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Cannery Row

By breeannajamesbasketball33 Nov 15, 2014 1154 Words
James, Breeanna !
Prof. Laffont!
ENC1101!
Oct 9, 2014!

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Three Key Aspects in John Steinbeck’s Cannery Row

Cannery Row was written by John Steinbeck in 1945. The story takes place in Monterey, California sometime between the Great Depression and World War II. The story is based on “his non-teleological acceptance of what ‘is,’ his ecological vision, and his own memories of a street and the people who made it home” (Shillinglaw vii). Steinbeck lived during the Great Depression and his experience affected the tone within the story. Steinbeck chose to write using third person narrative within the story which is an omniscient point of view- this allows the reader to know what the characters are thinking and feeling. The author wrote this story for the soldiers entertainment throughout battle. Steinbeck uses a unique style to construct this novel by periodically incorporating anecdotes and vignettes within the book, which allows the author to paint a overall picture in the reader’s mind of the reality of this time period. The major aspects within Cannery Row are loneliness, suicide and the development of characters. In the story Cannery Row, loneliness can be considered a major aspect of this book. Loneliness describes many of the characters in this narrative- especially the character Doc. Although Doc is much loved by his peers and has many friends, he is lonely. He spends most of his time listening to music on the phonograph. The text explains that “'He was a dark and lonesome looking man' No one loved him. No one cared about him” (Steinbeck 6). This statement creates a sense of sympathy for the character. One of Steinbeck’s anecdotes at the end of the story is about a gopher who has created the perfect home similar to Doc. The only thing

this gopher now needs is a mate in which he try’s desperately to find. However, the gopher never does find a wife and is forced to give up what he has built in order to move on. The author’s central purpose of including this short story about a gopher is to explain that you can’t always control what happens just like at the end of this short story. Doc is similar to the gopher in that they both end up alone. According to Susan Shillinglaw, the women who wrote the introduction, clearly recounts that as Steinbeck was oversees writing this novel he reflected his own feelings toward the character Doc (12). Susan Shillinglaw says “If the war left him no more sanguine about the world or less susceptible to fits of melancholia, it did permit him to view his past with greater detachment. Cannery Row was conceived in large part of his own loneliness and nostalgia while overseas” ( Steinbeck 12). The feeling of detachment Steinbeck felt when writing portrayed through this character Doc- both feeling an overwhelming sense of loneliness. Cannery Row takes place soon after the Second World War which is why it was very common for the community to be faced with the idea of death. Death was everywhere whether it was dead bodies being shipped back home or daily suicides being reported. With this being said, suicide is another vital aspect within this story. Suicide was apart of a frequent occurrence down in Cannery Row. Early on in the story, Steinbeck includes an anecdote about suicide like the one in the beginning of the story about Mr. Horace. Horace is introduced to the reader early on in the story as a main character and then abruptly “he shot himself on a heel of fish meal” (12). Steinbeck’s purpose in this horrific action by Horace is to introduce a real world instance and to produce a strange hybrid of fantasy and reality of his realistic utopia novel. By including this tale about Horace Abbeville, it enables Steinbeck to paint a broad picture of how the war and The Great Depression effected a community of people at that time. Mr. Horace was helpless and the

only conclusion he could come to pay off his debt so his family wasn't responsible for it was to give Lee Chong the fish meal which was everything he had. With nothing left besides his two wives and six children, which he couldn't take care of financially- Horace decides to take his life. Like the character Doc, Horace’s actions creates a mood of melancholy within the reader. Cannery Row allows Steinbeck to reflect his memories from his childhood about this small town in which he grew up near. “Steinbeck’s strong personal attachment to Monterey” is what encourages him to develop his characters so vividly so his readers can be engaged in the text (Shillinglaw 2). This is why an essential aspect of this bestseller is the development of characters, specifically Mack. In the beginning of Cannery Row, Steinbeck portrays Mack as a slick con artist. Mr. Steinbeck includes many of Mack’s downfalls as a human being for example, when him and the boys go frog hunting for Doc. Doc which is portrayed as a smart and intelligent character thinking ahead, specifically writes a note to allow them to only get ten gallons of gas. Mack gets to the gas station and he tries to scam Red into giving him money instead of the full amount of gas. Steinbeck includes “Doc got to figuring if there was some kind of loophole, and he put a finger on the same one you did. Doc’s a pretty bright bright fellow. So he phoned me last night” to reveal that Mack’s sneakiness is well known as well as mentioning that Mack has stolen many things before from everyone in town ( Steinbeck 64). However, the author does incorporate Mack’s favorable characteristics. For instance, the plot is centered around the Mack and the boys wanting to do something nice for Doc. It was Mack’s idea to plan a party for him. Further, another side of Mack is revealed when he meets pointer, the captain’s dog. He shows sympathy for the ill dog and attempts to care for it. Mack is a great leader that is even said “…could be president of the U.S if he wanted to” by Hazel one of the boys ( Steinbeck

80). The author attributes this information to the reader to give them a sense of reality and make the character feel real by revealing his downfalls and notable characteristics. John Steinbeck’s novel capture’s the real thoughts and raw emotions of characters that reflect a place where he has grown up. His message is aimed at values and morality- they can be different things especially involving a distorted materialistic society such as in Cannery Row. John Steinbeck reminds his readers about this important theme and how its applied to a bigger scale. He intends to remind his readers how significant natural beauty of the quality of humanity really is.

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Work Cited:

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Steinbeck, John. Cannery Row. Harmondsworth, Eng.: Penguin, 1978.Print. !
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