60 pages 2 hours read

John Steinbeck

Cannery Row

Fiction | Novel | Adult | Published in 1945

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Important Quotes

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“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.”

(Prologue, Page 5)

These are the novel’s opening lines. From the beginning of the Prologue, Steinbeck strongly depicts a Sense of Place. This passage provides a preview of the locations featured throughout the novel, such as Lee’s grocery store.

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“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.”

(Chapter 1, Page 15)

This passage describes the locations where Mack and his friends lived before Lee allowed them to rent the building that became known as the Palace Flophouse. Being unhoused meant that they didn’t buy furniture. In other words, they didn’t participate in consumer culture, which the novel critiques via one of its main themes: Questioning the Nature of Success.

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“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.”

(Chapter 2, Page 17)

Here, the Sense of Place theme melds with a discussion about the craft of writing. Steinbeck draws on structuralist theory, which explores how words (combinations of letters) represent the things (objects, people, etc.) that they describe.