Chapters 12- 15
Looking backwards in time from 1900, the narrator meditates on how humans tend to forget disagreeable historical facts. But this tendency, he maintains, serves the purpose of enabling the human race to progress. He states that the nineteenth century was one of murderous chaos, we are well rid of it, and then shares his worries about the impending twentieth century. The forces of mass production that compel people to labor collectively in factories, whether it be building automobiles or baking millions of loaves of bread, will result in the loss of individual creativity, "the one thing that separates us from the uncreative beasts."
Over Cathy's objections, Adam buys out Charles' share of the farm and the couple moves by train to the Salinas Valley in California. Adam immediately feels at home and sets about looking for rich farmland. Cathy discovers she is pregnant and fails in her attempt at abortion with a knitting needle. She manages to placate the doctor by lying about her fear of passing on epilepsy and the doctor informs Adam of her condition.
Adam seeks out Samuel Hamilton for advice in acquiring land with water. The two men become fast friends and Adam buys the old Sanchez place located near King City.
In chapter 14, Steinbeck the author pays homage to his own mother through the character, Olive Hamilton, the mother of the novel's narrator. Not desiring to live as a farmer's wife, Olive decides to become a schoolteacher. This high-status job assures her a myriad of marriage proposals and she marries the owner of the King City flourmill. The mother of four, during World War I Olive set records for selling Liberty bonds and as a prize was offered a ride in an airplane. Terrified, but unwilling to let her family down, she prepares for death and gets on board. When the pilot asks if she would like him do some dare-devil maneuvers, she cannot hear him and smiles in seeming agreement. She reaches the ground in a state of shock.
For the first time Adam finds happiness. Life in California is good and Cathy is pregnant. His servant Lee, a Chinese-American man who acts the part of the degrading stereotypical, pidgin-speaking Chinese immigrant, despite an American university education, becomes indispensable. Lee also senses the negative energy hidden within Cathy and she doesn't like him. However, his excellence as a servant insures his survival on the Trask ranch. Lee makes fast friends with Samuel, a fellow immigrant, who treats him as an equal. Samuel begins his search for water.
Adam shares stories about his life farming in Connecticut and Samuel accepts an invitation to dinner but is chagrined during the meal when Cathy doesn't speak and leaves for home in a hurry. Cathy announces her departure to Adam as soon as she can after giving birth. Adam chalks this up to her pregnancy and ignores her.
In Part 2's opening meditation, Steinbeck insists on the creative power of the individual mind and the danger of following the crowd mentality. Beyond doubt, he considers the power of the individual mind to be indomitable. He wonders, however, about predestination-do people really have free will? Are they born good or evil? And, can they choose between the two? For instance, could Charles have chosen not to sleep with his brother's wife? Was Cathy born a monster? It seems at this point that the author favors the idea of individual choice.
The devilish Cathy is juxtaposed with the angelic Olive Hamilton as the bad mother vs. the good mother. Cathy's pregnancy is announced and she attempts to abort it-barrenness attempting to overrule fertility-but the loving Olive is willing to die in an airplane crash rather than disappoint her children.
The Chinese servant Lee acts as another witness to Cathy's depravity. A philosopher and a poet, in his "disguise" he possesses the ability to "read" people, to observe without being observed. Like Samuel, he acts to contrast and thus heighten the novel's evil characters. Steinbeck, well known for championing the poor and downtrodden, also illustrates the plight of Americans of immigrant parents, who in an effort to survive, must maintain the degradation forced on them as foreigners in America. Samuel, an Irish immigrant, has been far more successful in assimilating because of his