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CANNERY ROW - SYNOPSIS,




Cannery Row

Synopsis

Cannery Row tells the story of the people, who live in Cannery Row, Monterey, California.

Only a couple of houses stand in Cannery Row in the Californian fishing Village Monterey: the Western Biological Labour, where the Doc dissects his animals for museums and Universities; the "Palace Flophouse", a formally store for fish meal, Mack's and his friends place of refuge; Dora's "Bear Flag Restaurant"; Lee Chong's inexhaustible grocery and then, over there, the useless boilers and tubes with their changing occupants: a little theatre with wise and mad, loving and crying, loafing and enterprising actors.



Western Biological, whose owner and operator is Doc,  is right across the street and facing the vacant lot. Lee Chong's grocery is on its catty-corner right and Dora's "Bear Flag Restaurant" is on its catty-corner left. Western Biological deals in strange and beautiful wares. It is a low building facing the street and the basement is the store-room.

Lee Chong's grocery is the only store in Cannery Row. It is small and crowed but within its single room a man can find everything he needs or wants to live and to be happy. Lee Chong's is right of the vacant lot. On the left-hand boundary of the lot  is the stern and stately whorehouse of Dora Flood.

Dora's "Bear Flag Restaurant" is a decent, clean, honest, old-fashioned sporting house where a man can take a gall of beer among friends. This is no fly-by-night cheap clip-joint, but a sturdy, virtuous club, built, maintained, and disciplined by Dora, who, madam and girl for fifty years, has through the exercise of special gifts of tact and honesty, charity and a certain realism, made herself respected by the intelligent, the learned, and the kind.

Before Horace Abbeville dies, he wants to pay his debts at Lee Chong. But because he does not have enough money, Horace gives Lee "Palace Flophouse", where Lee Chong's fish meal is stored. Shortly after Lee lets Mack and his friends the Palace Flophouse. They take care of the house and live there happily.

The Palace Flophouse is no sudden development. Indeed when Mack and the boys move into, they look upon it as little more than shelter from the wind and the rain, as a place to go when everything else has closed or when their welcome was thin and sere with over-use. But they managed it and furnished the one room. Now they are really proud to live in Palace Flophouse. They talk one evening about Doc and think that they should do something nice for him, because he is so kind. After some time it occurred to them to give a party to Doc. But because they have no money they decide to find  jobs.

An old boiler from the Hediondo Cannery moves on April 1932 into the vacant lot between Lee Chong's and the Bear Flag Restaurant, where it is set on blocks to await an inspiration on how to make some money out of it. The boiler looks like an old-fashioned locomotive without wheels. It has a big door in the centre of its nose and a low fire door. In 1935 Mr and Mrs Sam Malloy move into the boiler.

Mack and his friends are still looking for a job to finance the party for Doc. So Mack goes to Doc and asks him for a job. Because Doc needs frogs, he sends Mack up to Carmel River to collect frogs for him. As Doc needs his truck for himself, Mack goes to Lee Chong to borrow his old truck. The only problem is that Lee Chong's truck broke down.

Since quite some time Frankie, a boy of eleven years, is coming to Western Biological to help Doc there. At home Frankie is beaten by his uncles, and he can not go to school because his mother does not pay for his keep on an institution. So Doc takes care of Frankie. One day Doc said that Frankie was a great help to him, what Frankie is never going to forget.

Gay, a friend of Mack, repairs Lee Chong's truck, the Model T Ford. It took some time, but when all is said and done Gay brought the car to run. And so Mack, Hazel and the other guys go to Carmel River to catch frogs for Doc. Mack thinks that the best time for catching frogs is at night, and so they wait since it becomes dark. The night is in by now and the stars are white in the sky. Hazel feeds the fire when suddenly a man dark and large, with a shot-gun over his arm, asks them what they are doing there. The man is the owner of the land, where fishing, hunting, fires and camping is forbidden. Mack apologises. When Mack sees the dog of the man he admires her, and as he notices that the dog is wounded he cares about the wound and gives the man, who is a captain, some good advice about how to handle this wound. The captain invites the guys to his house and says to them that behind his house is a pond, which is full of frogs. The captain gives Mack a puppy of the dog and then the boys go to the pond to catch lots of frogs. Later they drive back again, to Cannery Row.

