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Cannery Row | Study Guide

John Steinbeck

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Cannery Row | Preface | Summary



The place in Monterey, California, known as Cannery Row "is a poem, a stink, a grating noise ... a nostalgia, a dream." It is home to canneries, businesses, derelict lots, flophouses, and houses of prostitution. People from different classes, including many immigrants, come to Cannery Row when the canneries are operating. Bums watch from a vacant lot, and Dora Flood's girls get some sunlight. Doc gets beer from Lee Chong's shop. The author claims he will "open the page and ... let the stories crawl in by themselves."


In the preface, Steinbeck describes the novel's setting and subject, as well as his purpose in writing it. He describes Cannery Row as "a stink, a grating noise, a quality of light," all sensory details that capture what it is like to experience the place. But he also calls it "a poem ... a habit, a nostalgia, a dream," describing what Cannery Row means to him personally. Steinbeck's purpose is to "set down alive" this specific place and its inhabitants by simply allowing "the stories [to] crawl in by themselves." The preface reveals another of the author's goals—to present Cannery Row as a specimen to be carefully observed without too much handling.

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