Cannery Row

Cannery Row

by John Steinbeck

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780140177381
Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date: 02/28/1993
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 208
Product dimensions: 4.25(w) x 7.56(h) x 0.56(d)
Lexile: 930L (what's this?)
Age Range: 18 Years

About the Author

John Steinbeck, born in Salinas, California, in 1902, grew up in a fertile agricultural valley, about twenty-five miles from the Pacific Coast. Both the valley and the coast would serve as settings for some of his best fiction. In 1919 he went to Stanford University, where he intermittently enrolled in literature and writing courses until he left in 1925 without taking a degree. During the next five years he supported himself as a laborer and journalist in New York City, all the time working on his first novel, Cup of Gold (1929).

After marriage and a move to Pacific Grove, he published two California books, The Pastures of Heaven (1932) and To a God Unknown (1933), and worked on short stories later collected in The Long Valley (1938). Popular success and financial security came only with Tortilla Flat (1935), stories about Monterey’s paisanos. A ceaseless experimenter throughout his career, Steinbeck changed courses regularly. Three powerful novels of the late 1930s focused on the California laboring class: In Dubious Battle (1936), Of Mice and Men (1937), and the book considered by many his finest, The Grapes of Wrath (1939). The Grapes of Wrath won both the National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize in 1939.

Early in the 1940s, Steinbeck became a filmmaker with The Forgotten Village (1941) and a serious student of marine biology with Sea of Cortez (1941). He devoted his services to the war, writing Bombs Away (1942) and the controversial play-novelette The Moon is Down (1942).Cannery Row (1945), The Wayward Bus (1948), another experimental drama, Burning Bright(1950), and The Log from the Sea of Cortez (1951) preceded publication of the monumental East of Eden (1952), an ambitious saga of the Salinas Valley and his own family’s history.

The last decades of his life were spent in New York City and Sag Harbor with his third wife, with whom he traveled widely. Later books include Sweet Thursday (1954), The Short Reign of Pippin IV: A Fabrication (1957), Once There Was a War (1958), The Winter of Our Discontent (1961),Travels with Charley in Search of America (1962), America and Americans (1966), and the posthumously published Journal of a Novel: The East of Eden Letters (1969), Viva Zapata!(1975), The Acts of King Arthur and His Noble Knights (1976), and Working Days: The Journals of The Grapes of Wrath (1989).

Steinbeck received the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1962, and, in 1964, he was presented with the United States Medal of Freedom by President Lyndon B. Johnson. Steinbeck died in New York in 1968. Today, more than thirty years after his death, he remains one of America's greatest writers and cultural figures. 

Susan Shillinglaw is a professor of English San Jose State University. She is the author of On Reading the Grapes of Wrath and Carol and John Steinbeck: Portrait of a Marriage.

Date of Birth:

February 27, 1902

Date of Death:

December 20, 1968

Place of Birth:

Salinas, California

Place of Death:

New York, New York

Education:

Attended Stanford University intermittently between 1919 and 1925

Read an Excerpt

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. Cannery Row is the gathered and scattered, tin and iron and rust and splintered wood, chipped pavement and weedy lots and junk heaps, sardine canneries of corrugated iron, honky tonks, restaurants and whore houses, and little crowded groceries, and laboratories and flophouses. Its inhabitants are, as the man once said, “whores, pimps, gamblers, and sons of bitches,” by which he meant Everybody. Had the man looked through another peephole he might have said, “Saints and angels and martyrs and holy men,” and he would have meant the same thing.

In the morning when the sardine fleet has made a catch, the purse-seiners waddle heavily into the bay blowing their whistles. The deep-laden boats pull in against the coast where the canneries dip their tails into the bay. The figure is advisedly chosen, for if the canneries dipped their mouths into the bay the canned sardines which emerge from the other end would be metaphorically, at least, even more horrifying. Then cannery whistles scream and all over the town men and women scramble into their clothes and come running down to the Row to go to work. Then shining cars bring the upper classes down: superintendents, accountants, owners who disappear into offices. Then from the town pour Wops and Chinamen and Polaks, men and women in trousers and rubber coats and oilcloth aprons. They come running to clean and cut and pack and cook and can the fish. The whole street rumbles and groans and screams and rattles while the silver rivers offish pour in out of the boats and the boats rise higher and higher in the water until they are empty. The canneries rumble and rattle and squeak until the last fish is cleaned and cut and cooked and canned and then the whistles scream again and the dripping, smelly, tired Wops and Chinamen and Polaks, men and women, straggle out and droop their ways up the hill into the town and Cannery Row becomes itself again—quiet and magical. Its normal life returns. The bums who retired in disgust under the black cypress tree come out to sit on the rusty pipes in the vacant lot. The girls from Dora’s emerge for a bit of sun if there is any. Doc strolls from the Western Biological Laboratory and crosses the street to Lee Chong’s grocery for two quarts of beer. Henri the painter noses like an Airedale through the junk in the grass-grown lot for some part or piece of wood or metal he needs for the boat he is building. Then the darkness edges in and the street light comes on in front of Dora’s—the lamp which makes perpetual moonlight in Cannery Row. Callers arrive at Western Biological to see Doc, and he crosses the street to Lee Chong’s for five quarts of beer.

How can the poem and the stink and the grating noise—the quality of light, the tone, the habit and the dream—be set down alive? When you collect marine animals there are certain flat worms so delicate that they are almost impossible to capture whole, for they break and tatter under the touch. You must let them ooze and crawl of their own will onto a knife blade and then lift them gently into your bottle of sea water. And perhaps that might be the way to write this book—to open the page and to let the stories crawl in by themselves.

1

Lee Chong’s grocery, while not a model of neatness, was a miracle of supply. It was small and crowded but within its single room a man could find everything he needed or wanted to live and to be happy—clothes, food, both fresh and canned, liquor, tobacco, fishing equipment, machinery, boats, cordage, caps, pork chops. You could buy at Lee Chong’s a pair of slippers, a silk kimono, a quarter pint of whiskey and a cigar. You could work out combinations to fit almost any mood. The one commodity Lee Chong did not keep could be had across the lot at Dora’s.