Meanwhile Doc wants to go to La Jolla, a zone, between Los Angels and San Diego, where he can get small octopi, for which he has an order now. The best time to catch octopi is low tide, and low tide is at 5.17 a.m. on a Thursday. Early in the morning he gets his things together. So Doc leaves Monterey on Wednesday morning and is easily in time for tide on Thursday. It is about two o'clock when he gets to La Jolla. He drives down to the cliff below which his tidal flat lays. There he stops the car, eats a sandwich, drinks some beer, turns out the lights, and curls up in the seat to sleep. It is a good hunting that day. He gets twenty-two little octopi. Later he finds in the water a dead girl.

In the mid-morning the Model T truck roles triumphantly home to Cannery Row and hopes the gutter and creaks up through the weeds to its place behind lee Chong's. As Mack and the boys have now enough money to arrange a party for Doc, they make preparation for the party. They think about what Doc would like, and because Doc is still in La Jalla they decorate the laboratory. Eddie bakes a cake and the other ones work at the decorations or see to the drinks. In the middle of the room they put a carton with all the frogs inside and over it a sign that says: "Welcome Home, Doc".



At one-thirty, Doc is still absent, a drunk wanders in and passes a remark which was considered inoculating to Doc. Mack hits him a clip which is still remembered and discussed. The man rises off his feet, describes a small arc, and crashed through the packing case in among the frogs. Someone tries to change a record drops  the tone arm down and breaks the crystal. And all the frogs are now away.

Wen Doc comes home, he climes the stairs. He looks in wonder at the sagging door and at the broken window. Then he goes quickly from room to room, stepping round the broken glass. He bents down quickly and picks up a smashed phonograph records.  On the stairs there are bumbling uncertain footsteps and through the door comes Mack. His face is red and he stands uncertainly in the middle of the room. Mack now tries to explain the situation, but he does not match it. Doc also does not listen to him. He hits him suddenly and starts to call Mack names. Then Mack apologises Doc for that mess and says to him that he always did everything wrong. Mack walks clumsily down the stairs and crosses over and walks up the lot and up the chicken walk to the Palace Flophouse. Doc watches his progress through the window. And then wearily the gets a broom from behind the water heater. It takes him all day to clean up the mess.

Mack comes back from the laboratory with his mouth torn and his teeth broken. As a kind of penance, he does not wash his face. He goes to his bed and pulls his blanket over his head and does not get up all day. Mack and the boys are under a cloud and they know it, and they know they deserved it. They become social outcasts. All their good intentions are forgotten now. The fact that the party is given for Doc, if it is known, is never mentioned or taken into consideration.

Everybody takes about the incident, and Mack and the boys are very sad. Darling, their dog, is their only mainstay and as the dog even gets ill, they are absolutely shattered. Now a genuine panic comes over the Palace Flophouse. Darling came to be vastly important to them. Finally, also they do not want to, Hazel and Jones are chosen to call Doc. When Doc comes to examine Darling, they think he is cold and professional.

As Darling feels a bit better, Mack goes to Dora to ask her what they could do to show Doc what they think of him. She gives Mack the advice to give a party to Doc he does get to.

Mary Talbot, Mrs Tom Talbot, is lovely. More than anything in the world Mary Talbot loves parties. She loves to give parties and she loves to go to parties. Since Tom Talbot does not make much money Mary cannot give parties all the time, so she tricks people into giving them.

