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Cannery Row

Cannery Row


by John Steinbeck

Analysis: Genre

Comedy, Pastoral


When we talk about comedy as a genre, we're not just talking about the Marx Brothers (though that counts, too). In literature, a comedy might be knee-slappingly funny, or might just take a wry look at serious matters. The important thing is that it always has a happy ending.

Well, we've got the funny. Mack and the boys using frogs as currency? That's comedy genius right there. And we've got the happy ending—the second party works out, and everyone has a good time.

Or do they? Is Doc totally psyched at the end of the novel, or is he maybe a little sad? Could he be inhabiting a totally different genre from the rest of the characters? Hey, anything's possible.


Traditionally, a pastoral is a story about shepherds and shepherdesses falling in love in a super pretty natural location. So what are we on about calling Cannery Row a pastoral? Dockside slums are about the farthest thing from a bucolic countryside we can imagine.

But when you think about it, there's something utopian about Cannery Row. We've got a tight, loving community, pretty small problems and even though no one has any dough, everyone's basically happy. That's how those old shepherds and shepherdesses lived, too. (At least in the minds of struggling urban writers. Real shepherds probably had to deal with a lot more poop.)

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