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Literature / Cannery Row

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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.

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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.
  • 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.
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    • And don't forget the Mysterious Chinaman.


Alternative Title(s): Sweet Thursday

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