The grocery opened at dawn and did not close until the last wandering vagrant dime had been spent or retired for the night. Not that Lee Chong was avaricious. He wasn’t, but if one wanted to spend money, he was available. Lee’s position in the community surprised him as much as he could be surprised. Over the course of the years everyone in Cannery Row owed him money. He never pressed his clients, but when the bill became too large, Lee cut off credit. Rather than walk into the town up the hill, the client usually paid or tried to.

Lee was round-faced and courteous. He spoke a stately English without ever using the letter R. When the tong wars were going on in California, it happened now and then that Lee found a price on his head. Then he would go secretly to San Francisco and enter a hospital until the trouble blew over. What he did with his money, no one ever knew. Perhaps he didn’t get it. Maybe his wealth was entirely in unpaid bills. But he lived well and he had the respect of all his neighbors. He trusted his clients until further trust became ridiculous. Sometimes he made business errors, but even these he turned to advantage in good will if in no other way. It was that way with the Palace Flophouse and Grill. Anyone but Lee Chong would have considered the transaction a total loss.

Lee Chong’s station in the grocery was behind the cigar counter. The cash register was then on his left and the abacus on his right. Inside the glass case were the brown cigars, the cigarettes, the Bull Durham, the Duke’s mixture, the Five Brothers, while behind him in racks on the wall were the pints, half pints and quarters of Old Green River, Old Town House, Old Colonel, and the favorite—Old Tennessee, a blended whiskey guaranteed four months old, very cheap and known in the neighborhood as Old Tennis Shoes. Lee Chong did not stand between the whiskey and the customer without reason. Some very practical minds had on occasion tried to divert his attention to another part of the store. Cousins, nephews, sons and daughters-in-law waited on the rest of the store, but Lee never left the cigar counter. The top of the glass was his desk. His fat delicate hands rested on the glass, the fingers moving like small restless sausages. A broad golden wedding ring on the middle finger of his left hand was his only jewelry and with it he silently tapped on the rubber change mat from which the little rubber tits had long been worn. Lee’s mouth was full and benevolent and the flash of gold when he smiled was rich and warm. He wore half-glasses and since he looked at everything through them, he had to tilt his head back to see in the distance. Interest and discounts, addition, subtraction he worked out on the abacus with his little restless sausage fingers, and his brown friendly eyes roved over the grocery and his teeth flashed at the customers.

On an evening when he stood in his place on a pad of newspaper to keep his feet warm, he contemplated with humor and sadness a business deal that had been consummated that afternoon and reconsummated later that same afternoon. When you leave the grocery, if you walk catty-cornered across the grass-grown lot, threading your way among the great rusty pipes thrown out of the canneries, you will see a path worn in the weeds. Follow it past the cypress tree, across the railroad track, up a chicken walk with cleats, and you will come to a long low building which for a long time was used as a storage place for fish meal. It was just a great big roofed room and it belonged to a worried gentleman named Horace Abbeville. Horace had two wives and six children and over a period of years he had managed through pleading and persuasion to build a grocery debt second to none in Monterey. That afternoon he had come into the grocery and his sensitive tired face had flinched at the shadow of sternness that crossed Lee’s face. Lee’s fat finger tapped the rubber mat. Horace laid his hands palm up on the cigar counter. “I guess I owe you plenty dough,” he said simply.

Lee’s teeth flashed up in appreciation of an approach so different from any he had ever heard. He nodded gravely, but he waited for the trick to develop.

Horace wet his lips with his tongue, a good job from corner to corner. “I hate to have my kids with that hanging over them,” he said. “Why, I bet you wouldn’t let them have a pack of spearmint now.”

Lee Chong’s face agreed with this conclusion. “Plenty dough,” he said.

Horace continued, “You know that place of mine across the track up there where the fish meal is.”

Lee Chong nodded. It was his fish meal.

Horace said earnestly, “If I was to give you that place—would it clear me up with you?”

Lee Chong tilted his head back and stared at Horace through his half-glasses while his mind flicked among accounts and his right hand moved restlessly to the abacus. He considered the construction which was flimsy and the lot which might be valuable if a cannery ever wanted to expand. “Shu,” said Lee Chong.

“Well, get out the accounts and I’ll make you a bill of sale on that place.” Horace seemed in a hurry.

“No need papers,” said Lee. “I make paid-in-full paper.”

They finished the deal with dignity and Lee Chong threw in a quarter pint of Old Tennis Shoes. And then Horace Abbeville walking very straight went across the lot and past the cypress tree and across the track and up the chicken walk and into the building that had been his, and he shot himself on a heap of fish meal. And although it has nothing to do with this story, no Abbeville child, no matter who its mother was, knew the lack of a stick of spearmint ever afterward.

But to get back to the evening. Horace was on the trestles with the embalming needles in him, and his two wives were sitting on the steps of his house with their arms about each other (they were good friends until after the funeral, and then they divided up the children and never spoke to each other again). Lee Chong stood in back of the cigar counter and his nice brown eyes were turned inward on a calm and eternal Chinese sorrow. He knew he could not have helped it, but he wished he might have known and perhaps tried to help. It was deeply a part of Lee’s kindness and understanding that man’s right to kill himself is inviolable, but sometimes a friend can make it unnecessary. Lee had already underwritten the funeral and sent a wash basket of groceries to the stricken families.

Now Lee Chong owned the Abbeville building—a good roof, a good floor, two windows and a door. True it was piled high with fish meal and the smell of it was delicate and penetrating. Lee Chong considered it as a storehouse for groceries, as a kind of warehouse, but he gave that up on second thought. It was too far away and anyone can go in through a window. He was tapping the rubber mat with his gold ring and considering the problem when the door opened and Mack came in. Mack was the elder, leader, mentor, and to a small extent the exploiter of a little group of men who had in common no families, no money, and no ambitions beyond food, drink, and contentment. But whereas most men in their search for contentment destroy themselves and fall wearily short of their targets, Mack and his friends approached contentment casually, quietly, and absorbed it gently. Mack and Hazel, a young man of great strength, Eddie who filled in as a bartender at La Ida, Hughie and Jones who occasionally collected frogs and cats for Western Biological, were currently living in those large rusty pipes in the lot next to Lee Chong’s. That is, they lived in the pipes when it was damp but in fine weather they lived in the shadow of the black cypress tree at the top of the lot. The limbs folded down and made a canopy under which a man could lie and look out at the flow and vitality of Cannery Row.

