Cannery Row - Essay Study Questions

  1. Describe and expound upon at least three ways in which Doc is the backbone of Cannery Row.

  2. In Cannery Row, nearly every individual in the Row is somehow indebted to Doc; how is this fact magnified in the actions of people when it comes to the second party thrown for Doc? Cite specific examples to show the gratefulness and respect that the people of Cannery Row have for Doc. 

  3. Discuss Steinbeck’s portrayal of women in Cannery Row; does he portray them as strong, weak, smart, needy? How does his portrayal of women differ from other authors of his day? Dora, Gay’s wife, the “Captain’s” wife, the girls from the Bear Flag, Mrs. Malloy, and Mrs. Talbot are just a few women to consider. 

  4. Describe how the environment of Cannery Row is effected by its inhabitants, and how in turn the inhabitants are affected by the Row.

  5. When Doc discovers a deceased young girl (101) floating gently beneath the ocean when he is out collecting, how does he react? What does his reaction say about his character? Why didn’t he take the reward that he could have received for reporting the girl as dead, even though he didn’t have a lot of money?

  6. How does Steinbeck use death in Cannery Row; does he treat it with respect, flippancy, or a mix of both? How does he use death in Cannery Row to ultimately expound on the fragility of life? 

  7. Steinbeck portrays social ostracism happening to four characters - William, Frankie, Doc, and Mack - at different points in the novel; how does William and Frankie’s endings differ from Doc and Mack’s? Why do they differ? What is Steinbeck trying to say about personal choice in the midst of uncomfortable circumstances? 

  8. 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?

  9. What is the significance of the gopher in Chapter 31? How does Steinbeck use the gopher to sum up the events of the book and the potential future for those in the Row?

  10. The ending of the book shows Doc on the morning after the party, living in an almost perfect moment. How does Steinbeck show that moments like this are rare, fleeting, and above all, precious? How does Steinbeck use events throughout the book to lead up to this moment?