Study Guide

Cannery Row Happiness

By John Steinbeck


To paraphrase Tolstoy, happiness is usually pretty boring. That's why most novelists don't spend much time on it. It's way more interesting when characters are mooning around and miserable, which also explains the popularity of emo music. But it turns out, most of the folks in Cannery Row are actually happy. Is this why Cannery Row never became one of Steinbeck's heavy hitters?

Questions About Happiness

  • What's Cannery Row's recipe for happiness? Can we learn from the boys on Cannery Row, or is their happiness tied to their location?
  • It seems like money can really harsh a bum's mellow, though not having any doesn't seem to make anyone happy either. How do characters manage to have just enough?
  • What's the difference between having too much money and not quite enough? Does alcohol always make people happy in Cannery Row? What other ways do people on Cannery Row try to feel happy?

Chew on This

Being broke and hungry doesn't get Mack down, but feeling rejected by the rest of Cannery Row really ruins his mood. In this world, relationships with other people are more important than having enough to eat.

Doc is the only unhappy character in Cannery Row.