Lee Chong stiffened ever so slightly when Mack came in and his eyes glanced quickly about the store to make sure that Eddie or Hazel or Hughie or Jones had not come in too and drifted away among the groceries.

Mack laid out his cards with a winning honesty. “Lee,” he said, “I and Eddie and the rest heard you own the Abbeville place.”

Lee Chong nodded and waited.

“I and my friends thought we’d ast you if we could move in there. We’ll keep up the property,” he added quickly. “Wouldn’t let anybody break in or hurt anything. Kids might knock out the windows, you know—” Mack suggested. “Place might burn down if somebody don’t keep an eye on it.”

Lee tilted his head back and looked into Mack’s eyes through the half-glasses and Lee’s tapping finger slowed its tempo as he thought deeply. In Mack’s eyes there was good will and good fellowship and a desire to make everyone happy. Why then did Lee Chong feel slightly surrounded? Why did his mind pick its way as delicately as a cat through cactus? It had been sweetly done, almost in a spirit of philanthropy. Lee’s mind leaped ahead at the possibilities—no, they were probabilities, and his finger tapping slowed still further. He saw himself refusing Mack’s request and he saw the broken glass from the windows. Then Mack would offer a second time to watch over and preserve Lee’s property—and at the second refusal, Lee could smell the smoke, could see the little flames creeping up the walls. Mack and his friends would try to help to put it out. Lee’s finger came to a gentle rest on the change mat. He was beaten. He knew that. There was left to him only the possibility of saving face and Mack was likely to be very generous about that. Lee said, “You like pay lent my place? You like live there same hotel?”

Mack smiled broadly and he was generous. “Say—” he cried. “That’s an idear. Sure. How much?”

Lee considered. He knew it didn’t matter what he charged. He wasn’t going to get it anyway. He might just as well make it a really sturdy face-saving sum. “Fi’ dolla’ week,” said Lee.

Mack played it through to the end. “I’ll have to talk to the boys about it,” he said dubiously. “Couldn’t you make mat four dollars a week?”

“Fi’ dolla’,” said Lee firmly.

“Well, I’ll see what the boys say,” said Mack.

And that was the way it was. Everyone was happy about it. And if it be thought that Lee Chong suffered a total loss, at least his mind did not work that way. The windows were not broken. Fire did not break out, and while no rent was ever paid, if the tenants ever had any money, and quite often they did have, it never occurred to them to spend it any place except at Lee Chong’s grocery. What he had was a little group of active and potential customers under wraps. But it went further than that. If a drunk caused trouble in the grocery, if the kids swarmed down from New Monterey intent on plunder, Lee Chong had only to call and his tenants rushed to his aid. One further bond it established—you cannot steal from your benefactor. The saving to Lee Chong in cans of beans and tomatoes and milk and watermelons more than paid the rent. And if there was a sudden and increased leakage among the groceries in New Monterey that was none of Lee Chong’s affair.

The boys moved in and the fish meal moved out. No one knows who named the house that has been known ever after as the Palace Flophouse and Grill. In the pipes and under the cypress tree there had been no room for furniture and the little niceties which are not only the diagnoses but the boundaries of our civilization. Once in the Palace Flophouse, the boys set about furnishing it. A chair appeared and a cot and another chair. A hardware store supplied a can of red paint not reluctantly because it never knew about it, and as a new table or footstool appeared it was painted, which not only made it very pretty but also disguised it to a certain extent in case a former owner looked in. And the Palace Flophouse and Grill began to function. The boys could sit in front of their door and look down across the track and across the lot and across the street right into the front windows of Western Biological. They could hear the music from the laboratory at night. And their eyes followed Doc across the street when he went to Lee Chong’s for beer. And Mack said, “That Doc is a fine fellow. We ought to do something for him.”

2

The Word is a symbol and a delight which sucks up men and scenes, trees, plants, factories, and Pekinese. Then the Thing becomes the Word and back to Thing again, but warped and woven into a fantastic pattern. The Word sucks up Cannery Row, digests it and spews it out, and the Row has taken the shimmer of the green world and the sky-reflecting seas. Lee Chong is more than a Chinese grocer. He must be. Perhaps he is evil balanced and held suspended by good—an Asiatic planet held to its orbit by the pull of Lao Tze and held away from Lao Tze by the centrifugality of abacus and cash register—Lee Chong suspended, spinning, whirling among groceries and ghosts. A hard man with a can of beans—a soft man with the bones of his grandfather. For Lee Chong dug into the grave on China Point and found the yellow bones, the skull with gray ropy hair still sticking to it. And Lee carefully packed the bones, femurs, and tibias really straight, skull in the middle, with pelvis and clavicle surrounding it and ribs curving on either side. Then Lee Chong sent his boxed and brittle grandfather over the western sea to lie at last in ground made holy by his ancestors.

Mack and the boys, too, spinning in their orbits. They are the Virtues, the Graces, the Beauties of the hurried mangled craziness of Monterey and the cosmic Monterey where men in fear and hunger destroy their stomachs in the fight to secure certain food, where men hungering for love destroy everything lovable about them. Mack and the boys are the Beauties, the Virtues, the Graces. In the world ruled by tigers with ulcers, rutted by strictured bulls, scavenged by blind jackals, Mack and the boys dine delicately with the tigers, fondle the frantic heifers, and wrap up the crumbs to feed the sea gulls of Cannery Row. What can it profit a man to gain the whole world and to come to his property with a gastric ulcer, a blown prostate, and bifocals? Mack and the boys avoid the trap, walk around the poison, step over the noose while a generation of trapped, poisoned, and trussed-up men scream at them and call them no-goods, come-to-bad-ends, blots-on-the-town, thieves, rascals, bums. Our Father who art in nature, who has given the gift of survival to the coyote, the common brown rat, the English sparrow, the house fly and the moth, must have a great and overwhelming love for no-goods and blots-on-the-town and bums, and Mack and the boys. Virtues and graces and laziness and zest. Our Father who art in nature.

