Study Guide

Cannery Row Home

By John Steinbeck


[Dora] made herself respected by the intelligent, the learned, and the kind. And by the same token she is hated by the twisted and lascivious sisterhood of married spinsters whose husbands respect the home but don't like it very much (3.1)

For the guys who visit Dora, home isn't comfortable. Is it still a home, then? It seems like there's The Home, the one where the husbands of "married spinsters" are chained up, and the kind of home where Doc or Mack and the boys live. Huh. We're still not getting a very woman-friendly vibe from this book. It sounds a little like women just can't help ruining a home. (Except maybe Dora.)

There are chairs and benches in this little room and of course the bed. As many as forty people have been here at one time (5.2)

This is Doc's bedroom. What can we tell about a guy whose bedroom is full of furniture for guests? Well, he's probably not getting much sleep, for one thing.

The Palace Flophouse was no sudden development. Indeed when Mack and Hazel and Eddie and Hughie and Jones moved into it, they looked upon it as little more than shelter from the wind and the rain. [ . . . ] They had not loved it then (7.1)

So the Palace had to become a cushy pad. A home is more than just shelter; you've got to love it. Does the love for the home come first? Or do these guys grow to love their home after they put a bunch of work into it?

However an unprecedented rainfall which went on for a month changed all that. House-ridden, the boys grew tired of squatting on the floor. Their eyes become outraged by the bare board walls. Because it had sheltered them the house grew dear to them (7.3)

They're growing to like the place, but notice Steinbeck still doesn't use the word home. What's the difference between a house and home? When does one become the other?

But once installed in the Palace Flophouse [the stove] was the glory and the hearth and the center. Its nickel flowers and foliage shone with a cheery light. It was the gold tooth of the Palace. Fired up, it warmed the big room. Its oven was wonderful and you could fry an egg on its shiny black lids (7.6)

The stove really ties the place together. If the stove were a character, what would it be like? It would be cheerful and generous. And probably pretty heavy.

With the great stove came pride, and with pride, the Palace became home. [ . . . ] Mack and the boys loved the Palace and they even cleaned it a little sometimes. In their minds they sneered at unsettled people who had no house to go to and occasionally in their pride they brought a guest home for a day or two (7.6)

This is a home made of pride and love, but notice that Mack and the boys went from guys who prefer living outdoors to guys who "[sneer] at unsettled people who had no house to go to." Are they getting kind of snobby? Or is this excusable pride, since, you know, they're living in a warehouse?

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.

In 1935 Mr. and Mrs. Sam Malloy moved into the boiler. [ . . . ] True, if you came in through the fire door you had to get down on your hands and knees, but once in there was head room in the middle and you couldn't want a dryer, warmer place to stay (8.1-8.2)

Usually we think of homes as the opposite of nature. But here, even though it's dry and warm, the boiler isn't suitable to be a home until it's been gussied up with flowers and plants. Without all the plants, it would just be a rusty old hulk.

The kind of women who put papers on shelves and had little towels like that instinctively distrusted and disliked Mack and the boys. Such women knew that they were the worst threats to a home, for they offered ease and thought and companionship as opposed to neatness, order, and properness (15.12)

Mack and the boys can tell the Captain's wife wouldn't like them just from seeing the paper on the shelves and the little towels. What is it about those things? Don't they just make things pretty (and easier to clean)? And, come on, aren't little towels actually a sign of hospitality? Ooh—maybe that's the problem. Little towels are a sign of hospitality, but they aren't actually hospitality.

Henri had been living in and building his boat for ten years. During that time he had been married twice and had promoted a number of semi-permanent liaisons. And all of these young women had left him for the same reason. The seven-foot cabin was too small for two people. They resented bumping their heads when they stood up and they definitely felt the need for a toilet (22.5)

Hmm. Henri's place is too small for two and eventually the ladies leave. While Doc's bedroom can seat 40, Henri's place only really fits one. We're thinking this difference has something to do with their personalities.

[Mary] could do that. She could infect a whole house with gaiety and she used her gift as a weapon against the despondency that lurked always around outside the house waiting to get in at Tom. [ . . . ] Mostly she was successful at keeping the dark things out of the house but sometimes they got in at Tom and laid him out (24.5)

Mary's home is like Biosphere 2,  all sealed off to keep the bad stuff out. But that's kind of hard on Mary, don't you think? Sometimes a girl just needs to get outside.