Cannery Row

Discover brief discussion techniques of plot, character development and theme employed by Steinbeck in his brief novella, Cannery Row.
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Teaching Strategies:
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Written or Oral Responses

Students can write about or explore a variety of ways in which to respond to Cannery Row. In addition to the dialogue journal techniques suggested above, students can respond in the following ways:

1. Personal statement - these include emotional reactions, expressions of identification or empathy with characters or places, conjecture about characters, and autobiographical associations.

Suggested Activity - React in writing to chapter eight when the Hediondo Cannery blows a tub for the third time in two weeks and the old boiler becomes the home of Mr. and Mrs. Sam Malloy.

2. Description - statements which attempt to classify or describe the form, language, structure or content of the work; such responses can range in complexity from the simple recall of explicitly stated information to an analysis of the stylistic properties.

Suggested Activity - Orally, in your own words describe the frog gathering at the frog hole. Be sure to include those elements that make the story funny.

Write about why Steinbeck calls Mack and the boys "the Virtues, the Graces, the Beauties." What is the irony of these titles?

3. Interpretation - responses aimed at identifying the symbolic or thematic meaning of a work;; interpretation requires of readers an ability to infer the intentions of Steinbeck.

Suggested Activities - Write your own interpretation of chapter three. Provide examples from the story of how Lee Chong is "evil balanced and held suspended by good" or how Mack 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."

4. Evaluation - responses aimed at assessing the construction, meaningfulness, or appropriateness of Cannery Row.

Suggested Activities - write about the humor you found in the novel; or write about what makes it sad. Do you find Cannery Row both funny and sad? Why?

In a small group talk about the theme of the importance of family. How does Steinbeck deal with this theme in Cannery Row. In what ways are Mack and the boys family? Who else is part of their family?

How is Cannery Row ironic? Talk or write about some of the ironies found in the novella: the names applied to Mack and the boys, the lace curtains in the Malloy's boiler home, the party decorations and favors.


Arthea (Charlie) J. S. Reed, Ph.D. is currently president of the Assembly on Literature for Adolescents of NCTE (ALAN). She is the author of three books in the fields of literature and teaching: Reaching Adolescents: The Young Adult Book and the School, Comics to Classics: A Guide to Books for Teens and Preteens, and Presenting Harry Mazer. In addition, she is the author or co-author of numerous books in the fields of foundations of education and teaching methods. She was editor of The ALAN Review for six years and has co-edited the Penguin/Signet Classic teacher's guide series since 1988.

In May 1996, Dr. Reed retired after 17 years as a professor of education and six years as chairperson of education at the University of North Carolina at Asheville. After nearly 30 years in teaching at the elementary, secondary, and college/university level, she is now pursuing a new career in education as Executive Director of Development and Education for Northwestern Mutual Life in Asheville, N.C. Dr. Reed and her husband Don live with their two dogs and a cat on a mountain top in Fairview, N.C.

W. Geiger (Guy) Ellis, Professor Emeritus, University of Georgia, received his A.B. and M.Ed. degrees from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and his Ed.D. from the University of Virginia. For most of his career, Guy has been active in teaching adolescent literature, having introduced the first courses on the subject at both the University of Virginia and the University of Georgia. He developed and edited The ALAN Review from 1978 to 1984, changing its focus from a newsletter to a referred journal. His research has had heavy emphasis on the content of literature instruction.

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