3

Lee Chong’s is to the right of the vacant lot (although why it is called vacant when it is piled high with old boilers, with rusting pipes, with great square timbers, and stacks of five-gallon cans, no one can say). Up in back of the vacant lot is the railroad track and the Palace Flophouse. But on the lefthand boundary of the lot is the stern and stately whore house of Dora Flood; a decent, clean, honest, old-fashioned sporting house where a man can take a glass of beer among friends. This is no fly-by-night cheap clip-joint but a sturdy, virtuous club, built, maintained, and disciplined by Dora who, madam and girl for fifty years, has through the exercise of special gifts of tact and honesty, charity and a certain realism, made herself respected by the intelligent, the learned, and the kind. And by the same token she is hated by the twisted and lascivious sisterhood of married spinsters whose husbands respect the home but don’t like it very much.

Dora is a great woman, a great big woman with flaming orange hair and a taste for Nile green evening dresses. She keeps an honest, one price house, sells no hard liquor, and permits no loud or vulgar talk in her house. Of her girls some are fairly inactive due to age and infirmities, but Dora never puts them aside although, as she says, some of them don’t turn three tricks a month but they go right on eating three meals a day. In a moment of local love Dora named her place the Bear Flag Restaurant and the stories are many of people who have gone in for a sandwich. There are normally twelve girls in the house, counting the old ones, a Greek cook, and a man who is known as a watchman but who undertakes all manner of delicate and dangerous tasks. He stops fights, ejects drunks, soothes hysteria, cures headaches, and tends bar. He bandages cuts and bruises, passes the time of day with cops, and since a good half of the girls are Christian Scientists, reads aloud his share of Science and Health on a Sunday morning. His predecessor, being a less well-balanced man, came to an evil end as shall be reported, but Alfred has triumphed over his environment and has brought his environment up with him. He knows what men should be there and what men shouldn’t be there. He knows more about the home life of Monterey citizens than anyone in town.

As for Dora—she leads a ticklish existence. Being against the law, at least against its letter, she must be twice as law abiding as anyone else. There must be no drunks, no fighting, no vulgarity, or they close Dora up. Also being illegal Dora must be especially philanthropic. Everyone puts the bite on her. If the police give a dance for their pension fund and everyone else gives a dollar, Dora has to give fifty dollars. When the Chamber of Commerce improved its gardens, the merchants each gave five dollars but Dora was asked for and gave a hundred. With everything else it is the same, Red Cross, Community Chest, Boy Scouts, Dora’s unsung, un-publicized, shameless dirty wages of sin lead the list of donations. But during the depression she was hardest hit. In addition to the usual charities, Dora saw the hungry children of Cannery Row and the jobless fathers and the worried women and Dora paid grocery bills right and left for two years and very nearly went broke in the process. Dora’s girls are well trained and pleasant. They never speak to a man on the street although he may have been in the night before.

Before Alfy the present watchman took over, there was a tragedy in the Bear Flag Restaurant which saddened everyone. The previous watchman was named William and he was a dark and lonesome-looking man. In the daytime when his duties were few he would grow tired of female company. Through the windows he could see Mack and the boys sitting on the pipes in the vacant lot, dangling their feet in the mallow weeds and taking the sun while they discoursed slowly and philosophically of matters of interest but of no importance. Now and then as he watched them he saw them take out a pint of Old Tennis Shoes and wiping the neck of the bottle on a sleeve, raise the pint one after another. And William began to wish he could join that good group. He walked out one day and sat on the pipe. Conversation stopped and an uneasy and hostile silence fell on the group. After a while William went disconsolately back to the Bear Flag and through the window he saw the conversation spring up again and it saddened him. He had a dark and ugly face and a mouth twisted with brooding.

The next day he went again and this time he took a pint of whiskey. Mack and the boys drank the whiskey, after all they weren’t crazy, but all the talking they did was “Good luck,” and “Lookin’ at you.”

After a while William went back to the Bear Flag and he watched them through the window and he heard Mack raise his voice saying, “But God damn it, I hate a pimp!” Now this was obviously untrue although William didn’t know that. Mack and the boys just didn’t like William.

