Cannery Row

Major ideas


Mack and the boys work together to plan a party for Doc. After a failed first attempt, where Doc is not even present, their second attempt is more successful. Their transformation into a organised group in order to do something nice for Doc shows the value of comradeship and sociality.


Mack and the boys at the Palace Flophouse need little and appreciate much, and whatever they do need they acquire by cunning and oftentimes stealing. Doc is happy with his station in life and in the community (but many worry about his being lonely without a companion). Lee Chong could very easily go after the people in Cannery Row and collect on the debts he is owed, but he chooses instead to let the money come back to him gradually. "Henri the painter" is happy building his ever-changing boat and will continually dismantle it and start again so that he can continue building it. Cannery Row is content because its denizens are not ambitious to be anything other than who they are: their sole ambition is to better befriend Doc.


Steinbeck expresses a certain respect for prostitution for its honesty of motives, while reserving moral judgment for the reader. In Of Mice and Men (1937), George has a small monologue in which he states that a man can go into a whorehouse and get a beer and sex for a price agreed upon up front - unlike less professional relationships, you know what you're going to get and what you will have to pay for it. The same theme of respect is expressed in Cannery Row in Steinbeck's descriptions of the Bear Flag: prostitution is a business that provides a service in demand, it is run cleanly and honestly, and it benefits the community.

Overcoming superficial views of people

Throughout the story characters such as Dora Flood, Mack, and Doc are all expanded upon, and they reveal that they are much more complicated than they at first appear to be. For example, Dora Flood owns the brothel and is disliked by the townswomen because of her business, but she is very generous and for two years donates groceries to hungry people. Doc, who is a loved and respected member of society, is, deep down, a very sad and lonely person who, until the end of the story, never opens up to other people.


The novel opens with the words: "Cannery Row in Monterey in California is a poem, a stink, a grating noise, a quality of light, a tone, a habit, a nostalgia, a dream." Author John Steinbeck spent some of the happiest years of his life in a house in Pacific Grove near "Cannery Row" and the laboratory of his friend, Ed Ricketts. This began in 1930 and lasted to 1941, when Steinbeck's marriage failed, and he fled eastward to marry again (eventually). After a traumatic time documenting the war in the Mediterranean campaign in 1943, Steinbeck returned home to find that his second marriage was also in difficulties. He wrote Cannery Row in 1944 in an attempt to recover a Depression era world in Monterey which was, by then, already inaccessible to Steinbeck.[1] Major influences for this change included the war's effect on both Steinbeck and Monterey, the breakup of Steinbeck's first marriage, and the insulation caused by Steinbeck's new wealth arising from his increasing fame and success as a writer. Steinbeck was already beginning to suspect that he would never again be able to go back to living in this, his favorite part of California. Indeed, after a failed attempt to live in California in the late 1940s, he left to spend the rest of his life in New York.

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