Cannery Row

The Use of Anecdote in Cannery Row

The vignettes and anecdotes interspersed throughout John Steinbeck's Cannery Row may, at first sight, seem tangential. Yet they are fundamental to the novel, not least because the plot line--throwing a party for Doc--would be insufficient to sustain a short story, let alone a full-length novel. Yet the episodes also serve many purposes other than advancing the story line. They shed light upon the mores of Cannery Row, grant insight into the "war between the sexes," and contribute to the novel's dark, violent undercurrent. Steinbeck also uses these episodes to explain suicide, the lifestyle and arguments of married couples, and relationships.

One of the first vignettes, for example, gives the story of William. His suicide occurs early in the book, almost immediately after the suicide of Horace Abbeville. William is a watchman at the Bear Flag Restaurant. An outcast of Cannery Row, he seems to be universally despised. Mack and the boys refuse to talk to him and rebuff his attempts to become closer with them. Indeed, "conversation stopped and an uneasy and hostile silence fell on the group" (18) when he entered the room. As his threats to kill himself are met with challenges to do exactly that, his...

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