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Cannery Row 4.1 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 170 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
At first when I started Cannery Row, I figured it was going to be a boring story I might not finish. As I read further, it grew better. Cannery Row tells the story of the local characters living and working around an area of defunct canning factories, set in the 1940's. It feels like the biography of a small town, with the setting and emotions, as characters. This stands out from other stories because it feels gritty, but it is not a sad, disgusting gritty it is more a melancholy, sleepy sort of gritty. The story has the feeling of a perpetual Sunday morning, being laid back, but without the worries of Monday. Even though Cannery Row is sleepy and meanders along, the humor is not. Sometimes, the humor isn¿t obvious you won¿t know something is going to be funny right off, instead you¿ll unconsciously get the joke later in the story. Other times, the humor builds up like suspense and you¿ll know what¿s coming long before the characters know anything is wrong. The first few chapters are short stories they set up the characters so you¿ll understand everyone¿s motives and personalities during the main plot. The characters are well developed, forming great mind pictures from the shrewd general store owner Lee Chong, Doc the kind and quiet marine biologist, to Mack the carefree, almost philosophical leader of the bums at the Palace Flophouse. The story is also compelling because of the variety of subjects. I found the parts about Doc¿s job of collecting fish and seashells interesting because I knew nothing about it detail Steinbeck went into led you to feel as if you were with doc, knee deep in clear seawater learning about the ocean firsthand. Doc and the girl in the water was attention-grabbing and sad because nothing like it had happened previously in the story. Also the different types of stories within the main story added curiosity. Steinbeck takes time exploring each character¿s past actions, which makes this story a great melting pot of emotions and feelings. If you aren¿t interested in books with ¿meaning¿, and you only enjoy books with action filled plots, you might not want to read this now. If you only read a few books during your lifetime, make this one of them.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I completely agree with che'ek. I first started reading it and got about 80 pages in and stopped for a while. I started to read it more and it turned out to be one of the best books I've ever read.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book is poetry. Episodic, full of great characters, gritty, a feel for life in Monterey that is long vanished. Perhaps not ultimately as profound as Grapes of Wrath, but futher evidence of Steinbeck as a great american novelist.
Guest More than 1 year ago
When I first started reading Cannery Row, I hated it. Absolutely hated it. I thought it was a drug out story with no plot and these stupid little interchapters between. But, I forced myself to read more, and it got better. It got better because I understood it more. Cannery Row isn't about the story, it's about what's behind it. There are so many themes and lessons that will shine through if you take the time to look back and reflect after you finish the novel. I HIGHLY recommend reading the introduction by Susan Shillinglaw after you read the book, because that's when it will make sense. THEN THE READER CAN TRULY APPRECIATE THE BOOK, AND TAKE SOMETHING AWAY FROM IT AS WELL.
Guest More than 1 year ago
If you like a sweet, entertaining, and witty novel, then Cannery Row is the book for you. The small fishing town of Cannery Row is home to some of the most eccentric characters. I loved reading about the unusual, friendly, and clever characters in their day to day life. Steinbeck's poetic language makes this book worth the read. He describes the town and everyone in it with great imagery. I would recommend this book to junior high and above, because it might not be understandable to younger kids. Cannery Row is all-around an enjoyable book to read that leaves you feeling caring and happy.
YoyoMitch More than 1 year ago
The reader is welcomed to Cannery Row by being informed that it becomes itself only after the work that gives the area its name ceases.  It then becomes “quiet and magical” with the stories that create it can, like those who inhabit the Row, only “crawl in by themselves” (p.2-3), as they cannot be forced into obedience.  These stories are of people, their relationships and how that synergy creates a world of community so close knit that all are accepted because none need fear being rejected.   Cannery Row is home to unforgettable characters.  Lee Chong, the original “Sam Walton” whose small shop stocks everything (but discounts nothing - EVER).  Dora Flood, the “Mother” of the row and proprietor of “The Bear Flag Restaurant” whose “girls” serve specials never listed on the menu, if The Bear Flag had a menu as it is not a restaurant.  Mack, Hazel (so named because he was the seventh child born to his parents in eight years and his mother forgot he was a boy), Eddie, Hughie and Jones who serve as the “caretakers” of the Row while not being bothered with consistent employment or knowing the lack of sustenance.  Finally there is Doc, owner and operator of Western Biological Laboratory who is the heart that causes the Row to be sustained.   The book is arranged by observations of these characters as they go about their lives with each other on The Row connected by short chapters of philosophical musings about what was just seen.  These “musings” were reminiscent of those conversations once held on front porches, around wood stoves, dorm rooms late at night or over cups of various libations.  What is achieved in this manner is a feeling of inclusion and a depth of meaning that was somehow not present before the book was opened.  Merely by “observing” those on The Row as they go about living, the author is able to bring the reader back to a clearer look at him/herself. The book is a classic, it has been read for generations in high school and college classes and it merits this label.  The language is spot-on for each character (there is some “adult” language used) and the movie (starring Nick Nolte and Debra Winger) is good but cannot reflect the power the book offers.  The narrator plays with the disbelief of the reader, causing her/him to be reminded that this is not reality and they are only observing the Row from a distance, the response is that akin to watching a play unfold. Listening to the book helps to dim the illusion of the fourth wall (between the fiction and the reader).  This technique is a safety net for those moments when the book becomes a little too close. The frog expedition to the Carmel River and the ensuing birthday party for Doc (which he knew nothing of even though it was at his house) are two instances where this was true and they are worth reading the book in themselves.   I am glad I visited Monterey, twice in fact, in one summer.  The first was the glitzy, tourist Mecca in a breathtaking setting.  The second was the “magical” place full of quirky, often unsafe, unpredictably dependable people whom d0 not realize how special they are.  Now that I read that last sentence, the reason I enjoyed this book so much is clearer, it sounds like my hometown.
davidc0469 More than 1 year ago
