Cannery Row | Study Guide

John Steinbeck

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Cannery Row | Chapter 22 | Summary

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Summary

Henri the painter—who is neither French, nor named Henri, nor a painter—closely follows various modern art movements, and reflects the latest trends in what little work he actually has time to do. This includes abandoning perspective, the color red, or even paint in favor of chicken feathers. Henri is a better boat builder than a painter, although he has been working on his boat for 10 years, constantly changing the design. He lives in the cramped cabin of the boat. He has had two wives and several girlfriends, but all eventually leave him to escape the tiny cabin with no toilet.

One evening, Henri sees a vision of a young man cutting the throat of a happy toddler who just keeps laughing. Terrified, he jumps off the boat and runs to ask Doc if it is a ghost or a hallucination. Doc cannot answer the question and refuses to investigate. A girl comes by to see Doc, and Henri repeats his story. She is intrigued and heads off with Henri to see for herself. She becomes his girlfriend for five months before she leaves for the same reasons as those who preceded her.

Analysis

This interchapter about Henri is a portrait of another funny, odd character in Cannery Row. The author describes him as an idiosyncratic man whose very description is inaccurate. He isn't French, as his name would suggest, and his name isn't even Henri. Steinbeck jokes Henri is so absorbed in following various art movements that he doesn't really paint. He lives on a boat that he has no intention of finishing, because, as readers will recall, he is afraid of the water. Everything about Henri is eccentric. In most other novels, he might be a central character, but in Cannery Row he is just another strange character.

The motif of death recurs in this chapter as well. This time, death is only suggested rather than realized. The vision of the toddler with his throat cut is horrifying, but also startling, as the baby doesn't die. Henri wonders if the boy is a ghost. Doc is outwardly unconcerned, although readers may wonder if he refuses to go look because of the dead body he saw at the tide pool earlier.

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