Saturday, May 19, 2012

Sociopaths in literature: East of Eden's Cathy

Probably the most prototypical sociopath portrayal in literature is Cathy from Steinbeck's East of Eden.
I believe there are monsters born in the world to human parents. Some you can see, misshapen and horrible, with huge heads or tiny bodies; some are born with no arms, no legs, some with three arms, some with tails or mouths in odd places. They are accidents and no one's fault, as used to be thought. Once they were considered the visible punishment for concealed sins.

And just as there are physical monsters, can there not be mental or psychic monsters born? The face and body may be perfect, but if a twisted gene or a malformed egg can produce physical monsters, may not the same process produce a malformed soul?

Monsters are variations from the accepted normal to a greater or a less degree. As a child may be born without an arm, so one may be born without kindness or the potential of conscience. A man who loses his arms in an accident has a great struggle to adjust himself to the lack, but one born without arms suffers only from people who find him strange. Having never had arms, he cannot miss them. Sometimes when we are little we imagine how it would be to have wings, but there is no reason to suppose it is the same feeling birds have. No, to a monster the norm must seem monstrous, since everyone is normal to himself. To the inner monster it must be even more obscure, since he has no visible thing to compare with others. To a man born without conscience, a soul-stricken man must seem ridiculous. To a criminal, honesty is foolish. You must not forget that a monster is only a variation, and that to a monster the norm is monstrous.

It is my belief that Cathy Ames was born with the tendencies, or lack of them, which drove and forced her all of her life. Some balance wheel was misweighed, some gear out of ratio. She was not like other people, never was from birth. And just as a cripple may learn to utilize his lack so that he becomes more effective in a limited field than the uncrippled, so did Cathy, using her difference, make a painful and bewildering stir in her world.

There was a time when a girl like Cathy would have been called possessed by the devil. She would have been exorcised to cast out the evil spirit, and if after many trials that did not work, she would have been burned as a witch for the good of the community. The one thing that may not be forgiven a witch is her ability to distress people, to make them restless and uneasy and even envious.
. . .
Even as a child she had some quality that made people look at her, then look away, then look back at her, troubled at something foreign. Something looked out of her eyes, and was never there when one looked again. She moved quietly and talked little, but she could enter no room without causing everyone to turn toward her.

She made people uneasy but not so that they wanted to go away from her. Men and women wanted to inspect her, to be close to her, to try and find what caused the disturbance she distributed so subtly. And since this had always been so, Cathy did not find it strange.

Cathy was different from other children in many ways, but one thing in particular set her apart. Most children abhor difference. They want to look, talk, dress, and act exactly like all of the others. If the style of dress is an absurdity, it is pain and sorrow to a child not to wear that absurdity. If necklaces of pork chops were accepted, it would be a sad child who could not wear pork chops. And this slavishness to the group normally extends into every game, every practice, social or otherwise. It is a protective coloration children utilize for their safety.

Cathy had none of this. She never conformed in dress or conduct. She wore whatever she wanted to. The result was that quite often other children imitated her.

As she grew older the group, the herd, which is any collection of children, began to sense what adults felt, that there was something foreign about Cathy. After a while only one person at a time associated with her. Groups of boys and girls avoided her as though she carried a nameless danger.

Cathy was a liar, but she did not lie the way most children do. Hers was no daydream lying, when the thing imagined is told and, to make it seem more real, told as real. That is just ordinary deviation from external reality. I think the difference between a lie and a story is that a story utilizes the trappings and appearance of truth for the interest of the listener as well as of the teller. A story has in it neither gain nor loss. But a lie is a device for profit or escape. I suppose if that definition is strictly held to, then a writer of stories is a liar -- if he is financially fortunate.

Cathy's lies were never innocent. Their purpose was to escape punishment, or work, or responsibility, and they were used for profit. Most liars are tripped up either because they forget what they have told or because the lie is suddenly faced with an incontrovertible truth. But Cathy did not forget her lies, and she developed the most effective method of lying. She stayed close enough to the truth so that one could never be sure. She knew two other methods also -- either to interlard her lies with truth or to tell a truth as though it were a lie. If one is accused of a lie and it turns out to be the truth, there is a backlog that will last a long time and protect a number of untruths.
. . .
Nearly everyone in the world has appetites and impulses, trigger emotions, islands of selfishness, lusts just beneath the surface. And most people either hold such things in check or indulge them secretly. Cathy knew not only these impulses in others but how to use them for her own gain.

It is quite possible that she did not believe in any other tendencies in humans, for while she was preternaturally alert in some directions she was completely blind in others.


