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The Hero in John Steinbeck’s Cannery Row

The “Failure” As Hero in Cannery Row

It is Doc, in Cannery Row, who provides the objective and nonteleological

point of view which is to be found in so many of Steinbeck’s works. For Doc,

himself freed from the get-get-get philosophy of the world of the machine by

virtue of his science, his detachment, his gentleness, and his personal

refusal to be pushed into either Social Importance or the role of Social

Judge, insists that the boys of the Palace Flophouse are universal symbols

rather than mere ne’er-do-wells. And what they symbolize is simply this: the

madness of a world in which those who enjoy life most are those whom the world

considers “failures.” For Mack and the boys most certainly are failures-in

everything but humanity and life itself:

Mack and the boys . . . are the Virtues, the Graces, the Beauties

of the hurried mangled craziness of Monterey and the cosmic

Monterey where men in fear and hunger destroy their stomachs

in the fight to secure certain food, where men hungering for

love destroy everything lovable about them . . . In the world

ruled by tigers with ulcers, rutted by strictured bulls, scavenged

by blind jackals, Mac and the boys dine delicately with the tigers,

fondle the frantic heifers, and wrap up the crumbs to feed the

sea-gulls of Cannery Row. What can it profit a man to gain the

whole world and come to his property with a gastric ulcer, a

blown prostate, and bifocals? Mack and the boys avoid the trap,

step over the poison. . . .

I think they survive in this particular world better than other

people. In a time when people tear themselves to pieces with

ambition and nervousness and covetousness, they are relaxed.

All of our so-called successful men are sick men, with bad stomachs,

and bad souls, but Mack and the boys are healthy and

curiously clean. They can do what they want. They can satisfy

their appetites without calling them something else.

And the final paradox of all, Doc continues (a paradox which bemuses

Ethan Hawley in The Winter of Our Discontent), is the fact that virtues like

honesty, spontaneity, and kindness are – in the world of the machine – almost

Free Essays – Alienation in Landscape for a Good Woman

Alienation in Landscape for a Good Woman

In her introduction to Landscape for a Good Woman, Carolyn Steedman claims that “this is a drama of class” (22); she blames her mother’s working-class background — where “fierce resentment against the unfairness of things, was carried through seventy years and three generations … [and] dissolved into the figure of [her] mother” (30) — for her own joyless childhood. The shocking portrait of Steedman’s mother, who tells her children repeatedly both in her actions and words how unwanted they are, redefines the culturally normative nurturing role of motherhood.

While Steedman’s passionate argument — that her mother’s history of material inequality was responsible for the creation of this monster-martyr-mother — must not be discounted, it is incomplete. Her claim is convincing; however, her mother’s poor decisions were also contributory causes. For example, Edna selected a married man who already had a daughter as the prince who would fulfill her desires for property, material goods and status which seems risky at best. However, her desperate, failed attempt to become his wife through motherhood after ten years of cohabitation is striking for both its evident lack of foresight and blindness to reality. It is difficult to imagine that her fantasy whereby life would somehow improve from this decision ever had the chance to be anything but a recipe for failure, especially since she pinned her hopes on this ploy not once,but twice.

Perhaps Steedman wishes to imply that her mother’s working-class status is responsible for her poor decision making skills. She certainly wants to convince us that her mother’s desire for things is not trivial; and she blames her “mother’s sense of unfairness, her belief that she had been refused entry to her rightful place in the world” (112), on her working-class status. While this is certainly a key factor in the disturbing tale, it is not the only factor; therefore, the story is more than a drama of class, for this complex portrait of Steedman’s mother is that of a vain, mean-spirited, bitter woman whose priorities were in disorder. The fact that Steedman’s mother’s working-class relatives did not visit this “illegitimate” family indicates that her lack of a marriage certificate was unacceptable within her own class as well.

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