I enjoyed Cannery Row.A shorter story by Steinbeck standards it had great characters ranging from Doc who is widely looked up to in this town and Mac and his followers who live in the palace flop-house and don't work or have any real concerns in life.Dora runs a whore house and as a whole the town is small an all who live in this town know eachothers business. The story flowed well ,but as a whole it just did not have the impact of other Steinbeck classics. However it was an enjoyable read and I will will now read the 2nd part of the story - Sweet Thursday and give my rating from there. DNC
Borg-mx5 on LibraryThing 8 months ago
Steinbeck is simply one of my favorite authors, His handling of characters is wonderful and his style allows you to lose yourself in his settings and scenes. This story is a fine example. Full of California characters. The state still is full of characters.
MissReadsTooMuch on LibraryThing 8 months ago
After rereading Of Mice and Men, I thought I would reread Cannery Row as well. Of Mice and Men is a very powerful book but I really love Cannery Row. The people in this book are so real. Steinbeck really wrote their lives well. As a side note, this is the first time I have read the book since living in Santa Cruz, near Monterey. It was really fun to read - vividly seeing the places in the book as I read was exciting.
bkwurm on LibraryThing 8 months ago
My very favorite Steinbeck. In fact, I chose it as the November read for my literature class. In Cannery Row Steinbeck is at his most charming. His love and admiration for his characters comes through loud and clear. The gentle style and keen insight into the residents of Cannery Row will give any reader an appreciation for characters on the fringes of society. No reader can help but learn not to "judge a book by its cover"And added bonus, if you have the right edition, is the introduction by Susan Shillinglaw. Susan Shillinglaw is the most engaging and interesting Steinbeck scholar I've found. Her introduction is filled with insights into the text and the characters.
xmaystarx on LibraryThing 8 months ago
Amazing book. The writing is superb, the story is funny and entertaining. What else can I say? Steinbeck is a master of the craft and this is just another example of why. There are some story vignettes interspersed throughout that don't belong with the main story but it all flowed nicely. Go read it!
apartmentcarpet on LibraryThing 8 months ago
This is a straight-forward story of a group of lower-class characters struggling to establish themselves and to find their own versions of the American Dream.
Joycepa on LibraryThing 8 months ago
Written in a style that Steinbeck uses with great effect in his earlier California novels, Cannery Row is a collection of stories about yet another bunch of somewhat seedy characters who live in one of the more down-at-heels areas, the sardine canning section, of Monterey. More effectively than in Tortilla Flat, which this book resembles a great deal in structure and style, there is a central, organizing figure¿Doc who, though a resident of Cannery Row is yet an outsider, who plays Bach fugues whenever he is ¿entertaining" women, and who is beloved of all the other residents. Doc is modeled on Steinbeck¿s closest friend and mentor, the marine biologist Ed Ricketts, who, like Doc, owned a biological supply company in Monterey.One would think that being the person most respected and most loved in a community is a really good thing; most of us aspire consciously or otherwise to have similar love and respect lavished on us. But such attitudes can be a two-edged sword, especially when dealing with the likes of some of the `boys¿ , led by Mack¿a natural leader with an aversion to work. Not only is Doc the first one the boys think of when needing just a bit to tide them over (to the next bottle of wine), he also is the unwilling recipient of proofs of the devotion of his admirers, all of whom agree that somebody should do something nice for Doc. The boys hit on the perfect solution¿a party in Doc's honor.Because this is Cannery Row and because Steinbeck loved the people he wrote about in these stories, the road to the party is truly hilarious. Of course Mack and the boys have no money¿that is a given. So they hit on a sure-fire way of raising the necessary funds¿catching the frogs that are one of the staples of Doc¿s biological supply company and selling them to Doc. Naturally, with no money for gas and no car, they need same¿which, equally naturally, they borrow from Doc.The frog collecting expedition alone is enough to recommend the book. BUT what follows¿Doc's appreciation party¿is a superb piece of writing. Everyone on Cannery Row wants to contribute and attend, including the prostitutes at Flora¿s, who work out a rotation for attendance at the party while making sure that business, always brisk, is taken care of. The party (which Doc has suspected and quite rightfully dreads) starts off well¿and then degenerates into one of the most spectacular brawls in all literature. Everything in the book leads up to this event, and it¿s worth reading and rereading, just so you don¿t miss anything in your haste to race through the pages, laughing so hard you can hardly see the print in front of you. I can only hope that such a party did take place for Ricketts and that Steinbeck was drawing on fond memories when he wrote Cannery Row.While the party is the grand finale and Mack and the boys are the motivating force there are others who in habit the neighborhood--the Chinese store owner, the couple who live in an abandoned steam pipe, the prostitutes, mysterious figures who come and go--the book is a treasure of skillfully drawn, memorable characters.Cannery Row was one of Steinbeck¿s late works, and while it does share the structure of his very earliest, it¿s the work of a master who knew exactly what he was doing.
bookworm12 on LibraryThing 8 months ago
Set in Monterey, CA in the 1940s, Cannery Row is a delightful little look at a small community. There's Hazel, a young man who asks questions just to hear others talk, Lee Chong the grocery store owner who's constantly trying to avoid being taken advantage of and Mack, a good-hearted bum who's always up to something. I loved reading about the quirky town's people. The main character, Doc, is a marine biologist. He's a gentle soul and was modeled after Steinbeck's good friend. This book is so much lighter than most of Steinbeck's work. I've loved many of his epic novels (Grapes of Wrath, Of Mice and Men, East of Eden), but their dour themes can make for some rough reading. This book, on the other hand, is a celebration of a close-knit neighborhood coming together to celebrate a good man. I'm looking forward to reading more about these characters in the sequel, Sweet Thursday.
Ms.Claudia on LibraryThing 8 months ago
I enjoyed this book after reading it again for a second time about a year ago. I was much younger on the first read but I can really identify with the characters now and see how their loneliness, weaknesses and strengths combine to show in full detail how they make up any part of a community, the ability for leadership, perseverance, and humanity. I like to read about the characters as much as the story line. I like complex characters.
tealover on LibraryThing 8 months ago
In my opinion - Steinbeck's best book! I just love it.
beelzebubba on LibraryThing 8 months ago