There is no doubt in Mack's mind that a dark cloud hangs on the palace Flophouse. He analyses the abortive party and finds that a misfortune creeps into every crevice, that bad luck comes up like hives on the evening. The knowledge or conviction about the party for Doc is no sudden thing. It does not burst out full blown. People know about it, but let it grow gradually, like a pupa in the cocoons of their imaginations.

Darling is now already healthy and fond of life as ever. The boys want to give Doc a really great party this time and they think that his birthday would be a good occasion for this party. And so they try now to find out when his birthday is. So Mack goes to him an talks a bit with him, and after some time they talk about birthdays and Mack asks after his birthday. But Doc lies to Mack by he says his birthday is on the 27 of October, while he was born on the 18 of December.

Two little boys play in the bout works yard until a cat climes the fence. The boys shoot stones to the cat and chase her away. A startles man looks out the office window and then rushes for the door, but the boys are too quick for him. The two boys go to Cannery Row and play nasty tricks there.

Mack and the boys are now totally busy with the preparations for Doc's birthday party. They have to think about the presents, they want to give to him and they decide to decorated not the laboratory this time, but to have enough liquor there.

Doc does not know when he first becomes aware that something is going on that concerns him. In Lee Chong's conversation stopped when he enters. At first it seems to him that people are cold to him. When at least half a dozen people ask him what he was doing October 27th he is puzzled, for he has forgotten he had given this date as his birthday. One evening he stops in at halfway House because they have a drought beer he likes and keep it at the right temperature. There a drunken man talks to him about the party which is given for him. Now everything fells into place - Mack's question and the silences when he is about. The next day  he begins making his own preparations for the party. His best records he carries into the back room, where they could be locked away. He moved every but of equipment that is breakable back there to. He knows how it will be - his guest will be hungry and they will not bring anything to eat. They will run out of liquor early, they always did. So Doc orders at the Thrift market a lot to eat.

Also Frankie hears about the party. In the window of Jacob's Jewellery Store he sees the most beautiful thing in the world: a black onyx clock with a gold face and on the top of it is a bronze group. He wants to give it to Doc but he does not have enough money to buy it and that is why he breaks into Jacob's and steals the clock. But a policemen catches him and brings him to Doc next morning.




As Frankie says to Doc that he loves him, Doc runs out and gets in his car and goes collecting in the caves below Pt. Lobos.

At four o'clock on October 27th Doc finishes bottling the last of a lot jelly-fish. Meanwhile everybody in Cannery Row gets ready for the party. Doc drives back and makes there the last preparations for his party, by foreseeing possibilities, and he hopes to make his party as non-lethal as possible without making a dull. He knows he was watched. He is conscious of it all day. Not that he sees anyone, but someone or several persons keep him in sight. So also Mack and the boys. Promptly at eight o'clock Mack and the boys, combed and clean, pick up their jugs and march down the chicken walk, over the railroad track, through the lot across the street and up the steps of Western Biological.

Doc is very happy when Mack and the boys stand in front of his door, although he knew that they come. In course of time, all inhabitants of Cannery Row come to Doc's  surprise party. This time the Party is a full success.

Main Characters

Lee Chong

He is the owner of a grocery. Lee is round-faced and courteous. He speaks stately English without using the letter R.

Lee's position in the community surprised him as much as he could be surprised. Over the course of the years everyone in Cannery Row owns him money. He never presses his clients, but when the bill becomes too large, Lee cuts off credit; and the client usually pays or tries to.


Horace Abbeville

He is a worried gentleman who has two wives and six children, and over a period of years he has managed through pleading and persuasion to built a grocery dept second in Monterey. Before he shots himself he gives Lee Chong the place where the fish meal is.

Mack

Mack is the elder, leader, mentor, and to a small extent the exploiter of a little group of men who had in common no families, no money, and no ambitions beyond food, drink and contentment. Mack and his friends approach contentment casually, quietly, and absorb it gently. Mack and Hazel, a young man of great strength, Eddie who fills in as a bar tender at La Ida, Hughie and Jones who occasionally collect frogs and cats for Western Biological, are currently living in those large rusty pipes in the lot next to Lee Chong's.

