The Importance of Respect in John Steinbeck's Cannery Row

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The Importance of Respect in John Steinbeck's Cannery Row

Cannery Row is a novel John Steinbeck wrote after World War I. At first, the novel almost seems like a humorous book, written in a style commonly used by Steinbeck. The book has its main plot, but also has side chapters that periodically interrupt the main idea, which adds to the story. One would think that these side chapters are there to universalize the book, but in fact that is not true. The side chapters tell their own story, and they have a message that Steinbeck was clearly trying to show through his book. The novel has a main point about respect. In Cannery Row , Steinbeck is trying to say that respectability is the destructive force that preys on the world. Steinbeck uses his characters to tell this story about respect and its effect on society. The central figure of the whole book, Doc, better explains this point by saying, "It has always seemed strange to me . . . The things we admire in men, kindness and generosity, openness, honesty, understanding and feeling are the concomitants of failure in our system. And those traits we detest, sharpness, greed, acquisitive, meanness, egotism and self-interest are the traits of success. And while men admire the quality of the first they love the produce of the second" (131).

In chapter three, the respect issue is brought up and is closely related to chapter four. Chapter three introduces Dora and her prostitutes. It also introduces a character named William, who is the bouncer at Dora's Bear Flag Restaurant. William finds out that the tight society of Cannery Row rejects him and laughs at him. William had no friends and no respect from others, so he thought that suicide was his only way out. Chapter four talks ab...

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...s respect was at the lowest it had been in his life when he explained to Doc, "It don't do no good to say I'm sorry. I been sorry all my life" (119).

Respect is something everyone wants in their society. If one is respected, it also brings on a self-comfort in that society. Mack and the boys showed that they had respect even though they were nothing more than bums. Doc always showed unselfish respect and was admired for that. Steinbeck does a perfect job of showing how respect from individuals has an affect on society. Cannery Row is a very humorous book, but it also has its points about respect hidden inside of it. One can find many places where Steinbeck shows the differences of respect in Cannery Row, and there are many more that are hidden in this humorous novel by John Steinbeck.

Work Cited

Steinbeck, John. Cannery Row, Viking Press., New York: 1973.
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