LITERATURE: Cannery Row – And Suttree

I’m sure the comparison has been made, not only in the writing styles of Steinbeck and McCarthy, but in these two novels in particular.

Each holds a treasure box of character, history and a hard look at a society that may be very different than our own.  A group of ne’er-do-wells, surviving as best they can in the downtimes of America, in the downtimes of their lives, their environment. 

While Bud Suttree is the obvious protagonist in Suttree despite the indepth personality McCarthy bestows upon the others, I am finding it harder to select the main character in Steinbeck’s Cannery Row.  While Doc seems to be the levelheaded philosophical intellectual as is Bud Suttee, I realize that the character of Mack, a leader of a work-whenever-the-need-arises-only band of men seems to be the main interacter with all the others.  He is the second character introduced in the novel, immediately after the grounding of Lee Chong and his grocery store.  He is portrayed as a wily, clever manipulator, though most are aware of this and attempt to prepare for him.  He is a winner of whatever he seeks to gain–though it not be much.

And my beloved Harrogate of Suttree seems to come in the guise of Hazel, one of Mack’s main group:

"Oh!" said Hazel, and he cast frantically about for a peg to hang a new question on.  He hated to have a conversation die out like this.  He wasn’t quick enough.  While he was looking for a question Doc asked one.  Hazel hated that, it meant casting about in his mind for an answer and casting about in Hazel’s mind was like wandering alone in a deserted museum.  Hazel’s mind was choked with uncatalogued exhibits.  He never forgot anything but he never bothered to arrange his memories.  Everything was thrown together like fishing tackle in the bottom of a rowboat, hooks and sinkers and line and lures and gaffs all snarled up.  (p. 34)

There is a difference in intelligence between Hazel and Harrogate, the latter being more able to see to his own survival via great schemes that haven’t been thought out all the way through (the bats!) while Hazel’s concentration is more geared towards being sociable, likeable, needing the wealth of simple communication to survive.  But there is an innocence about both that is endearing. 

Steinbeck gives his characters more of an individuality that does not seem as yet as reliant on the another for story.  Although they do touch and meet just as Bud Suttree’s friends and certainly Harrogate stands out as a strong second to Suttree in importance to the narrative.

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2 Responses to LITERATURE: Cannery Row – And Suttree

  1. Mark says:

    Hmmnn. Interesting analysis. Since when is a character reliant on another for his/her own representation if authentic?

  2. susan says:

    I don’t know; are fictional characters authentic? For me, the interest is not in the character as much as in how he reacts to both events and environment, and even more, how he reacts to other characters. That is most telling, and what I would consider the story. In Suttree, I believe that aside from the protagonist, Harrogate is the only character we are left alone with to explore. In Cannery Row, we are seeing several of the characters on their own, their stories going on separately from the rest, yet simultaneously. When they meet, we may have a perception of them that we feel the other characters do not know, not having been privy to the episode as were we.

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