Where can I find a quote that supports the idea that Lee was a good friend to Adam and Samuel in East of Eden?
Lee, originally presented as a simple servant, is revealed to be one of the most complex characters in East of Eden. Affecting a poor understanding of English, he explains to Samuel—who realizes that Lee speaks English perfectly well long before Adam, his employer, ever does—that he will not be understood if he does not speak pidgin. His servitude is a matter of personal choice, contrary to expectations; as Lee tells Samuel:
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 love.
This conversation is where Lee and Samuel’s friendship begins, with a mutual curiosity and love of knowledge. By the next time they meet, when Cathy is giving birth, Lee offers to lend Samuel books and show him poetry that he has translated from Chinese to English. Theirs is an intellectual friendship, but no less meaningful for it.
Adam and Lee’s relationship is that of servant and master, but it also evolves. On the twins’ naming day, Samuel invites Lee to join them. By the end of the meal, Adam notes to Samuel:
“It’s strange to me—he used to speak differently.”
“He trusts you now,” Samuel said. “He has a gift of resigned loyalty without hope of reward. He’s maybe a much better man than either of us could dream of being.”
After dinner, the three men ponder original sin and the story of Cain and Abel, introducing a central theme of the book. As a result of this conversation, years later Lee comes to both men with the story of timshel—”thou mayest.” Samuel is particularly affected by this tale, and later says to Lee:
You know, Lee, I think of my life as a kind of music, not always good music but still having form and melody. And my life has not been a full orchestra for a good time now. A single note only—and that note unchanging sorrow. I’m not alone in my attitude, Lee. It seems to me that too many of us conceive of life as ending in defeat. [. . .] It was your two-word retranslation, Lee—’Thou mayest.’ It took me by the throat and shook me. And when the dizziness was over, a path was open, new and bright. And my life which is ending seems to be going onto an ending wonderful. And my music has a new last melody like a bird song in the night.
Knowing that he is at the end of his life, Lee’s retranslation gave Samuel hope: one last gift.
Adam and Lee’s relationship is very different—Adam is rarely, if ever, aware of Lee’s true capabilities, while Samuel sussed them out within a few moments of meeting him—but Lee’s remark about servitude being a position of love foreshadows what will come to pass. Given an opportunity to start the bookshop he has always dreamed of, Lee leaves, only to return within six days.
“Adam,” he said, “I am incomparably, incredibly, overwhelmingly glad to be home. I’ve never been so goddamn lonesome in my life.”
Despite Lee’s unspoken implication that Adam and the twins are his family, Adam often underestimates how much Lee does for them. When the sheriff goes to tell Adam that Cathy is dead, he notes something odd about the house:
It was too feminine—a woman’s room designed by a man—and overdone, too feminine. That would be Lee. Adam wouldn’t even see it, let alone put it together—no—Lee trying to make a home, and Adam not even seeing it.
Lee’s friendship touches both of the men’s lives, albeit in very different ways: while with Samuel he was merely a friend and fellow intellectual, with Adam he was quietly and invisibly essential. At the end of both of their lives, it is Lee and his concept of timshel that they remember.