Study Guide

Cannery Row Man and the Natural World

By John Steinbeck

Man and the Natural World

Folks in Cannery Row live pretty closely with nature. Everyone's livelihood depends on the fish that live off the coast, and quite a few characters live more or less out of doors. In Cannery Row, Doc seems especially in tune with nature. He needs it to get by—he sells it after all—but he also spends a lot of time just mulling it over. But watch out: whenever Steinbeck starts talking about how gorgeous all the sea life is, he's about to pull the rug out from under us with some story about how violent and bloodthirsty all the pretty sea anemones are. Just like on Cannery Row, life in the Great Tide Pool is nasty, brutish, and probably pretty short.

Questions About Man and the Natural World

  • Is it artificial to separate the natural world from the world of men? What would Doc say? How about Steinbeck?
  • If Doc makes a living capturing animals and then embalming them, is it still possible for him to be respectful of the natural world?
  • Nature doesn't belong to anyone, and that guy who comes by with the shotgun to kick Mack and the boys off his land is totally in the wrong. But wait a minute: Doc takes nature and sells it for profit. Is there a difference between these two things, or is Steinbeck just being inconsistent? Why or why not?
  • Is it unfair that the sea anemone in quotation 3 lures its prey by being so beautiful and cushy-looking? Is it unfair of Steinbeck to portray it this way? What might Steinbeck be saying about appearances?

Chew on This

In Cannery Row, what goes on under the water is a reflection of what's happening up on shore.

The natural world is unlike the world of Cannery Row's men and women. Men and women worry about grocery money and their social status; animals and plants are just living and dying in harmony with the rest of nature.