Study Guide

Cannery Row Spirituality

By John Steinbeck


Steinbeck is all over the spiritual map in Cannery Row. He's got references to Catholicism (St. Francis), to Daoism (Lao-Tse), to Greek goddesses (the Graces) ... you name it, Steinbeck's name-dropped it. And that's not counting his hints that you might be able to find God out there in the natural world, maybe in a stinkbug or something. What do we make of this big, simmering, spiritual stew? Is it all just a tasty mish-mash? Well, one thing almost all of these nods to spirituality have in common is that Steinbeck always manages to bring things down to earth. The St. Francis in question, for instance, is Gay, a gifted car mechanic who spends more time in prison than on the outside. Hmm, this may be one kind of spirituality we can really get behind.

Questions About Spirituality

  • What kind of religion do people on Cannery Row seem to practice? Is everyone and everything holy in Cannery Row?
  • If the stinkbugs are praying in (6.43-6.46), does that make them as great as people or as silly as people? Do we ever see people praying? If stinkbugs pray when they lie on their backs and wave their little legs in the air, then what silly things do people do when they pray?
  • Do you agree with Doc that Mack and the boys "know everything that has happened in the world" (23.11)? Where do they get their special insight? Is it spiritual, or is it more philosophical?

Chew on This

In Cannery Row, music is particularly associated with spirituality.

By always joining high falutin' spiritual stuff (like prayer) with low, gross things (like stinkbugs), Steinbeck wants to suggest that holiness is everywhere.