Cannery Row

This essay has a total of 2010 words and 9 pages.

Cannery Row


John Steinbeck is a writer who experienced the pain of the Second World War and though it
is true that many who have read his work have negatively criticized his writing, many have
also embraced his work in acceptance and appreciation. Yet, showing his true colours,
Steinbeck writes about his childhood in Monterey in a classical book called Cannery Row.
This is perhaps the most humorous of all which he has written, especially since it was
written during the war when most people believed authors should have been writing about
the hellfire around them. The opening line of Cannery Row sums up his intent of the
entire novel in a sentence, the style of his writing deceptively simple. Steinbeck writes
with purpose about the loneliness that never leaves and the values of common man, and in
his book significant insights about life are presented to the reader.



In the first line of the Cannery Row, Steinbeck spells out what he would be telling in his
tale of life, mapping out his artistic terrain. “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.” (5) The second and third nouns, “…a stink, a grating noise…” acknowledge the
physical attributes of Monterey. When the Monterey plants were in operation, the fumes
were so noxious that in 1936 the mayor of Pacific Grove told the city attorney to sue
Monterey (5): “…a poem…a nostalgia, a dream.” Susan Shillinglaw, in an introduction to a
copy of Steinbeck’s Cannery Row, states an interpretation of the meaning of the book,
summarized to combine the real and the imagined:



In this first sentence seven nouns flow from art to life to art, just as the rest of that
introductory chapter enumerates[1] the locations, activities, and persons of the Row and
then subsides into the metaphor that contains them, the tide pool; just as the early
chapters lean in to peer closely at inhabitants of the Row and the later ones draw back to
capture the shimmering whole in the parties, and in the last chapter, in the art of
poetry. (vii-xxvii)



Steinbeck invites “an expansion of the physical events” with his first sentence, the line
a key that opens the door to his novel. (Swisher, The Parable of the Pearl 100)



John Steinbeck’s style of writing is illusively simple yet so deeply intricate. Each
simile and each metaphor is so vividly weaved with imagery it is difficult to not picture
it. A hilarious image of a simile is Steinbeck’s description of Lee Chong as he takes his
post behind the cigar counter in his grocery store. “His fat delicate hands rested on the
glass, the fingers moving like small restless sausages.” (10) Another simile describes Doc
the morning after his second successful party. “Doc awakened very slowly and clumsily
like a fat man getting out of a swimming pool.” (184) Being a scientist, specifically a
marine biologist, Steinbeck brings out his love for life in Cannery Row with imagery. The
descriptive and realistic narrative of Steinbeck’s text appeals to the reader, bringing
them out of their world and into Steinbeck’s world. (31):



Doc was collecting marine animals in the Great Tide Pool on the tip of the Peninsula. It
is a fabulous place: when the tide is in, a wave-churned basin, creamy with foam, whipped
by the combers that roll in from the whistling buoy on the reef. But when the tide goes
out the little water world becomes quiet and lovely. The sea is very clear and the bottom
becomes fantastic with hurrying, fighting, feeding animals. Crabs rush from frond to
frond of the waving algae. Starfish squat over mussels and limpets, attach their million
little suckers and then slowly life with incredible power until the prey is broken form
the rock. And then the starfish stomach comes out and envelops its food. Orange and
black speckled and fluted nudibrancs slide gracefully over the rocks, their skirts waving
like the dresses of Spanish dancers.



Proving his simply complicated writing, Steinbeck includes metaphors like the one at the
beginning of his second chapter that summarizes the meaning of his book in metaphorical
terms. “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.” Cannery Row
contains a lengthy metaphorical parable in a charming chapter about a gopher who builds a
beautiful home on a perfect site, where there are no cats and no traps and perfect
drainage, but where he waits in vain for a mate to appear, and so finally has to leave his
paradise and go seek a mate where there are traps and other dangers, for that is what
females want. Edward F. Rickets was a marine biologist and Steinbeck’s closest friend for
18 years until he died in 1948. Steinbeck looked up to him and his work. He was
“different from anyone and yet so like that everyone found himself in Ed.” He was a man
whose “mind had no horizons. He was interested in everything…never moralized in any way.”
(Shillinglaw, vii-xxvii) Ricketts fits the part of Doc in Cannery Row, known by everyone,
liked by everyone. As he originally assumed Doc’s place, Steinbeck essentially made
Ricketts the narrator of his novel, so that the reader sees as Steinbeck sees as Ricketts
sees. Steinbeck makes his home world renown, weaving “strands of Steinbeck’s
non-teleological acceptance of what ‘is,’ his ecological vision, and his own memories of a
street and the people who made it home. Steinbeck’s art gave this street its form, its
identity, and a name that stuck: In 1957 the city of Monterey changed the name of Ocean
View Drive to Cannery Row.” (Shillinglaw, Introduction vii-xxvii)
Continues for 5 more pages >>




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