The Importance Of Respect In John Steinbeck's Cannery Row

1563 words - 6 pages

The Importance of Respect in John Steinbeck's Cannery Row

Cannery Row is a novel John Steinbeck wrote after World War I. At first, the novel almost seems like a humorous book, written in a style commonly used by Steinbeck. The book has its main plot, but also has side chapters that periodically interrupt the main idea, which adds to the story. One would think that these side chapters are there to universalize the book, but in fact that is not true. The side chapters tell their own story, and they have a message that Steinbeck was clearly trying to show through his book. The novel has a main point about respect. In Cannery Row , Steinbeck is trying to say that respectability is the destructive force that preys on the world. Steinbeck uses his characters to tell this story about respect and its effect on society. The central figure of the whole book, Doc, better explains this point by saying, "It has always seemed strange to me . . . The things we admire in men, kindness and generosity, openness, honesty, understanding and feeling are the concomitants of failure in our system. And those traits we detest, sharpness, greed, acquisitive, meanness, egotism and self-interest are the traits of success. And while men admire the quality of the first they love the produce of the second" (131).

In chapter three, the respect issue is brought up and is closely related to chapter four. Chapter three introduces Dora and her prostitutes. It also introduces a character named William, who is the bouncer at Dora's Bear Flag Restaurant. William finds out that the tight society of Cannery Row rejects him and laughs at him. William had no friends and no respect from others, so he thought that suicide was his only way out. Chapter four talks about an old China man that walks up the streets just before dawn and travels back down the street just after dusk. This man is very mysterious in the book and is meant to represent loneliness and aging. A young boy in chapter four makes fun of the old china man. He felt that he should make fun of him "to keep his self respect" (19). Both of these incidents illustrate that a person may be driven to uncomfortable, frightening and even suicidal lengths to keep up a front. These two characters were made fun of, laughed at and branded as different. They were not respected in any way, which Steinbeck clearly shows.

The plot of the novel begins to become clear in the next few chapters. This is where Mack and his gang of friends are introduced. Mack and the boys were homeless; until one day when an abandoned fish food storage house was given to them. They loved the house for its protection from the weather. The boys put furniture, posters, beds, a stove and even some flowers in and around their house. Their house gave them a since of pride. "In their minds they sneered at unsettled people who had no house to go to" (34). They now felt more respect and pride in society.

Doc is also introduced in these chapters. Doc is one...

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