, and contending principles. This was the critical moment of emergence for Cain-Abel as a theme of significance and extensiveness. Despite our own time’s justifiable suspicion of dualistic thinking, it must be acknowledged that the reason for the theme’s assumption of such appeal and force was precisely its dualistic properties—the very same properties that would account for its continued effectiveness in...

    • Chapter Two MONSTROUS CAIN
      (pp. 41-61)

      Born in the religious nomadic cultures of the East, the Cain-Abel theme soon ceased being a localized theme, and acquired mobility, even universality. Although it was taken over and developed by religious thinkers in the large urban centers, such metropolises as Alexandria, Milan, Rome, and the African coastal cities, it was used to express an anti-urban and, almost coincidentally, an antisecular sentiment. Very early, Josephus, in hisAntiquities of the Jews, found the city to have been the product of a curse on Cain. Associated with sophistication, city life required a complexity of involvement and interchange that seemed by itself...

      (pp. 62-84)

      Citizen Cain and monstrous Cain constitute two well-known traditions of the Cain-Abel story. Each comes surrounded by a repertoire of common qualities and familiar patterns that will continue to have a part—large and small—in later versions of the theme. But there is another tradition, an unexpected and powerful one, that will have an even more active part in the changes of Cain in the modern world, one that more fully reflects its complexities and problems. This is Cain as Sacred Executioner. The phrase, already utilized in the preceding chapter, is borrowed from Hyam Maccoby’sThe Sacred Executioner: Human...

  6. Part Two: Regenerate Cain
      (pp. 87-108)

      The possibilities for cultural confrontations between Augustine’s version of the story and that of Byron are as abundant as they are startling. The reversal of parts is nearly total. For Augustine, Abel was the quester, the dissatisfied sojourner upon earth, the militant seeking to transcend the civilized virtues of the tired pagan world, and the pilgrim longing for the heavenly city. Cain only desires the goods of the earthly city; he envies Abel simply because of Abel’s spiritual innocence, and he is the prototype for all those who are committed to violence and murder. His killing of Abel coats the...

    • Chapter Five THE SECRET SHARER
      (pp. 109-121)

      What Gessner’sDer Tod Abelswas to the second half of the eighteenth century (and beyond), Byron’sCainwas to the nineteenth century: each was a work of some originality, signaling a change in sensibility that in turn helped to spawn generations of followers. Conrad’sThe Secret Sharer, rather than initiating a period of reinterpretation, actually caps a near-century of development (and in this, of course, Conrad remains, premodernist).¹ Conrad carries on and develops the patterns and devices of regeneration that Byron introduced to the Cain-Abel story. These are (1) the continued elevation of Cain’s character and motivation, and coordinately,...

    • Chapter Six DEMIAN
      (pp. 122-134)

      It is useful to bring together works that participate within a thematic relationship. This “bracketing” creates an inner space within which meaningful energies are exchanged. This motion is both prospective and, what is more interesting, retrospective.Demian, as we shall see, obviously fits into the pattern of the Sacred Executioner and benefits from association with Byron’sCain, as well asThe Secret Sharer. But the vision within the bracketed inner space is also retrospective, as matters that have a submerged presence in a work likeThe Secret Sharersurface when confronted by the greater conceptual explicitness of a work like...

      (pp. 135-152)

      Among the spate of American works all invoking the Cain-Abel story that appeared after World War II, John Steinbeck’sEast of Edenexcels. In some ways, all of these works—and they include three films,The Gunfighter, Shane, andHigh Noon(only the second of which figures also as a prominent literary text), and two novels, Steinbeck’s work, and Herman Wouk’sThe Caine Mutiny—are all concerned with defining the nature of the American experience, wherein the character of Cain becomes something of a national type.¹ LikeDemian, these are all devoted to depicting a national Cain, one representative of...

  7. Part Three: Dramas of Envy
    • Chapter Eight BILLY BUDD
      (pp. 155-166)

      All of the works discussed within the pattern of regenerate Cain (and they do have their variations and individual qualities), from Byron’sCainto Wouk’sThe Caine Mutiny, provide illumination and insight into each other and into the larger issues that they contain. In some ways, in the postromantic world, this pattern, despite all of the surges and sags, countercurrents and evident devolutions, is still dominant. If we ask why this should be so, we can see that the pattern of regenerate Cain predominates because it involves a dramatic search for values and an attempt to reintegrate the forces represented...

      (pp. 167-172)

      We introduce these very contemporary works here to show how and why the struggles of artists form a natural venue for the Cain-Abel story. Our concern here lies not with the expressive fury of thepoète maudit, who welcomes the mark of Cain, nor with the fortunate accounts of regeneration, rather our interests are determined by the theological drama and the situation of envy established by the enclosed relationship of Billy and Claggart. These evoke the older Cain-Abel stories, where happy brightness is destroyed, where pages are ripped from the book of human history. Liberation is not in view here,...

    • Chapter Ten ABEL SÁNCHEZ
      (pp. 173-182)

      It becomes dearer that the pattern established by the regenerate Cain is the dominant one in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, when we observe that it, or the forces that produced it, have been at work in transforming even the Cain-Abel stories that participate in the situation of envy. The envious Cain character, as we have seen, seems to be less an outright villain and more of a victim himself. There seems to be nobody really to blame in the dramas of envy. Even Melville alludes to this in his description of Claggart’s deterministic helplessness.

      But the dominance of the...

  8. Part Four: Tomorrow’s Cain
    • Chapter Eleven CAIN OF FUTURE HISTORY
      (pp. 185-214)

      The first chapter of Part Two enumerates the distinct contributions made by Salomon Gessner’sDer Tod Abelsto the Cain story, showing how it entered into and became part of a new line of regenerate Cains. But there is another discernible line of development in the Cain-Abel story that takes its inception from Gessner’s work, particularly the crucial yet false dream that sets Cain in his course of violent action. These works, assembled here, may or may not be theological, but they are decidedly historical and social. They use the past in order to recreate a future history, intermixing, in...

    • Chapter Twelve TWINNING THE TWAIN
      (pp. 215-237)

      Romanticism, while transforming basic character evaluations of the Cain-Abel theme, did not challenge its essential dualistic structure. This was left for twentieth-century modernists who tried to alter the primary seesaw psychology of the theme. Whether in the stories of the regenerate Cain or in those of a Cain rooted in theological envy, when one side was up, the other side was down. What the modernists did was alleviate this cruel dynamic and expand on the terribly invidious and dualistic bases for judgment. They set about to establish points of interchange, of reflection, what we have come to call “complementarities.”¹ Modernists...

    (pp. 238-248)

    This study of Cain and Abel has revealed four major areas or patterns of the theme in the literature since romanticism. These patterns—regenerate Cain, envious Cain, Cain of future history, and Cain and Abel as complementary figures (incidentally, the first three do seem to continue the three ancient traditions of the theme)—indicate that there is no single paradigm of romantic and postromantic Cain, and that the view expressed by an older generation (itself formed critically by romanticism) of Cain as a tormented, doomed, but heroic rebel, the archsymbol of the “rebel against God” is not tenable. Although it...

  10. NOTES
    (pp. 249-278)
  11. INDEX
    (pp. 279-284)