Cannery Row Doc Essays

Cannery Row is a place on the map, but it's also a community of lovely people: the "whores, pimps, gamblers, and sons of bitches" that Steinbeck talks about in the beginning (0.1). It may be a rough place, but you can find tons of examples of people in Cannery Row helping each other out and generally being big softies. In fact, it seems like the folks in Cannery Row are as dependent upon each other as these girls. Cannery Row? Try Cannery Pyramid. When there's a flu epidemic, they all pull together. And when Mack and the boys are miserable, everybody else is too.

Questions About Community

  • Is "good will" just as valuable as money to business people like Dora and Lee Chong (1.4)? Why do business owners need to deal in good will as well as dollars?
  • What are the rules that govern the community of Cannery Row? Are they different from the ones that other communities have?
  • Is there some reason that Mack and the boys seem to be so important to the whole community?
  • If Mack is so important to the community, why does everyone seem to be afraid of him?

Chew on This

Try on an opinion or two, start a debate, or play the devil’s advocate.

Even though Doc is important to the community of Cannery Row, he's not really a part of it.

Doc is the most important member of the community of Cannery Row. Everyone is indebted to him and everyone loves him.

After the epic party, Doc wakes up, has a beer and a peanut butter sandwich (part of a balanced breakfast), and gets started on all the dishes. Right at the end of the book he recites a little more of that poem he was reading during the party. Then,

he wiped his eyes with the back of his hand. And the white rats scampered and scrambled in their cages. And behind the glass the rattlesnakes lay still and stared into space with their dusty frowning eyes. (32.11)

Let's get this straight. Doc had all his friends over and lots of (kind of) cool gifts, and now he's getting all misty-eyed? Maybe he should stop reading such depressing poetry. The poem he's reciting is about a breakup, and its author spends about 50 stanzas talking about how he remembers what used to be. (Check out "Shout Outs" for more on that.)

So, we get the idea that something is making Doc sad and nostalgic. Is it that everything on Cannery Row is just too perfect and can't possibly stay that way? Since World War II and the end of the canning business are right around the corner, this is definitely true. But how could Doc know that? Well, he couldn't. But Steinbeck sure could.

And what about our final images of rats running around and snakes sitting still? After all, the rats and the snakes would still be there doing what they do (being dead and captive) no matter what Doc was up to. So why end this light-hearted romp through Cannery Row with such a depressing image?


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