by John Steinbeck
Cannery Row Man and the Natural World Quotes
How we cite our quotes: (Chapter.Paragraph)
On the exposed rocks the starfish emit semen and eggs from between their rays. The smells of life and richness, of death and digestion, of decay and birth, burden the air (6.2)
We love the smell of semen and decay in the morning. Lots of oppositions here: death and digestion, decay and birth. It's kind of like the way the sea anemones in the previous quote are really good-looking and really deadly. Steinbeck's asking us to think about how the natural world is full of oppositions like this. Animals eat other animals, but it's not like they're wrong to do this. It's all part of nature. Just like Mack conning everyone he meets, you know?
[The boiler] became red and soft with rust and gradually the mallow weeds grew up around it and the flaking rust fed the weeds. Flowering myrtle crept up its sides and the wild anise perfumed the air about it. Then someone threw out a datura root and the thick fleshy tree grew up and the great white bells hung down over the boiler door and at night the flowers smelled of love and excitement, an incredibly sweet and moving odor (8.1)
If you think this is just an empty lot filled with weeds and trash, think again. Rust feeds the weeds; the decaying pipe feeds the plants. Also, fun fact: datura is often confused with the genus Brugmansia, bushes with trumpet-shaped flowers that go by the common name "angel's trumpets." Since Steinbeck is talking about "great white bells" that hang down, we're guessing he's talking about Brugmansia. (Datura flowers point up.) Anyway, the point of all this? You have never smelled anything as nice as angel's trumpets. Steinbeck has the "sweet and moving odor" down just right.
At the base of this cliff there is a pool, green and deep, and on the other side of the pool there is a little sandy place where it is good to sit and cook your dinner.
Mack and the boys came down to this place happily. It was perfect. If frogs were available, they would be here. It was a place to relax, a place to be happy (13.6-13.7)
This passage brought to you by the Carmel River Tourist board. Feeling a little bummed about your big, busy life in the city? Come on down the river and relax. It's passages like this that make us call Cannery Row a pastoral—check out "Genre" for more on that.