Cannery Row (novel)

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Cannery Row
Cannery Row (1945 1st ed dust jacket).jpg
First edition
AuthorJohn Steinbeck
GenreRegional slice of life
PublisherViking Press
Publication date
January 1945
Media typeHardcover
Pages208 hardback (181 paper back)
LC ClassPZ3.S8195 Can
Preceded byThe Moon Is Down 
Followed byThe Pearl 

Cannery Row is a novel by American author John Steinbeck, published in 1945.[1] It is set during the Great Depression in Monterey, California, on a street lined with sardine canneries that is known as Cannery Row. The story revolves around the people living there: Lee Chong, the local grocer; Doc, a marine biologist; and Mack, the leader of a group of derelict people.

The actual location Steinbeck was writing about, Ocean View Avenue in Monterey, was later renamed "Cannery Row" in honor of the book. A film version was released in 1982 and a stage version was produced in 1995.


Cannery Row has a simple premise: Mack and his friends are to do something nice for their friend Doc, who has been good to them without asking for reward. Mack hits on the idea that they should throw a thank-you party, and the entire community quickly becomes involved. Unfortunately, the party rages out of control, and Doc's lab and home are ruined—and so is Doc's mood. In an effort to return to Doc's good graces, Mack and the boys decide to throw another party—but make it work this time. A procession of linked vignettes describes the denizens' lives on Cannery Row. These constitute subplots that unfold concurrently with the main plot.

Ed Ricketts's lab at 800 Cannery Row, Monterey, which was the basis for Doc's marine Lab

Character include Lee Chong, the operator of the neighborhood grocery store, "Lee Chong's Heavenly Flower Grocery"; Doc, a marine biologist at Western Biological Laboratories, based on Steinbeck's friend Ed Ricketts,[2] to whom Steinbeck dedicated the novel; Dora Flood, the owner and operator of the Bear Flag Restaurant; Mack, leader of a group of men called Mack and the boys; Hazel, a young man livnig with Mack and the boys in the Palace Flophouse; Eddie, a part-time bartender living at the Palace Flophouse, who supplies the boys with "hooch" left in patrons' glasses at Ida's Bar; and an enigmatic figure known as "the Chinaman".

Steinbeck revisited these characters and this milieu nine years later in his novel Sweet Thursday.

Major ideas[edit]


Mack and the boys work together to plan a party for Doc. After a failed first attempt, where Doc is not even present, their second attempt is more successful. Their transformation into an organised group in order to do something nice for Doc shows the value of comradeship and sociality.


Mack and the boys at the Palace Flophouse need little and appreciate much, and whatever they do need they acquire by cunning and oftentimes stealing. Doc is happy with his station in life and in the community (but many worry about his being lonely without a companion). Lee Chong could very easily go after the people in Cannery Row and collect on the debts he is owed, but he chooses instead to let the money come back to him gradually. "Henri the painter" is happy building his ever-changing boat and will continually dismantle it and start again so that he can continue building it. Cannery Row is content because its denizens are not ambitious to be anything other than who they are: their sole ambition is to better befriend Doc.


Steinbeck expresses a certain respect for prostitution for its honesty of motives, while reserving moral judgment for the reader. In Of Mice and Men (1937), George has a small monologue in which he states that a man can go into a whorehouse and get a beer and sex for a price agreed upon up front - unlike less professional relationships, you know what you're going to get and what you will have to pay for it. The same theme of respect is expressed in Cannery Row in Steinbeck's descriptions of the Bear Flag: prostitution is a business that provides a service in demand, it is run cleanly and honestly, and it benefits the community.

Overcoming superficial views of people[edit]

Throughout the story characters such as Dora Flood, Mack, and Doc are all expanded upon, and they reveal that they are much more complicated than they at first appear to be. For example, Dora Flood owns the brothel and is disliked by the townswomen because of her business, but she is very generous and for two years donates groceries to hungry people. Doc, who is a loved and respected member of society, is, deep down, a very sad and lonely person who, until the end of the story, never opens up to other people.


