Cannery Row - Short Answer Study Questions

  1. Steinbeck describes Cannery Row as “a poem, a stink, a grating noise, a quality of light, a tone, a habit, a nostalgia, a dream” (1). Through describing Cannery Row in intangible terms such as “a quality of light” or “a tone” what is he saying about the experience of Cannery Row? 

  2. When describing the inhabitants of Cannery Row, Steinbeck writes that “[i]t’s inhabitants are, as the man once said, ‘whores, pimps, gamblers, 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 holy men,’ and he would have meant the same thing” (1). How does Steinbeck present this duality of Cannery Row’s inhabitants throughout the story?

  3. Why are Mack and the boys described as “the Virtues, the Graces, the Beauties of the hurried mangled craziness of Monterey?” (14)

  4. Because Dora makes her money from something illegal, Steinbeck writes that she “must be twice as law abiding as anyone else” and that she must be “especially philanthropic” (16). How does Steinbeck flip the role of a typical Madame through Dora’s character?

  5. Describe how the environment of Cannery Row is effected by its inhabitants, and how in turn the inhabitants are affected by the Row. Does it build community? Particular characteristics in people? Provide examples from the text.

  6. How does Steinbeck portray truth and lies in Cannery Row? Nearly every character is hiding some kind of secret, yet they are still portrayed as essentially good people. Does this mean that Steinbeck is advocating mistruths, or that he realizes people are imperfect and it is therefore better to judge motive than action?

  7. Why is the conflict between Mack and Doc important? How does it show a different side of each of their characters?

  8. What it the significance of music in the book? Doc is constantly listening to music, and “[m]usic sounded in Doc’s ears” when he found the young girl floating dead beneath the water. Tie the events where music is given prominence together and find the commonality.