Cannery Row | Study Guide

John Steinbeck

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Cannery Row | Chapter 31 | Summary



A gopher picks the perfect spot in Cannery Row to dig his burrow. He works diligently to create the perfect home, with many rooms and four escape tunnels, and fills it with food. He imagines it full of his offspring. He squeaks to attract a mate to share his home, but no female comes. When he gets tired of waiting, the gopher finds an established burrow in which he can smell females and squeaks again. An aggressive, angry male gopher emerges and mauls him. Injured and missing two toes, the gopher returns home to recover. He is forced to abandon the lovely burrow to live further up the hill where people set traps for gophers.


This interchapter is a warning against ambition. The gopher finds the perfect setting for his burrow, and he makes sure it has all the prescribed rooms. He lays in a store of food, fully expecting to fill it with a large family. When no female answers his call to share his home, he goes out to find one himself. He tries to attract a female from another burrow, but he is repulsed and mauled by the burrow's male inhabitant. The gopher's dreams of success are dashed, and he has to admit failure and move away to a more dangerous place. His ambitions lead to nothing but disappointment and permanent physical loss.

The connection of this chapter to the rest of the novel is one of contrast. While the gopher pursues a gopher's version of social climbing and prosperity, Mack and the boys have drifted aimlessly. Despite his hard work, the gopher's home is empty, while the boys have a house full of comradery. Unlike the gopher, Mack and the boys seem to have found the secret to true happiness, eschewing convention and social expectations in favor of pursuing their own appetites with as little effort as possible.

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