  1. This really helped me a lot with my english paper, thank you very much. I suggest for you to add more quotes that show her evilness through out the novel? That would also help me alot. Can you maybe e-mail me some more quotes?

    1. You were supposed to say first.

    2. Read this book years, ago, and didn't want it to end.

  2. Once again it feels weird when this story is very similar to mine (except that I'm male).
    It sounds like an interesting book, i'll try to get it, thanks for advertising, Me :)
    What if sociopaths are normal and empaths are the ones with a disorder? They look disordered to Mee :)

  3. I never shared this here. About 5 years ago, a sociopath fell in love with me and I with him. He was a high functioning one--a detective who was a rogue cop, shall we say. His mask was very loose, compared to what I hear people say about their masks, on here. He told me that he could kill a man at night and not feel it, in the morning. He was exciting until a certain point. He did not feel he had to keep a mask on, I suppose. He was very callous to handicapped people. I don't mind black humor, as I have a wicked sense of humor myself, which is too black for many people. However, the utter unfeeling manner he had to handicapped people turned my stomach. He still tells me that he would marry me tomorrow. He still tries to get back. He says I am his ideal woman. However, once I got revolted, it was over.

    Funny that he became a Born Again Christian and a minister. He is truly Born Again, as Alterego is. He has truly changed in one part of himself but the sociopath core is still there. When it came down to it, I did not want a sociopath.

  4. What a nice bedtime story you wrote here, Monica, too bad I am not going to sleep right now, meh, i'll read it again later.
    A Christian, right...
    My mask is a little bit loose too, because there are many people that I don't care about, so I don't have to hide anything from them.
    Could you tell me why you dumped him? His sense of humor can't be the only reason. Why don't you just marry him and live hapily ever after? ;D
    Yours bored to death,
    P.s. my pc crashed and I am too lazy to log in to my Blogger account on phone :)

    1. Quite simply, Mee, my heart warned me that he did not have the normal amounts of layers to the human darkness which we all have. Those layers might be necessary, some day, to save my life.

    2. "... which we all have" , lol
      Well, as I see it, having a socio by your side means having a powerful tool :/ . If this detective guy is really attached to you when he might do what other people wouldn't do to save his favourite toy :) (you obviously).
      Well its your decision, I could imagine why you did what you did, but that explanation isn't very good. Fear of unknown (or sth else) would sound better :)
      Hey, could you explain why you write here anyway?
      - Mee

    3. People tell the truth, here.

    4. People maybe. You? Don't think so.

    5. LOL! Monica...truth...too funny.
      Monica, it's better to keep your mouth closed and let people think you are a fool, than to open it and remove all doubt. (Mark Twain) :)


  6. To qualify as a monster you have to take a really extreme detour from the rule. But there is no rule for the mind. Psychology tries painfully to reach it, but nobody has a single personality, a solid psychic self. We have a closet with different clothes we use for different occasions, and the relations among these clothes are changing and sometimes don't even exist. Sometimes fashion has an effect on the content of the closet, but fashions change, and we never throw away any of the clothes in the closet, not even the childish ones. At the end of our life we have a great mess in there, The only limits of the closet seem to be those of our life, and there will always be plenty of clothes in there you never even tried on.

    1. sounds just like my closet

    2. So true Jose. Wonderful metaphor. My real life closet and my emotional closet look the same.

    3. An interesting psychoanalysis with a metaphorical touch. Funny thing is that sociopaths are an evolution in humans. They are completely logical, to such an extremity that it won't allow them to feel. It is a bitter twist for them. I wonder what is neurologically/chemically different compared to an empath.

      So intelligent and capable but they must be so bored, no wonder they murder to have a good time, i have always assumed it to be for the adrenaline rush. However, the very smart ones go into politics and become senators and Powerful business men. In this way they can cause pain in a massive level and have a less chance of being suspected, they can be the greatest actors.

      I have a best friend who I finally figured out to be a sociopath. He is charming, Hilarious, but he is pathological liar with loose ends and his smile is one that offers suspicion. These people live on deviations of thrills, some cannot keep jobs and will manipulate you. They seem to want good at times, but it is a clever facade. In their core they always have an intangible desire for malice that they can only shake off for so long.

      Schools should do testing for sociopathy throughout elementary,middle, and High school. I believe it is 1/23 people that are born sociopaths, some due to environment, but some can grow in loving homes and still come out completely callous.

      The amazing thing is in nature an animal that kills has no conscience. So it is personally interesting that we as an animal who separates from the rest of the animal kingdom by having a conscience can have a enemy behind our own lines. But evolution is random, so it is a byproduct of nature. What to do?

  7. so who is the monster really? someone who is born different, or the ignorance that perceives it?

    possibly we are all monsters at one time or another to someone else. great book.

