Order vs Chaos in John Steinbeck's Cannery Row

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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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