Cannery Row (John Steinbeck)

[Cannery Row]

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 gaffs all snarled up.

This is Odie’s favorite book. He described it as 3A Keough Hall, our dorm section at Notre Dame. It’s tough for me to compare the marginalized cast of Cannery Row to the middle/upper class residents of Keough, but I see where he’s coming from. They’re a group of people thrown together essentially by chance. Each has a pretty distinct personality, but they coexist in harmony, for the most part. Furthermore, they’re looking out for each other, sometimes failing, but always with the best intentions. Hopefully Odie will comment to see how close I am to the mark.

One other line that I loved:

There is no term comparable to green thumbs to apply to such a mechanic, but there should be.

5 thoughts on “Cannery Row (John Steinbeck)

  1. There are so many great lines in this book that I think you may have missed some in your brief analysis (I will try to include a few in my thoughts). Indeed, the very openning makes me think of our group of friends and the surroundings:

    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 the 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.

    The novel in its setting and people shows that which has been beaten still rises in the search for redemption and salvation – which I think is what we’re all doing. The book acts as a guidepost at some points for the trip:

    ‘It has always seemed strange to me,’ said 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 which 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.’

    It reminds us that the struggle can be bitter and does not necessarily always yield reward, but occassionally, just occassionally, there are hints of grace and beauty to remind us what we are struggling for:

    Early morning is a time of magic. Very few people are about, just enough to make it seem more deserted than it is. It is the hour of the pearl -the gray time, after the light has come and before the sun has risen–the interval between day and night when time stops and examines itself. No automobiles are running then. The streets are 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.

  2. I wasn’t trying to find the most profound lines, or even ones that supported my hypothesis. Those were just the ones that jumped out at me.

    As for the relation to our circle, if you want to make the argument that we’re simultaneously “whores, pimps, gamblers, and sons of bitches” and “saints and angels and martyrs and holy men,” but I don’t see how that applies to us more than anyone else. “The gathered and the scattered” does seem appropriate.

  3. Well sure it applies to everyone else – that’s the whole point. In the misquoted words of Hamlet, “The purpose of playing . . .‘twere the mirror up to nature, to show virtue her own feature, scorn her own image, and the very age and body of the time his form and pressure.” Just as Doc and Mac and Lee Chong and the ladies of the Bear Flag come together to form a community – a family even – so does a group of chemists from around the world. Cannery Row reminds us that we are all sinners and that we are all saints. It reflects us as individuals, but also reflects our common humanity. This simultaneous reflection teaches that all communities are made of the gathered and the scattered; that our own community is not that far removed from all other communities on this earth; and that the experiences which seem personal are in fact part of a larger global solidarity in which we all have a share. Are we a collection of ne’er-do-wells? yes. Are we humanity’s greatest hope? yes. As it is true for one, it is true for all. We are all marginalized, we are all the everyman. Steinbeck celebrates this miracle of day to day life in Cannery Row.

  4. Ok, fair enough. I assumed you meant that something in the book made you think specifically about the 3A Keough Hall community, when it was really that the book made you think about the concept of community in general, and since 3A Keough Hall is a community at the fore of your mind, that’s why the book reminded you of our group.

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