Cannery Row by John Steinbeck

Cannery Row was in Monterey, California.  It was a junky town and was inhabited by whores, pimps, gamblers etc. Men and women worked in the fishing industry and helped to harvest the sardine fleet.

Lee Chong owned a grocery store which was well stocked. It opened for long hours. Almost everyone owed him money. He was a nice guy who didn’t chase too much for outstanding debt. He lived well and was well respected by those around him. Lee was not concerned about losses. In the store, Lee had a friendly demeanour while manning the counter. There was a building which was used as a storage place for fish meal. It was owned by Horace Abbeville, who had 2 wives and six children. Lee came to him to collect debt. Horace wanted to sell the building to Lee to clear the debt. Lee agreed and the deal was clinched there and then. After that, Horace shot himself. Lee tried to help Horace’s family with the funeral proceedings as much as possible. Then, Lee met Mack. Mack was the exploiter of a group of men who had no families and no ambitions. Their group of men consists of Hazel, Eddie, Hughie, Jones. Mack suggested that he and his friends would take care of the building to prevent break-ins. Lee wanted to charge a nominal rent for them to stay. Everyone was happy about this. The house would be safe from then on.

The Word sucks up Cannery Row. Lee buried his grandfather. In this town, the men were destructive and often ruined themselves. Mack and his boys were considered beauties. Mack and his boys were not well liked by the others.

There was a railroad track and a whore house near his grocery store. Dora owned the whore house, which was actually well managed. She often was kind and ensured that the women would not starve. Alfred also worked there as a watchman. Dora was especially charitable and good to society, for fear that her whore house might have to shut. Her staff are all well-trained. The previous watchman was William and he tried unsuccessfully to bond with Mack and his boys. They didn’t want to hang out with a pimp like William. William was depressed and wanted to quit. He started talking to Eva, one of the show girls. William later killed himself in the kitchen with an ice pick. Unlike William, Alfred was well-liked.

There was an old Chinaman in the streets. He disappeared and then re-appeared during dawn again. He was carrying a wicker basket. Andy was a kid who wanted to find out who this mysterious man was. He intercepted his path one day and was frightened by the experience. He seemed to hallucinate after the entire experience.

Dora also owned the Bear Flag Restaurant. Western Biological sold lovely animals of the sea. There were jars of preserved animals. The basement of the store was used to embalm and inject animals. Doc was the owner of the Western Biological Laboratory. He was a passionate and small man. He was also very helpful despite the nature of his job. Unknowingly, he was the foundation of philosophy and science and art in Cannery Art. He lived in wonder of nature. Everyone felt indebted to him because of the way he helped others.

The doc often collected marine animals. There was plenty of beautiful sea creatures. Doc and Hazel worked in the pool. Hazel lived in the Palace Flophouse with the other boys. Hazel was born in a huge and poor family. Now, he was a 26 year old uneducated man. However, he was very hardworking and willing. Hazel didn’t know much but he knew questions were a way to keep conversations going. The starfishes caught would be sent to Northwestern University for research purposes. Gay was moving in with them in the house because his wife abused him. There was a guy who took apart his boat and changed it. Everyone was nutty in their own way. His name was Henri. It took him 7 years to build a boat, only to dismantle it again. He liked boats but didn’t like water that was why he was reluctant to finish building it. Hazel and Doc flipped a stink bug over to examine it. The stink bug liked to put their tail up in the air for no reason. Doc thought that they were praying.

The remarkable thing isn’t that they put their tails up in the air – the really incredibly remarkable thing is that we find it remarkable. We can only use ourselves as yardsticks. If we did something as inexplicable and strange we’d probably be praying. – Doc

The Palace was run down. They were a group of individualists. The palace was dilapidated and the boys wanted to do something about it. Now, they all chipped in to decorate it. Everyone contributed something to the place. Later on, they pooled money together to buy a huge stove. It was the highlight of the Palace. Eddie was an understudy bartender. Everyone felt more at home in the Palace now. Eddie often made cocktails for the rest with leftover alcohol from the bar. The boys were planning to throw a party for Doc. They contemplated how to go about doing it without letting Doc know. The old boiler was left in the vacant lot by Mr Randolph. In 1934, Mr and Mrs Sam Malloy moved into the boiler. At that time, Mr Malloy also rented the large pipes for men to sleep on.

The boys helped Hazel carry in the sacks of starfish. Mack went to chat with Mr Malloy. Doc was now arranging the starfish in long lines. Mack and the boys wanted to earn dough by killing animals in which Doc needed for his research. Doc wanted frogs and Mack agreed. Lee approved of the fact that Mack wanted to use his truck. However, before that, Mack had to fix his truck as it wasn’t able to move.

