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Cannery Row

Cannery Row


by John Steinbeck

Character Clues

Character Analysis


It's kind of a no-duh point, but we can learn about the characters in Cannery Row by looking at what they do. And it seems like people on Cannery Row are tripping all over themselves in their rush to do nice things for one another.

Take Dora. When the flu epidemic hits, she sends her girls out to the sick families with soup and company. Meanwhile Doc is running around helping Mack with his sick dog, giving Lee Chong's wife something for her toothache, you name it. Lee Chong extends so much credit that it isn't clear if he makes any money at all. Even Mack and the boys, with their parties for Doc, are trying to get in on the do-gooding action.

Which makes us want to ask: is there anyone in Cannery Row who doesn't do nice things for people?


The narrator in Cannery Row isn't afraid to just tell it like it is. What's Dora like? She's "as soft as a mouse's belly," meaning that she's just got to help people out when they need it (16.11). And Doc? He's "concupiscent as a rabbit and gentle as hell" (5.4).

Concupiscent? Look it up. (Okay, we confess: we did it for you. Just click here.)


Where people live can tell us a lot about them in Cannery Row. First off, they all live in Cannery Row, which means that they're not on the rich side of town. But let's dig a little deeper.

Doc, for instance, lives at the lab. He doesn't make a big distinction between work and home. At any hour of the night he could be in there embalming cats or sorting starfish or jarring babies. He doesn't lock his door and his bedroom is also the chill out area. (And crowded. He's had 40 people in there at one time [5.2].) From this, we know that Doc isn't a guy who has much of a private life. Or if he does, it's really private.

Henri, on the other hand, lives on a boat on dry land. It's too small for even two people to live comfortably, so all his wives and girlfriends eventually leave him. If Doc is a guy who likes having other people around, Henri has made that almost impossible. He likes to be alone—and just might be afraid of having anyone else around.