LITERATURE: Cannery Row – In Review

I stopped too soon, and yet while another party rages as before–again, intent gone astray as led instead by human nature–the meaning is there and vague, unclear.

Doc enjoys this second party; a surprise he soon finds out about and plans as well, buying whisky and food, locking away the valuables to keep them safe.  It starts out slow and tentative, builds with booze and banter, yet controlled and well-enjoyed by all.  Then slows down, as Steinbeck tells us: 

The nature of parties has been imperfectly studied.  It is, however, generally understood that a party has a pathology, that it is a kind of individual and that it is likely to be a perverse individual.  And it is also generally understood that a party hardly ever goes the way it is planned or intended.  (Cannery Row, p. 172)

After the raucous dancing music is replaced with Monteverdi, as the whiskey dries up and is supplanted with the mellowing of wine, Doc reads from a book of poetry.  The poem tells of an aching for lost love.  All are moved and quiet. 

The next morning, Doc wakes up to a similar mess as to the first party, yet he is smiling, content.  Is the difference in the being there?  To have partaken of the feast, to have enjoyed despite one’s own intent of best behavior?  To have known a first love, to have a right to the memory of it–is that what makes the difference in a life?

I think that Aristotle’s theory of the Character as being central by mode of Thought and moral leaning to react to actions here is what’s at work.  Is giving in to the revelry a moral flaw?   These are good people gathered here to share in an event.  Is weakness what allows enjoyment of the party, of life itself?

Mack, Doc, and all the residents of Cannery Row have been affected by the string of events that are no more serious to world matters than a bringing together of people in appreciation of the goodness inherent in one of their own.  By knowing to appreciate, they too are to be considered good, and this, despite Aristotle’s insistence on class as part of nobility, is what makes them real and grants them access to a Tragedy in their lives, however small in import on a scale of human wrongs. 

I’ve finished this most exquisitely written novel, and enjoyed the writing as much as the story, and gained quite a bit in having taken the time to study the elements of story as put forth in Poetics.  Even as I seek out the next bit of fiction to read, I find myself insisting that the book is done and over with…but then, there is the gopher…

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