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This chapter is probably the most important thematically to the novel, for it introduces the concept of timshel.
Lee and Samuel fall into philosophical discussion. Lee reveals that he and his Chinese friends have been debating the translation of the Hebrew word timshel. Lee says that the American Standard “orders men to triumph over sin.” The King James’ says ‘Thou shalt’ meaning that men will surely triumph over sin.” But the actual translation is “Thou mayest.” It is important because this leaves the way clear for free will. A man may choose to do or choose not to do something. Either way, he is in control of destiny.
We see this concept at work even before it is introduced. Samuel advises his Adam that the only way he can put Cathy out of his mind is to “kill the dream Cathy” and find another woman. It is completely Adam’s choice to either cling to the past or to move forward.
Samuel reveals to Adam what he knows about Cathy: that she is in Salinas and working in a whorehouse and is now called “Kate.”
The chapter concludes with Samuel and Lee, heads together again. “Thou mayest rule over sin,” Lee repeats. It is the choice all characters will have to make….whether they will allow sin to rule them or vice versa. Samuel must decide to accept the grace of his children; Lee, the family he has chosen but not created; Adam, the life he has both created and the choices he has yet to make.
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