Literature / Cannery Row
is a 1945 novel by John Steinbeck
The central premise is simple enough: in Monterey, California's Cannery Row neighborhood during The Great Depression
, a group of men decide to throw a party for their friend Doc, a marine biologist who has a laboratory in the neighborhood. Interspersed within the story are little vignettes about the inhabitants of Cannery Row and the surrounding neighborhoods.
Nine years later, Steinbeck wrote a sequel, Sweet Thursday
, which returned to a post-WWII Cannery Row. It featured most of the same characters, added a few new ones, and had Doc find romance in the form of a young woman named Suzy.Rodgers and Hammerstein
produced a musical Pipe Dream
based on both books (in fact, Steinbeck wrote Sweet Thursday
while working on the stage treatment) in 1955. It was not a success.
A movie version
of Cannery Row
was released in 1982, starring Nick Nolte and Debra Winger, and it borrowed elements from both novels.
Cannery Row features examples of:
- Asian Store-Owner: Lee Chong, who operates the local grocery, and who stocks pretty much everything and anything in his store.
- Defictionalization: Monterey's Ocean View neighborhood, on which the fictional Cannery Row is based (see below), later renamed itself Cannery Row after the book. Though it bears little resemblance to the one in the book these days, essentially being a tourist trap consisting of souvenir stores, expensive restaurants, and perhaps in a poetic tribute to Doc, the Monterey Bay Aquarium.
- Get Rich Quick Scheme: Mack and the boys think of ways to finance Doc's party. The one they settle on does work till the frogs escape.
- Have a Gay Old Time: One of the guys at the Palace Flophouse is named Gay.
- Miss Kitty: Dora Flood, the madam who runs the Bear Flag Restaurant. Her sister Fauna takes over the Bear Flag in Sweet Thursday.
- Scenery Porn: And how! Steinbeck's descriptions of the Row, the forests, and the tide pools are the literary epitome of this trope. You can almost smell the fishy odor of the canneries.
- What Happened to the Mouse?: The dead girl that Doc finds in the tide pool is never mentioned again. Presumably, the man that Doc met on the beach reported the body to the police, but we never find out who she was or how she got out there.
- And don't forget the Mysterious Chinaman.
- Write Who You Know: The Cannery Row of the book is a thinly-veiled version of Monterey's Ocean View neighborhood. Doc is essentially an Expy of Steinbeck's friend Ed Ricketts, and Western Biological is a stand-in for Ricketts' Pacific Biological Laboratories. Dora is heavily based on Flora Woods, a madam who operated on Ocean View.