As spring slowly arrived, things improved in the Trask household. Adam was feeling better, even though Lee still worried about him. He regularly took Adam's pulse and talked to his doctor. He had also written off for books on cerebral hemorrhages. Cal's spirits were also improved. He kept reminding Lee to keep bread on hand so he would be ready to make a picnic lunch when the azaleas bloomed. He was looking forward to taking Abra to see them.
This short section announced that in May of 1918, the American troops succeeded in a battle in Europe.
When the Silacci boys told Cal the azaleas were in bloom, he and Abra were excited. They went to Lee and asked him to a picnic lunch. They asked Lee and Adam to join them, but the two men declined.
During the picnic, Abra reached for Cal's hand. She then told him that she had been afraid of him ever since he accused her of wetting her pants. When Cal said he felt guilty about doing that, Abra said he must never feel guilty, not even about Aaron. Abra also told Cal he was wrong to think he was the only one with a bad parent. She said she had believed that her father had stolen money.
Lee sat at his desk looking at a seed catalogue. When he heard a strange noise, he convinced himself that his age was making him hear ghosts. Then he heard the doorbell ring. At first he refused to get up, for he thought he was imagining things. When he finally went to the door, he found a telegram. After he read the telegram, he made a drink of bromide and waited for Adam to arrive home. He said to himself in a burst of emotion, "God, how I hate the coward!" When Adam entered the house, Lee took him the bromide before he broke the news of Aaron's death.
There are many ironic contrasts in this next to the last chapter of the novel. It is sadly ironic that while Cal and Abra are enjoying the first signs of spring and their love for one another, Lee finds out that Aaron is dead. When the doorbell rings to announce death, Lee is looking at a spring garden catalogue and planning his new garden. For the first time in weeks, Adam is feeling better and leaving the house after his long period of isolation. He is away when the telegram arrives.
In these contrasts, Steinbeck shows that life is always in a state of flux as it marches through the unending cycle of life and death.
Lee reacts to the news of Aaron's death by saying, "I hate the coward!" He is referring to the fact that Aaron chose to run away from reality by going to war. He certainly knows that all his care in nursing Adam back to health will be for nothing when Adam finds out his favorite son is dead.
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