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Order vs Chaos in John Steinbeck's Cannery Row

Satisfactory Essays
The theme of Cannery Row, in short, is no less than a poetic statement of

human order surrounded by a chaotic and essentially indifferent universe, and

this is one reason why the structure of the book does seem so "loose" - why

Steinbeckian digressions and interchapters so often interrupt the flow of

narrative.

A wandering and mysterious Oriental threads his way through the story

with no "purpose" but to remind us of the emptiness and pathos and loneliness

we all share, things which render our cruelty or ambition futile. The face of

a drowned girl appears like a paradoxical vision of "immortal death"; a chaos

of sea-life-and-feeding is given order and shape by an obscure scientist -

observer, who realizes the he is himself part of the processes which he

catalogues; a serio-comic painter devotes himself to work which inevitably

comes to nothing - and we recognize an allegory of our own labors; there is

suicide, loneliness, joy, love, and isolation jumbled together in a peculiar

and haphazard fashion which somehow results in emotion neither peculiar nor

haphazard; the recognition of ourselves.

The symbolism of chaos-and-order is basic to Cannery Row; various

characters, each in his own fashion, try to arrange and observe what cannot,

in any essential aspect, be changed. As Steinbeck says in one of his

"inter-chapters" or digressions, it is the function of The World-of human

communication-to create by means of faith and art an Order of love which is

mankind's only answer to that fate which all men, and indeed all life, must

ultimately share. And if John Steinbeck turns to the "outcasts" from society

as symbols for this vision, it may be that only the outcasts of machine
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