Thoughts on Byron’s “Cain”

September 18, 2008 at 5:32 am (Books Galore) ()

Had to read it in class, didn’t get a chance to say all I wanted to, which is probably just as well.

1. Cain may be immature but in a way so is Abel. If you define maturity as having experienced much and benefitted and learned from those experience, then they are both in a sense immature. Look at Abel, who has a childlike faith that God is good and everything God says is correct; he trusts unconditionally the words of his parents Adam and Eve and of his “grandfather” the Lord. He has no desire to question because his parents and superiors are automatically correct; he does not believe or even consider that they might be false or that there might be things his elders are unaware of.

Cain on the other hand, is full of rebellion. He is belligerent towards his elders and refuses to go along with what they say; he’s a sullen teenager to Abel’s optimistic young child. Cain question and Cain seeks answers and he’s looking for them where his parents won’t allow (with spirits and Lucifer), because he’s in that anti-authoritarian stage where he’s beginning to realize and believe that his parents are flawed and unknowledgeable and is perhaps seeking a replacement for the paragon of virtue that his parents once were in his own “childhood.” Note that he has an independent streak; he won’t bow to Lucifer either.

Both are immature, in a sense, because they have yet to experience true loss and tragedy. Their parents have, and therefore their parents are in a sense more “adult” then their children. But Cain and Abel? They just have stories of Eden that filter down to them; they’ve never had Eden and so have never lost it. In the end Cain manages to graduate to adulthood when he experiences true regret, guilt, anger, and sorrow, when he kills Abel. Abel never grows out of his own immaturity; he is the price of Cain’s growing up.

2. Cain and Adah as an inverse Adam and Eve (or rather, Eve and Adam.)

3. The role and portrayal of Lucifer is rather interesting. Lucifer isn’t explicitly stated to be the serpent who tempted Eve; he’s just there, called by the prospect of power. Possibly he shares with Cain a desire and respect for the truth–I can’t recall if this is supported by the text, but it did seem to me that Lucifer rebelled because he was against God’s concealment of the past worlds from the present one. He wanted God to tell the truth to his creations, and so he fell. If this is correct then it’s an interesting look at Lucifer; he fell by trying to uphold a Christian tenet, that of never lying (lies by omission are still lies.).

3a. Doesn’t Neil Gaiman’s Lucifer refuse to lie?

3 cont’d. So Lucifer is presented as a figure who represents truth, truth at any cost, and he takes advantage of Cain’s doubt to try and win over a follower. He shows Cain what God has concealed and betrays his own bitterness at being cast out of heaven. Lucifer tries to attract Cain with the promise of being a more truthful god than God himself (having blown open a lie-by-omission to Cain what with the revelation of previous worlds). Cain refuses; Cain doesn’t want to bow to anyone. He doesn’t want to serve anyone that would require him to bow.

4. Cain’s refusal to yield to God or Lucifer betrays his pride; he doesn’t want to bow to anyone who would require him to give rid of his pride just for the honor of bowing before them. Abel is quite happy to do so, but then his job consists of watching and caring for sheep. Cain’s job requires of him hard work; he tills the soil of the earth and grows his own fruits and feeds his family with the labor of his own hands. From his point of view God is asking him to give thanks for the chance to work his ass off to feed his family, which pretty much renders the value of his work moot because the work Cain does wouldn’t be his, it would be God’s. And he won’t do that.

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