My faith in Steinbeck is restored! My previous incursion into the world of Steinbeck, ¿Tortilla Flat,¿ left me completely and utterly disappointed. Tried as I might, I could not get into it, and ended up abandoning it, which is something I usually don¿t do.But ¿Cannery Row¿ totally blew me away! It is now on the list of my all-time favorite books (a rather exclusive club, I can assure you). I can¿t begin to state all the reasons I loved it, but I will jot down a few:¿Characters: it has some of the most endearing, fascinating and memorable characters of any book I¿ve ever read. And he doesn¿t fill in all the blanks; he leaves that up to the reader, which makes it all the more powerful.¿Details: he goes into great detail about such things as the marine life. His descriptions of the various denizens of the deep that Doc is always after are so spot-on, you immediately wonder to yourself about how much research he must¿ve done to write this book. This is not usually a good thing, since you want your methods hidden. But here it doesn¿t matter, as it is so well done and only adds to the enjoyment of the book.¿Plot: there really isn¿t one, which is how I like it. I¿m not overly impressed with plotlines. I much prefer interesting characters and a slice of life, a brief glance into another world. And this is exactly what Steinbeck gives here. Oh, things happen, of course. But you don¿t feel you¿re being carried in a particular direction to some ultimate ending.¿Humor: there are many scenes where I had to laugh out loud. The two ¿frog¿ scenes come to mind, as well as the ongoing philosophical treatises on the ¿wining jug.¿ Steinbeck has a deft touch when it comes to bringing out the humor in a scene that too few writers possess.When a friend of mine found out I was reading this book, she told me it was one of her favorites, and that she had read it several times. I wouldn¿t have believed it then, but I am on the same page with her now. I can¿t wait until I have time to read it again!
MColv9890 on LibraryThing 8 months ago
This short novel is probably my favorite Steinbeck. It introduces humor and significance to a relatively humorless, insignificant place.
varwenea on LibraryThing 8 months ago
Cannery Row has a basic plot ¿ the town trying to throw a party for Doc, yet it is interspersed with characters and short stories that tell of life in an otherwise forgettable place. Some of these `short stories¿ are like dangling participles. You kind of know they are not quite right or don¿t belong, but you understand them anyway. Even without a strong plot, this novel is an unfolding, with rich images that standalone just fine on their own.Two major theme stand out for me: Camaraderie and Contentment. Camaraderie ¿ Surviving in these depressed times, even those who have little, share what little they have. Mack and his boys with each other. Dora and her `girls¿ brought soup to the sick when the town became ill. Even Lee, the shrewd grocer, steps up and makes a deal. And finally, there¿s Doc ¿ the intellectual and the centroid of the town (and a lonely place to be as well), who always does what he can. Despite Mack and his boys destroying his house, he forgave them before they forgave themselves.Contentment ¿ Again surviving in these depressed times, it¿s about being happy with what you little you have. Eddie and his mix of leftover alcohol blend that he, Mack, and the boys enjoy. A large, walk-in broiler that becomes a house. A warm stove that re-defined the ex-warehouse (Palace Flophouse) to be a home instead.Side note: Doc¿s character and lab was based off John Steinbeck's friend, Ed Ricketts, that had inspired the subject and this novel, who was in fact a marine biologist that operated Pacific Biological Laboratories, at 800 Cannery Row from 1928 to 1948.Quotes:About Lee Chong, the Chinese Grocer (who was still ultimately a force of good):¿Perhaps he is evil balanced and held suspended by good ¿ an Asiatic planet held to its orbit by the pull of Lao Tze and held away from Lao Tze by the centrifugality of abacus and cash register.¿I wondered if this also described the memory of an elderly person or dementia:¿Hazel¿s mind was choked with uncatalogued exhibits. He never forgot anything, but he never bothered to arrange his memories. Everything was thrown together like fishing-tackle in the bottom of a rowboat, hooks, and sinkers and line and lures and graffs all snarled up.¿The impact of the Model T on America ¿ and it made me giggled: ¿Someone should write an erudite essay on the moral, physical, and aesthetic effect of the Model T Ford on the American nation. Two generations of Americans knew more about the Ford coil than the clitoris, about the planetary system of gears than the solar system of stars.¿ The simplicity and commonality of men ¿ a bum (or anyone today) ¿ also made me giggled:¿Mack awakened, started up, stretched, staggered to the pool, washed his face with cupped hands, hacked, spat, washed out his mouth, broke wind, tightened his belt, scratched his legs, combed his wet hair with his gingers, drank from the jug, belched, and sat down by the fire¿. Men all do about the same things when they wake up. Mack¿s process was loosely the one all of them followed.¿Doc¿s observation of men: This made me pause and ponder if I agreed. No, I don¿t, at least not entirely.Doc ¿ ¿The things we admire in men, kindness and generosity, openness, honesty, understanding, and feeling, are the concomitants of failure in our system. And those traits we detest, sharpness, greed, acquisitiveness, meanness, egotism, and self-interest, are the traits of success. And while men admire the quality of the first they love the produce of the second.¿The mental punishment that Mack and his boys were inflicting upon themselves and the premise that Time does not always heal. This made me sad thinking how one just doesn¿t forget some past pains.¿It¿s all fine to say: `Time will heal everything, this too shall pass away. People will forget¿ ¿ and things like that when you are not involved, but when you are, there is no passage of time, people do not forget, and you are in the middle of something that does not change
CatheOlson on LibraryThing 8 months ago
This is probably the 4th or 5th time I've read book, but the escapades of these quirky characters just makes me smile every time.
santhony on LibraryThing 8 months ago
I¿ve recently read several Steinbeck novels and novellas, including Of Mice and Men and East of Eden. I found both of those works to be outstanding and was determined to read more Steinbeck, hence this review.Cannery Row is a relatively short novella, set in early 20th century Monterey, California. Of similar length to Of Mice and Men, I felt that this work was not the equal of the former, both in relation to character development and entertainment value. As in other Steinbeck works, the author uses imagery and symbolism to good effect, but in my opinion, the characters in this novella were not as engaging or interesting as those in other Steinbeck novels I have read. Certainly a worthwhile read, but not exceptional.
avidmom on LibraryThing 8 months ago
