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There is only one story in the world that is told over and over again in poetry, fiction, and myth. It is the story of good and evil. Herodotus wrote of Croesus, the richest and most favored king of his time. Croesus asked Solon who was the luckiest person in the world, hoping the answer would be his own name. Solon named three lucky people from old times. Croesus asked if he was also lucky. Solon said he would not know until Croesus died. The narrator muses over the worth of a human life and asserts that the only measure of a life is how people feel when a person dies. He remembers three great men whose deaths had an impact on him. The first had done terrible things early in his life and then worked to correct them, becoming a great philanthropist later in life. When he died, people were relieved. The second was always terrible, and people rejoiced when he died. The third was always good, and people wept when he died. The narrator believes that nearly all people want to be good and hope to be missed when they die.
In this chapter, Steinbeck’s ideas mark him as a man who wrote in the 1950s. The dominant thinkers of the period were structuralists, who searched for basic structures of human consciousness. They often divided those structures into an either/or situation. Steinbeck states that life can basically be classified as good or evil, regardless of the vicissitudes of history and social consciousness or the status of class, gender, and ethnicity. Throughout the novel, he categorizes his main characters into good or evil.