Frankie came to Western Biological since he was 11. He wanted to help Doc and he didn’t go to school. Nobody wanted him to go to school. There was something wrong with his co-ordination and his parents didn’t pay for it. Some of his uncles used to hit him real badly. Doc and Lee took care of him. Frankie was essentially a good boy who wanted to work hard. He enjoyed helping out at parties that the Doc hosted from time to time. One day, his co-ordination failed and he spilled the beer on the lady’s lap. Frankie ran off and started crying.

Lee’s Ford Truck had a history to it. Gay was an inspired mechanic and knew how to repair trucks. Now, he started fixing the car. Gay was a wonder. Now, the truck was ready to go. Gay chose back streets for the expedition. Later, while on the road, the truck broke down. Later on, Gay was jailed after he got into some trouble.

The city had a long literary tradition. There were many literary men still living. Josh Billings, a great humorist, was well worshipped after his death. Mr Carriaga came upon a small boy and a dog on the street. Apparently they picked up his liver and intestines from the rubbish after he had been embalmed. The city people took them back, for it didn’t show respect to a literary man like Josh Billings.

Eddie finally came back after obtaining the needle from another Model T’s Truck. Eddie now installed the new carburetor. They came upon a river. The place was perfect for frog hunting. They needed to wait for night before it would good to hunt. The boys were also cooking chicken at the same time. Suddenly, they wondered what happened to Gay. Mack admitted he lied to himself. He felt that he was taking advantage of Doc because there were 5 of them. Mack wanted to give him something where he wouldn’t get most of it back. They thought of giving him their whiskey instead. A man appeared and pointed a gun at them, demanding them to leave and said hunting, camping was not allowed. Mack offered to help that man’s dog who was sick and in return, the man told them were to go frog hunting.

It was early morning in Cannery Row again. There were two soldiers flirting with two ladies. Later, the watchman told them to scram as it was private property. The caretaker left eventually when on one listened to him.

Mack tried to cure the dog from its tick bites. The puppy appeared lonely. The captain offered Mack a puppy and he accepted. He started serving Mack and the boys some liquor from an old keg. It was brilliant in taste. There were thousands of frogs in the night. Mack devised a new way to catch them, which involved following them into the pool etc. Many of the frogs were nabbed and they were very successful in their adventure. There were at least 6 to 7 hundred of them. The captain really enjoyed their company. He even wanted to live with the rest on Palace Flophouse. Everyone was happy that they had the required numbers of frogs for the Doc.

Some of the girls were injured and could not perform on duty. Dora had issues with the income tax. There was an influenza epidemic in town and Mrs Talbot and Tom Work had it. The doctors were all very busy. The doc was very busy going from house to house to take care of the people. Some of the kids were indeed very sick. He suggested that Dora keep some of the lonely kids company. The girls started giving free soup to the needy and the sick. It was a lovely sight.

Despite all that, the Doc was a lonely man inside. Mack knew this as Doc couldn’t socialize well. Doc kept up with his collecting. Doc knew the exact moment when he could fish for certain animals. Doc had to go alone as he couldn’t find anyone else to accompany him. One of his favorite drinks was beer. Deep inside, Doc was a nervous man. Along his trip, Doc considered whether to pick up hitchhikers. The doc finally agreed. The hitchhiker encouraged Doc to cut down on his alcohol intake while driving. Doc was pissed and told them to leave. Doc tried to order a beer milk shake from a café. It was just beer and milk mixed together.

Now, the Doc reached the area for catching octopus. He managed to catch 22 octopi. Suddenly, he came upon a dead girl floating in the water. His heart pounded deeply. He was in deep shock by the way the girl stared at him. A man came by to speak to him. The doc knew that he needed to call the police station immediately. He wanted the man to report the incident, while the Doc started to leave.

Many people came to see the flag-pole skater perform. One day, an old Doctor Merrivale started to shoot at him with his air-rifle. The flag-pole skater started drinking and appeared lonely in the middle of the night.

Mack and the boys were back with the captured frogs. However, the doc was away. They tried selling it to Lee but Lee didn’t want the frogs. Mack offered him a trade-off of giving groceries in exchange for frogs and that Lee could attend the party too. Lee agreed to it. Lee was a shrewd business and wanted the most value for his products before he could let them go. The boys didn’t seem to mind and they were still happy at being about to eat bacon and eggs. Their dog was named Darling. She was mischievous and difficult to control. The boys were thinking about the party to throw for Doc. They were waiting for Doc to return home. Lee seldom offered discounts at his store. Eddie started baking a cake for Doc. The boys bought party accessories and moved them to the laboratory. Many people from the neighbourhood came to join in the party. There were many mishaps that night. The floor was littered with broken glass and the entire place was in a mess. Some of the frogs got loose as well. Many of the frogs managed to escape.

