Cannery Row | Study Guide

John Steinbeck

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Cannery Row | Chapter 2 | Summary

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Summary

Words represent, translate, and transform the meaning of things. Lee Chong is more than just a Chinese grocer. He is both "a hard man with a can of beans," and "a soft man" who digs up his grandfather's bones to send them home to China. Similarly, Mack and the boys are more than the derogatory words—"thieves, rascals, bums"—society ascribes to them. In contrast to those who give themselves ulcers chasing success, Mack and the boys are "the Virtues, the Graces" who avoid that pitfall. They received this ability from their "Father who art in nature," who bestows similar survival skills upon other animals.

Analysis

Mack and the boys are referred to as "the Virtues, the Graces"—a reference to ideal characteristics like the seven Christian virtues (faith, hope, and love), and the graces of Greek mythology (brightness, joyfulness, and bloom). With these names, the author asserts Mack and the boys embody the best of humanity while avoiding the desperate, greedy materialism of conventional society.

The phrase, "Our Father who art in nature," points readers toward Steinbeck's and Rickett's philosophy in which the divine is part of nature, what is known as "deep ecology." Mack and the boys, together with animals who survive through similar means, are imbued with their skills by this divine, evolutionary, natural force.

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