    1. ^A blanket statement - nothing more

    2. yes it is - i wasn't feeling inspired

      how is someone with a physical deformity a monster?

    3. @Zoe: the book was written in 1952, that's probably the term people used before political correctness set in :)

    4. yeah i know :)

    5. Oh right . Zoe's smart , noted :D

  8. Sounds like an ex I had once. Fantastic liar, took me years to figure out her lies. Wish I could lie like that.

  9. This is the sort of shit that ugly women say about attractive women who like sex. Read the first couple of chapters of "Tom Jones, a Foundling" for an excellent explication of why.

    I've spent my whole life being a "Cathy", and I don't think it's because I'm a "sociopath". On a bell curve, I'm a standard deviation or so below the mean for empathy. But it's there somewhere. I never go out of my way to harm anyone.

    But the real problem is that my IQ is four standard deviations above the mean. I don't care about "blending in", because I'm completely impervious to the sorts of petty social manipulation that keeps most people insecure and dying to fit in-- ads don't work on me, I don't think the "family" is the apex of human achievement, I just don't care about anything most women think is important ("feelings", Nicolas Sparks novels, rings, none of it).

    I've achieved a lot in my life and I'm not 30 yet. This also pisses people off, because I'm not "friendly" enough. This means I'm "arrogant" and don't deserve to get ahead in life.

    I'm also considered attractive, even though I'd put myself at about a 7, other people seem to rate me at an 8 or sometimes higher.

    1. Interesting. High IQ has a thin line for sociopathy and empathy. I feel the same way towards society, i don't like blending in because i feel it ridiculous and see through the bullshit. But I also don't go out of my way to hurt people.

      I also assume you must of been gifted when you were young.

    2. Yes, I was "gifted" (although no one used that word, specifically, that I remember) and graduated from two different high schools before age 17. Ivy league, etc.

      So in the past couple of weeks I've been researching diagnostic criteria and I think I may be a borderline or "high functioning" sociopath. One of the things that clinches it for me is the description of sociopaths as children; I never let my parents hold me, ever. In fact I kicked them violently when they tried. I also slept very rarely, and spent my entire childhood manipulating my parents into letting me stay up past the appointed bed time (among other things). Low frustration tolerance. They still refer to young me as the "master manipulator"...

      I also have a history of "extreme" types in my family, who today would be diagnosed sociopaths. On one side, there are a handful of highly successful entrepreneurs (including one who had several aliases, several families, and who impregnated a series of women including pairs of sisters in the early 1900s), and on the other, mafiosos.

      But still, I don't think I relish fucking with people the same way some of the regular commenters on this here blog do. So I hesitate... If this is indeed a spectrum disorder, I'm far from the Jeffrey Dahmer end of it.

  10. Basically, I've noticed people are afraid of other people who can't be manipulated to conform, or who are significantly smarter than they are, sociopath or not.

    This sin is compounded if you're more attractive and successful, as well.

    Witches weren't burned because they were sociopaths. They were burned because people are craven, envious creatures.

  11. In the wild, social species that are hierarchically organized have alphas. Alphas spend their entire lives being pecked at and sideswiped by people who want to take over their position.

    I like to remind myself that having "normals" constantly nipping at my ankles is just part and parcel of being an alpha.

  12. I get the feeling there is just as may female sociopaths as males, just far more "successful" ones...

  13. Faking and/or achieving a perception of normalcy with a touch of success may be in the best interest of a sociopath, hence come the lies. Such a tiring way to live, despite the fact that we're told lying is effortless and second nature to them. Except getting caught eventually is a sure thing. In the worst case death is a great equalizer of sociopath, NT, and empath. LONG LIVE DEATH.

  14. I was married to a sociopath for 22 years. These monsters do exist. He tried to kill my children and me, and we barely escaped with our lives. It's no Joke!

  15. As we get older we learn to know more and more psychopaths. Or rather, some people close enough to us turns into sociopaths. There aren't hardly any psychopath children, right?
    No, it is a disfunction that evolves with age and I've been wondering why?
    I believe some become control freaks after having experienced numerous betrayals. But the strongest common denominator is alcohol abuse. Just think about it, what alcohol does to your brain. What is the result of serious brain damage through regular alcohol intake? To me it is clear. People enjoy drinking because it lowers their they self-critizism. It allows them to love themselves at the same tima being ass-holes in social life, i.e. family, lovers, workplace, church, etc.
    Without digging deeper... here is a couple of good advice;
    Wanna be able to love? Quit drinking!
    Wanna be loved? Make your lover quit the poison!

    Hahaha, its true ... have a good good life people!


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