"How can the .... dream {Cannery Row} be set down alive? When you collect marine animals there are certain flat worms so delicate that they are almost impossible to capture whole, for they break and tatter under the touch. You must let them ooze and crawl of their own will onto a knife blade and then lift them gently into your bottle of sea water. And perhaps that might be the way to write this book - to open the page and to let the stories crawl in by themselves." (page 3)Just as the place, Cannery Row, is unique, so is John Steinbeck's book of the same name. Cannery Row is simply a collection of little stories about the larger than life characters who take up residence on the Row. Each one of them is flawed in some way; all of them are funny and lovable. We begin our tour of the Row at Lee Chong's grocery store, "a miracle of supply" where a "man could find everything he needed or wanted to be happy." (page 4) What Lee Chong doesn't supply is supplied by Dora and her "girls" at the Bear Flag Restaurant. We then are slowly introduced to the cast of characters on the Row through little stories about each one of them. Quite a list of characters make cameo appearances on the Row. Amongst them are a lady who throws parties for the neighborhood cats, a mysterious Chinese man who makes a daily trek to the Row - who knows why - and Henri the painter who "had so steeped himself in stories of the Left Bank in Paris that he lived there although he had never been there." (page 134) Our attention, however, is mostly directed toward Mack and the boys and Doc.Mack is the leader of a ragtag group of hobos ("the boys") who live in the "Palace Flophouse" together and Doc, their neighbor, a marine biologist living and working on the Row. Doc is the heart of the story and the heart of Cannery Row itself - although he doesn't seem to suspect that. Doc, despite being a nice guy who actually has quite a few friends, is a "set-apart man" who "seemed always alone" even in a crowd (page 100). Mack decides early on in the book that they should throw a surprise party for Doc because Doc's simply a nice guy. But before the party can come to be, Mack and the boys need to come up with some $$$. This leads to some funny complications for Mack and the boys, a group of unsuspecting frogs, Lee Chong, and poor Doc himself.Steinbeck's excellent writing and wry wit is what makes this book a wonderful read. Here you'll find wonderful similes like: "Cats drip over the fences and slither like syrup over the ground to look for fish heads (page 85)". Here's Steinbeck writing about the dawn: "It is the hour of the pearl - the interval between day and night when time stops and examines itself." (page 86) But what makes this book one of my all time favorites that I have read probably 3 or 4 times by now, is Steinbeck's witticisms that are scattered throughout the book: "Hazel (one of Mack's boys) grew up - did four years in grammar school, four years in reform school, and didn't learn anything in either place. Reform schools are supposed to teach viciousness and criminality but Hazel didn't pay enough attention. He came out of reform school as innocent of viciousness as he was of fractions and long division." (page 32)Cannery Row is a slow paced little book full of wonderful characters, incredible writing and humor. IMO, always worth the trip!
Crazymamie on LibraryThing 8 months ago
John Steinbeck writes poetry that masquerades as prose. His beautiful progression of imagery and vividly drawn characterizations make this collection of vignettes a delightful read, which is good because there isn't much of a plot. In this short novel, written in 1945, Steinbeck establishes the setting of the story, not just the physical place but also the place in time, as the main character. He paints this setting so vividly:"Early morning is a time of magic in Cannery Row. In the gray time after the light has come and before the sun has risen, the Row seems to hang suspended out of time in silvery light....The street is silent of progress and business. And the rush and drag of the waves can be heard as they splash in among the piles of the canneries. It is a time of great peace, a deserted time, a little era of rest. Cats drip over the fences and slither like syrup over the ground to look for fish heads....It is the hour of the pearl - the interval between day and night when time stops and examines itself."The remaining cast of characters are just as interesting. What little plot there is centers around Doc, the marine biologist whose heart is as big as his mind: "He can kill anything for need but he could not even hurt a feeling for pleasure." Unfortunately for Doc, this inspires a small group of local men to plan a surprise party for him. What results is a story worthy of a lazy summer afternoon. The characters are flawed but likable. The pace meanders; this is a journey through a series of sketches that are linked by a common denominator, not a fast paced adventure. But it's beautifully written, and I know that I will pick it up off my shelf and read it again. I am giving it 4 1/2 stars.
porch_reader on LibraryThing 8 months ago
The title of this book is spot on because this book is, first and foremost, a portrait of Cannery Row. Using a combination of interesting characters and beautiful description, Steinbeck transports his readers to Cannery Row. Life there is not easy, and the people we meet all face challenges. But they are genuine, and there are some very tender moments. These are characters I won't soon forget.
rburdock on LibraryThing 8 months ago
Cannery Row is the third Steinbeck novel I¿ve read in succession, and for me it stands out as the finest; quite simply I¿ve never been more captivated by a fictional place, or its characters, than I have been whilst reading this novel.Cannery Row centres on life upon a small strip of largely dilapidated land situated next to a sardine cannery in Monterey Bay. It¿s the 1930s, the time of the Great Depression, and the story follows the daily interactions between the mainly down-trodden residents. These residents (all of whom symbolically represent various class structures in society) are primarily comprised of: Lee Chong, the Chinese grocer, Mac and 'the boys' who reside in a `refurbished¿ storage hut loving christened the Palace Flop-house, Doc who runs the marine laboratory, and Dora, the owner of the Bear Flag restaurant, which in actuality is a house of ill-repute.Given Mr. Steinbeck¿s incredible talent for creating remarkable characters, and settings (something which I¿ve discovered in ALL of the his books that I¿ve read), I¿m not surprised I¿m so enamoured with Cannery Row, there¿s just something so magical about each and every one of them. This is the first novel I¿ve finished where the characters, and the place, have carried on living in my head; out of nowhere I suddenly begin wondering how Doc¿s getting on in his laboratory, or whether Mac and the boys have managed to get up on their luck, if Mr. Chong is still in his sentinel position in his shop, behind the cigar counter, or if Dora¿s place is busy or not.I have to say though, that I found no real story behind Cannery Row. As I found with other Steinbeck novels, the onus of the story is all about the characters and how they interact with one another, rather than any hugely engaging plot. The lack of plot should not put anyone off reading Cannery Row though. What story there is, is perfectly constructed to both engage the reader, and to provide the `props¿ and setting for a level of sublime character interaction. In that respect, the story can be viewed as a work of absolute genius, and in my mind it is. Another thing that Cannery Row demonstrated beautifully to me, is how talented Mr. Steinbeck is at making something stunning out of the ordinary, especially when describing surrounding scenery. His description of an empty weed-covered lot, makes it sound as though he describing the Garden of Eden, and of particular magnificence is his description of what he calls `pearl time¿, the time of day when night ends but the sun has not yet begun rising. It is during this `magical time¿ that `weeds are a brilliant green¿, `the corrugated iron of the canneries glows with the pearly lucence¿ and the cats `drip over the fences and slither like syrup over the ground¿. Magnificent!!I think you know by now then, that I LOVE Cannery Row and as such I wholeheartedly encourage you to read it, if you haven¿t done so already. I¿ve mentioned that the place and the characters have gone on `living in my head¿, and if that isn¿t testament to the power of this novel, then I don¿t know what is.