The novel opens with the words: "Cannery Row in Monterey in California is a poem, a stink, a grating noise, a quality of light, a tone, a habit, a nostalgia, a dream." Author John Steinbeck spent some of the happiest years of his life in a house in Pacific Grove near "Cannery Row" and the laboratory of his friend, Ed Ricketts. This began in 1930 and lasted to 1941, when Steinbeck's marriage failed, and he fled eastward to marry again (eventually). After a traumatic time documenting the war in the Mediterranean campaign in 1943, Steinbeck returned home to find that his second marriage was also in difficulties. He wrote Cannery Row in 1944 in an attempt to recover a Depression era world in Monterey which was, by then, already inaccessible to Steinbeck.[2] Major influences for this change included the war's effect on both Steinbeck and Monterey, the breakup of Steinbeck's first marriage, and the insulation caused by Steinbeck's new wealth arising from his increasing fame and success as a writer. Steinbeck was already beginning to suspect that he would never again be able to go back to living in this, his favorite part of California. Indeed, after a failed attempt to live in California in the late 1940s, he left to spend the rest of his life in New York.[citation needed]

Sweet Thursday[edit]

Steinbeck later wrote a sequel released in 1954 called Sweet Thursday, in which several new characters are introduced and Doc finds love, with the help of his friends.[citation needed] The film version of Cannery Row incorporates elements from both books.[citation needed]

Rodgers and Hammerstein adapted Sweet Thursday into a Broadway musical Pipe Dream. Because the pair were uncomfortable with the idea of their main character being a prostitute, the show's allusions to prostitution were left vague. Although the show ran for seven months, it still lost money. Still, the score is remembered fondly by many.[citation needed]



A film version was released in 1982, starring Nick Nolte and Debra Winger. The screenplay was written by David S. Ward, whose other screenplay credits include The Sting and Major League.


In 1994, the Western Stage in Salinas, California, commissioned J. R. Hall to do a stage adaptation of the novel to commemorate the 50th anniversary of its publication. A year later, it was produced as part of the National Steinbeck Festival.[3][4] Subsequently, it was revived by the Western Stage in 2005,[5] by the Community College of Allegheny County in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, in 2007,[3] and by The City Theatre of Sacramento, Calif. in 2014.[citation needed]

In popular culture[edit]


  1. ^ Matthiessen, F. o (December 31, 1944). "SOME PHILOSOPHERS IN THE SUN; John Steinbeck's Novel "Cannery Row" Is a Tale of Lovable Bums in Monterey CANNERY ROW. By John Steinbeck. 208 pp. New York: The Viking Press. $2. Cannery Row'" – via
  2. ^ a b Schultz, Jeffrey D., & Li, Luchen (2005). Critical Companion to John Steinbeck: A Literary Reference to His Life and Work. Facts on File, Inc. p. 41. ISBN 9781438108506.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  3. ^ a b Rawson, Christopher (25 July 2007). "Stage Review: 'Cannery Row' is unwieldy fun". Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Retrieved 1 December 2019.
  4. ^ "Act One Theatre School - Who We Are". J.R. Hall.
  5. ^ Masters, Ryan (11 August 2005). "Western Stage does its best to bring Cannery Row off the page". Monterey County Weekly. Retrieved 1 December 2019.
  6. ^ "100 'most inspiring' novels revealed by BBC Arts". BBC News. 2019-11-05. Retrieved 2019-11-10. The reveal kickstarts the BBC's year-long celebration of literature.
  7. ^ "Sad-Eyed Lady of the Lowlands | The Official Bob Dylan Site". Retrieved 2020-06-10.
  8. ^ Sachar, Louis (2011-08-09). The Cardturner. A&C Black. ISBN 978-1-4088-0851-1.

External links[edit]