Study Guide

Cannery Row Cannery Row

By John Steinbeck

Cannery Row

  • Let's start with Cannery Row.
  • What is Cannery Row, anyway? Steinbeck enlightens us. Kind of. It's "a poem, a stink, a grating noise, a quality of light... " (0.1). Okay, thanks.
  • A little clarification: it's called Cannery Row because, you guessed it, there's a cannery there.
  • When the boats full of sardines dock there, all the "Wops, Chinamen and Polaks" run down to stuff the poor things into cans. Note: Steinbeck didn't get the political correctness memo.
  • After the smelly workers leave, "Cannery Row becomes itself again" and all the usual inhabitants come out.
  • Steinbeck steps out of the action for a moment to wonder how he's going to write this book at all.
  • Taking a page from marine biologists, he decides he'll "open the page and [ . . . ] let the stories crawl in by themselves" (0.3).
    Get it? He's like a scientist observing a bunch of weird life-forms.