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Cannery Row | Study Guide

John Steinbeck

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Cannery Row | Symbols


Tide Pool

The tide pool from which Doc collects specimens symbolizes Cannery Row itself. The ecological system within the pool is full of different varieties of marine life, all unique, much as Cannery Row is inhabited by all manner of odd characters. There are both predators and prey in the pool, and the interactions among its inhabitants are sometimes innocent, and at other times malevolent. People in Cannery Row depend on, or profit from, one another. They can be friendly at times, but sometimes hostile. The pool contains the whole gamut of life—from procreation, to struggle, to death—all while exuding beauty. There is as much good and evil, and success and failure, in the pool as there is in Cannery Row. And just as Doc observes and accepts what he sees in the tide pool, Steinbeck presents life in Cannery Row as if all he did was "open the page and ... let the stories crawl in by themselves."


The gopher represents the false assumption that hard work and ambition will result in social and financial success. Despite picking just the right location, with the best soil, and digging the perfect number and shapes of rooms and escape paths, the gopher is alone. He expects to attract a female and fill the hole with his offspring, and he collects and stacks enough food for them all. Although "the gopher worked and worked," he ends up alone. When he gets even more aggressive about making his ambitions a reality, the gopher is mauled by another male gopher. Eventually, he has to admit failure, and leaves his beautiful but empty home behind. The gopher illustrates the illusion that hard work inevitably leads to success.

Lee Chong's Truck

Lee Chong's truck represents opportunity. The truck began as a passenger car, a Model T Ford, the first mass-produced car in the United States. It made transportation available to nearly everyone, which was a very new opportunity. The truck is also customizable. One owner installed a truck bed. Francis Almones gets rid of the front of the cab and the windshield so he can haul squid in it. Although it is little more than four wheels by the time Lee Chong becomes the car's new owner, for Mack and the boys the truck is the transportation they need to make their frog scheme and resulting party a reality.

Opportunity can be seized or squandered. One of the truck's previous owners—a successful insurance man named Mr. Rattle—wasn't careful with the truck and left it with a few dents. He lost the vehicle after breaking the law. It takes some work and a couple of spare parts, but Mack and the boys make the most of the opportunity the truck gives them. Opportunity, like the truck, has limitations. Francis Almones tried to seize the opportunity presented by the truck, but he couldn't make enough money to survive.

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