The Humanity of Cannery Row
John Steinbeck reveals to us as a society the potential of humanity that lies in each of us through the different characters throughout his novel, Cannery Row. ???In actuality, the story is not really about the sardine industry at all, but rather a collection of short stories that are all unified about the same theme, the quality and meaning of life??? (mpcfaculty). He does this through Mack and the boys, a group of men who in today??™s time would be looked upon as bums. Then he tells us about a group of women, Dora and the girls and their choice of work that by all means would be highly looked at as disgraceful in our world today. His focus in this story is of a man who is a loner, Doc, and another man who values the almighty dollar, Mr. Chong. Steinbeck shows us the positive values that are found in the characters traditionally many people would find inferior or lacking.
The story of Cannery Row takes place during the Great Depression. It tells a story of some lower class people who are bums and whores. Yet these people have a great respect for one another regardless of how they live their lives. They look out for one another and they care about the people who live among them in this town. For example, Mack and the boys want to do something nice for Doc because he is always good to them. ???That Doc is a hell of a nice fella.??? ???I been wondering for a long time,??? Mack continued, ???what we could do for him??”something nice. Something he??™d like??? (43).
Mack and the boys are a group of bums who have fashioned a life and family together. The real gift of characterization is evident in this gang of penniless itinerant workers known as ???Mack and the boys.??? Mack is more or less the leader of these men and he leads them from low to higher ways of life by the sense of community that he creates within ???The Palace Flophouse and Grill.??? In today??™s world these men would be viewed as failures of society. Steinbeck however, portrays them as true successes in humanity and life itself. Society labels them as ???sons of bitches,??? where Steinbeck calls them ???the Virtues, the Graces, and the Beauties of the hurried mangled craziness of Monterey??? (18). Steinbeck judges these men by who they truly are instead of what they can do. He is trying to tell us that when we lose human freedom and human virtue, there is only absurdity left in our society.
He shows us that successful people in our world have both bad health and bad souls because they ???tear themselves to pieces with ambition, nervousness, and covetousness??? (133). We are shown that Mack and this group of men are opposites and pure because of their natural life behavior. In this story we hear of how Mack and the boys ???avoid the trap, walk around the poison, step over the noose while a generation of trapped, poisoned, and trussed-up men scream at them??? (18). This is a fine example of how these men do not follow the path of the ones who look down on them, they go down their own path which is by far more pure and humane. Steinbeck shows us that he admires those who live naturally because it is an essence of humanity that is forgotten by the poisoned society we live in. People who behave naturally can accept things without bitterness; they behave as humans are meant to do. Steinbeck compares Mack and the boys with successful men and in doing so he is criticizing the material world and the hypocritical morality of society. People value morality as a human quality in society. ???There can be no intelligence, artificial or organic, that can exist without a set of values. It is an essential part of every creatures mind, as it must be formed before that creature can use reason??”understand. And this set of values is the Morality of the creature. Hence for us, Morality is not just a set of values, but a vital and permanent part of ourselves, formed in childhood before the age of reason, which dictates how we understand the world??? (Our civilization). Who is to say what is right or wrong
With the madam of the whore house, Dora, we are shown the same philosophy. She takes care of the girls who work for her and she never fires them regardless of their age or infirmities without considering their full worth first. At one point she feeds the poor even though she herself almost reaches bankruptcy. ???Dora paid grocery bills right and left for two years and nearly went broke in the process??? (21). When the people in the town are stricken with influenza, she provides food for them and sends her girls to keep the sick company. In Dora, Steinbeck shows us a woman who is generous and has a philanthropic mind, who does not expect any rewards.
Unfortunately, there are some who know her for her kindness and respect her for it, while others hate her for what she does. However, the irony is that although society does not accept her and her business, they need her money to run it. ???Everyone puts the bite on her??? (20). They call upon her whenever there are charities and expect her to contribute more than anyone else, and they accept her contributions. ???Everyone else gives a dollar, Dora has to give fifty dollars??? (20). If they have such an issue with what she does for a living than how can they be so accepting of her contributions Instead, they should be refusing her money since they seem to hate her so much.
Steinbeck portrays these girls as working girls with normal jobs and living normal lives, in a time and place where this could been seen as a normal way of living. In this time and area, one can see how Steinbeck would consider this normal. He makes the men seem like heroes even with their flaws and differences, because they hold true to themselves. Steinbeck shows us that even in a story such as this, that even whorehouses, which are considered places for outcasts of society, can be places of benevolence and real human importance, sometimes more so than others. He shows us the contradiction between poisoned mercenary society and insincere moral obligation.
Exhibiting to be a simple entertainment novel, it is really a deep commentary on human society. ???Ethic kindness, benevolence and sympathy extended universally and impartially to all human beings in its most general form??? (Wikipedia). Steinbeck admitted that he admired people who live naturally and tilt caustically against civilized society at the same time. ???In essence, Cannery Row is John Steinbeck??™s personal philosophy on human importance, his take on what humans should be like, and his criticism of society??? (mpcfaculty). His true message is a reminder of the importance of natural beauty, the quality of humanity. ???For given the vast forces at work in the chaos which is life ??“ death ??“ human effort is both fragile and ludicrous, and this is precisely what creates the tragedy, the pride, the humility, the sadness, the comedy, and the nobility of our mortal condition??? (Hotchkiss).
In conclusion, this is a great story about the humanity of a group of people who are making the most of their respective difficult circumstances. They overcame their hardships by working together, regardless of who they were, how they lived, or what type of work they did. The world today could learn a lesson or two from these people.
Cid=”1033″ _version=”11.0.5510″ _dal=”1″ — Home – Faculty. Web. 29 July 2009.
“Humanitarianism -.” Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. Web. 29 July 2009.
John, Steinbeck,. Cannery Row. New York, N.Y., U.S.A: Penguin Books, 1994. Print.
“Nobel Novelists: Steinbeck & Cannery Row.” Index of /. Web. 29 July 2009.