Cannery Row

The Stink of Steinbeck's Cannery Row

Steinbeck famously described Monterey, lovingly and honestly, in the beginning of his novel Cannery Row:

"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. Cannery Row is the gathered and scattered, tin and iron and rust and splintered wood, chipped pavement and weedy lots and junk heaps, sardine canneries of corrugated iron, honky tonks, restaurants and whore houses, and little crowded groceries, and laboratories and flophouses. Its inhabitant are, as the man once said, ‘whores, pimps, gambler and sons of bitches,’ by which he meant Everybody. Had the man looked through another peephole he might have said, "Saints and angels and martyrs and holymen" and he would have meant the same thing.”

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Work, Life, and Culture

Monterey was one of Steinbeck’s most beloved cities. Here he worked, lived, and cultivated one of the greatest friendships in the history of both literature and science. Steinbeck’s Monterey is a far cry from the bustling tourist destination that we see today. During his life, his politically and socially frank work alienated him from his home, but Steinbeck’s words endure, and his impact on Cannery Row, a street once known to Steinbeck as Ocean View, is now enshrined in bronze statues, busts, and murals.

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Topographic Map of the Monterey Bay from 1910

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Monterey and Pacific Grove in 1917. 

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The following is a map of the Cannery Row area in 1940. This is what Cannery Row would be modeled on. The yellow dot is roughly the location of the famed Pacific Biological Laboratories.

 

1940 CR

  © Fortune Magazine, January 1940

 

It was in the Monterey and Pacific Grove area where John Steinbeck's great friendship with Ed Ricketts would be cultivated. They worked together and learned from one another, sharing their philosophies and ideologies. Ed Ricketts would be instrumental in Steinbeck's life, and after his tragic death it was said that Steinbeck never really was the same. After speaking about Ricketts in a 1951 interview, Steinbeck said, "He was different from anyone and yet so like that everyone found himself in Ed, and that might be one of the reasons his death had such an impact. It wasn’t Ed who had died but a large and important part of oneself.” To learn more about their relationship, read this article by Steven Newman.

 

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© all photographs credit to Steven Domingo