Cannery Row by John Steinbeck—Goodreads Book Review

Originally posted on

An exploration of a setting and the characters therein, Cannery Row follows the residents and vagrants of a Monterey, CA, community during the Great Depression. Set between Lee Chong’s Heavenly Flower Grocery Store, Doc’s Western Biological Laboratory, the Bear Flag Restaurant, and the storage-shed-turned-Palace Flophouse and Grill, the book consists of a series of vignettes that loosely follow the simple plot of a group of men, led by the enterprising Mack, trying to throw a thank-you party for their friend, Doc.

Throughout the plot Steinbeck includes different vignettes of other denizens of Cannery Row, employing his selection of detail in showing characters’ situations and living conditions. However, unlike, say, the Grapes of Wrath, Steinbeck refrains using the vignettes as a flashpoint for explicit political discourse, instead allowing them to show and speak for themselves. Because of this, although it is less character-driven than other works, Cannery Row exhibits many of the best aspects of Steinbeck’s writing.

Nonetheless, the book shows many of the aspects of American life into which Steinbeck had such insight. Brotherhood among unlikely friends, the mixed shrewdness and compassion of local business owners, the antics of well-meaning fools, and the attempts of honest people to live well and virtuously despite their circumstances can all be found in the book, and they make Cannery Row a great example of Steinbeck’s style and ability.

Author: dustinllovell

Writing professor, literature and US history tutor, previous ESL instructor, and would-be novelist who enjoys/specializes in Shakespeare, 19th century lit, and philosophy (whether in print or via audiobook). Author of the novel Sacred Shadows and Latent Light (Wipf and Stock, Resources Imprint). Member of Heterodox Academy. Columnist for The Mallard.

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