The rats in the lab cages escaped too. Doc finally returned home. He realized that the rattlesnacks escaped. He was fuming inside. The doc saw Mack and punched him immediately. Blood spurted from his lips. Doc kept hitting him. Despite this, Mack didn’t retaliate. Finally after a while, the doc was calm enough to start speaking. Mack said he wouldn’t learn anything from this episode especially after being hit. He offered to pay for everything but Doc said that he and the boys didn’t need to. Doc related this episode with his fiery relationship with his wife. Mack also had a wife which ran away.

Henri was not his real name. Finally, he decided to give up painting. Henri was a superb boat builder. It took him months to build the boat but he seemed to want it that way. His galley was an amazing piece of art. He had been building his boat for 10 years. Many people loved him but couldn’t stand his weird habits. Alice left him. However, after a period of sadness, he felt free. Later, Henri had a bad dream of a man slashing his baby with a razor. Henri claimed it was real. The doc dismissed this case as a ghost sighting.

A gloom settled around the Flophouse that evening. Mack was sad as the party turned out bad. Only Darling was happy. Mack and the rest felt like social outcasts now. Everyone in town thought that they were evil and weird people. Thankfully, their friendship kept them together. Now, the boys started polishing the palace. From afar, the doc commented that the boys survived in this world better than others. They didn’t want excessive things and didn’t want to keep wanting for more. The doc bet that the boys wouldn’t turn to watch the Independence Day parade. Richard lost the bet and had to treat the doc a beer. Dora was closed for a few weeks because of changing regulations. Things were looking bad around town. It was always easy to blame yourself. Darling fell sigh too and she was skeleton skinny now. Doc was called in by the boys to examine her. Finally after much care, she recovered. The wall of evil was broken now. Mack approached Dora and wanted to make it up to Doc by asking her whether she had any suggestions. She suggested a party where the Doc was sure to attend.

For there are two possible reactions to social ostracism – either man emerges determined to be better, purer, and kindlier or he goes bad, challenges the world and does even worse things. This last is by far the commonest reaction to stigma. – John Steinbeck

It has always seemed strange to me. 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 Doc

Mary Talbot was a lovely lady. She also loved parties. She was the wife of Tom Talbot. Mary enjoyed organizing house parties for friends. She had a cheery disposition and always aimed to care for her husband. To her, it was important to organize events. Their family was deep in debt. Later that year, Mary would throw a pregnancy party where everyone would have fun.

Things would need to start looking up now. Mack knew that he just needed to sleep on it and thinks might change for the better. Darling was growing up to be a good and charming dog. The whole mood was looking up. The business at Bear Flag improved. Most of the girls had recovered and could work. The boys wanted to throw the Doc a birthday party. Mack asked when his birthday was and realized that it felt on Oct 27. The doc that Mack was up to something.

The boys had to make sure that Doc would be at the party. They were planning on having it at his place. Dora’s girls were making him a blanket. Lee bought firecrackers and China lily bulbs. Sam would give Doc a rod and a piston. Another of his presents would be cats. Gay also would be attending the party. Henri prepared a giant pincushion for Doc. Doc finally knew about the party from a bartender. He felt both warm and queasy inside. Now, doc started planning for the party too. There would be many guests.

Frankie saw a nice piece of jewelry and wanted to steal it in the night. Frankie was caught by the police eventually. The police asked him why did he take it for, Frankie replied ‘I love you, Doc’.

It was his birthday and Doc made sure that the animals won’t run loose. Dora was clad in a splendid dress. The girls drank a little before heading to the party. Now, Doc was feeling a little mellow. Everyone was waiting for each other before they would show up at the party.

Parties don’t usually go the way they are planned. All the guests were treated to whisky. People arrived in droves. The girls conducted themselves properly. The doc started cooking his steaks. He was feeling much better. The doc started reciting a poem. He was reminiscing his previous love. The party was wild yet fun.

A fat gopher took up residence at the vacant lot on Cannery row. It was seemingly a perfect place to live and he was deeply satisfied. He was sad because there were no females nearby. Finally he decided to move away.

The place was in a mess when the Doc woke up the next morning. Cannery Row was quiet and sunny. Lee came to visit and they started chatting. Doc picked up his book and continued reading. After reciting, he saw the rats and the snakes escaped from their cages and were staring at him.


6 thoughts on “Cannery Row by John Steinbeck

  1. Lovely read! Thanks for introducing me to this work by John Steinbeck. I just read Of Mice and Men by the author and have written a review on it. You may want to check it out : )

    • Hello! Yes, I visited your blog and followed it 🙂 Where are you based in? My blog is full of detailed book summaries and not much reviews.

      No problem, Cannery Row is very different from Of Mice and Men. It’s more of a utopia and in a town where everyone helps each other and things go well. I prefer Of Mice and Men actually. haha.

      Your review sums up the major themes of the book. Keep it up! Hope you like what I have posted too!

  2. LOL. I had to chuckle when I read this because I didn't read my own children's blogs. I trusted them on contact and I lived with them so why read them? But then I started and now I'm hooked. They say things in a totally different way on a blog. So I can totally relate to you confession.

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