Dora

Dora is a great woman, a great big woman with flaming orange hair and a taste for Nile-green evening dresses. She keeps an honest, one-price house, sells no hard liquor, and  permits no loud or vulgar talk in her house. Of her girls some are fairly inactive, due to age and infirmities, but Dora never puts them aside, although, as she says, some of them do not turn three tricks a month, but they do right on eating three meals a day.

William

He is a previous watchman and a dark and lonesome-looking man. In the day-time when his duties are few he will grow tired of female company.

Doc

Doc is the owner of the Western Biological laboratory. Doc is rather small, deceptively small, for he is wiry and very strong. Doc listens to any kind of nonsense and charges it for you to a kind of wisdom. He can kill anything for need, but he could not even hurt a feeling for pleasure. His mind has no horizon - and his sympathy has no wrap. Everyone who knows him is indebted to him. And everyone who thinks of him thinks next: "I really must do something nice for Doc!"

In spite of his friendliness and his friends Doc was a lonely and a set-apart man. Mack probably noticed it more than anybody. In a group, Doc seemed always alone.

Structure of the Book

The book has about 125 pages and 32 chapters. Not all chapters were of the same length: some were hardly 2 pages long whereas others were over ten pages long.



Every chapter tells the story of one inhabitant of Cannery Row. Sometimes it seems that there is no context between the Chapters but later almost everything makes sense.

Steinbeck used a lot of dialogues in his book. Some chapters consisted only of dialogues, others told stories of already past Times, which seemed not to match with the previous chapters.

The Language, which was Used

was not a specific language. I would say it was the American-colloquial language. Steinbeck used a lot of vulgar words, which I did not find in any dictionary. But I think if Steinbeck used standard language it would not have matched with the subject of Cannery Row.

The book was not very difficult to read, but of course it took some time to get used into reading the book and to understand the vocabulary, which was used.


About the Book

Of Cannery Row John Steinbeck said he just "opened the pages and let the stories crawl in by themselves". Cannery Row is a street bordered by houses, shakes, and boiler pipes, in which live all kinds of people, good and bad, kind and cruel, the industrious and the idle, who have one thing at least in common - their poverty.

Topic

Cannery Row is a novel about carefree loafers who do nothing for their living but are fundamentally good at heart. 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.

Comment

I liked at the book, that it showed seriously the life of normal people with all their problems and failures.

John Ernst Steinbeck

John Steinbeck was born in 1902 at Salinas, California. He was educated at Stanford University. Afterwards he led a roving life, becoming in turn ranch hand, carpenter's mate, painter's apprentice, chemist, labourer, and newspaper man - until, when caretaker of an estate which was snow-bound for eight months in the year, he began seriously to write.

His works are marked by a compassionate under-standing of the world's disinherited. Steinbeck was awarded the 1962 Nobel Prize in literature for his best-known novel, The Grapes of Wrath (1939), treats the plight of 1930s Dust Bowl farmers turned migrant labourers while presenting a universal picture of victims of disaster. Among Steinbeck's other novels are Tortilla Flat (1935), Cannery Row (1945), East of Eden (1952), and The Winter of Our Discontent (1961). His other books include the novella Of Mice and Men (1937; later it made into a play); short stories, notably the exquisite The Red Pony in The Long Valley (1938); non-fiction works, e.g., A Russian Journal (1948), America and Americans (1966); and screenplays. He died 1968 in New York.

John Steinbeck's strength lies mainly in describing simple people whom he paints true of life. As a rule the events take place on an rural background. The persons are closely attached to the earth on which they live and work. Hostile forces, whether natural catastrophes or subversive economic developments, lead to their destruction. Thus Steinbeck's work contains both romantic and lyrical elements, which by their close connection with the needs of country people become sociological problems.










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