60 pages 2 hours read

John Steinbeck

Cannery Row

Fiction | Novel | Adult | Published in 1945

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The Function of Community

Cannery Row examines how a sense of community develops and functions among the residents of Monterey, focusing on the lower-class and working-class people. One important aspect of this is Steinbeck’s positive depiction of sex workers. Dora, a madam at the Bear Flag Restaurant, not only takes care of her employees but also cares for other people in the area. Her internal labor practices are generous. Some of her “girls”—a euphemism for sex workers—“don’t turn three tricks a month but they go right on eating three meals a day” (20). This illustrates how she cares for the people who work for her, people who are often discriminated against. An example of this kind of discrimination comes up later in the novel when other ladies (i.e., housewives) who live in Monterey rally against the Bear Flag, which results in its being shut down. Dora helps her workers through this interruption in their revenue stream—and also when they sustain injuries or age out of the profession.

Dora aids others in the community too: “[B]eing illegal Dora must be especially philanthropic” (20). Her donations to various causes keep her from being shut down or harassed by police. However, she gives generously—without city officials prompting her to do so.