Why,” Adam cried, “these boys are not alike! They don’t look alike.”
“Of course they don’t. They’re not identical twins.”
“That one-that one looks like my brother. I just saw it. I wonder if the other looks like me.”
“Both of them do. A face has everything in it right back to the beginning.”

(John Steinbeck, East of Eden)

Is ‘back’ a predicative complement, denoting a face has the expression just like containing everything, not split, gone back to the beginning?


1 Answer 1


It's not a complement but an adjunct modifying everything.

You've probably noticed by now that in this work Steinbeck cultivates a style which is at once colloquial and resonant, raising more questions than it answers and consequently implying a great deal more than it explicitly says. Everything right back to the beginning is characteristic, both grammatically and semantically very elliptical. A very crude paraphrase would be something like

A face bears visible traces (has in it) of everything which has had an influence on its possessor since (right back to) the very beginning - the beginning not merely of the possessor himself but of the possessor's parents and ancestors.

And since Steinbeck is deliberately echoing the events of the fourth chapter of Genesis, the first book of the Christian and Hebrew Bibles, the "beginning" goes right back to the mythic beginning of everything.

  • 1
    When I said ‘gone back to the beginning,’ I thought he might have said about the Beginning. As you said, when I had mentioned it, it would have violated off-topic rule. Thank you very much.
    – Listenever
    Commented Jun 9, 2013 at 4:33

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