LITERATURE: Cannery Row – Metaphor

"The element of the wonderful is required in Tragedy.  The irrational, on which the wonderful depends for its chief effects, has wider scope in Epic poetry, because there the person acting is not seen."   Aristotle, Poetics, Part XXV

Mary Talbot, Mrs. Tom Talbot, that is, was lovely.  She had red hair with green lights in it.  Her skin was golden with a green cast and her eyes were green with little golden spots.  (…) When she was excited, and she was excited a good deal of the time, her face was flushed with gold.  Her great-great-great-great-great grandmother had been burned as a witch.    John Steinbeck, Cannery Row, p. 142

The element of the wonderful, as Aristotle suggests, is a necessary part of Tragedy.  While at this point in Poetics he is speaking of Epic Tragedy, poetry format rather than narrative or stage play, when speaking of story style of one such as Steinbeck, I would not hesitate to apply it and slap "poetry" labels upon it.

The above excerpt is one of several that Steinbeck slips in among the story of Mack and Doc and Cannery Row.  It is an encapsulated metaphor as is the book, the party being, I suspect, life itself.  In the brief chapter (24) that is the exclusive story of Mary Talbot and her husband Tom, we meet another idealist who believes deep in her heart that attitude is all.  Despite the bill collectors, the joblessness with no near prospects, Mary believes that parties can cure Tom’s depression, his realistic view: "Mary came softly in, for the blue-gray color of his gloom had seeped out under the door and through the keyhole.  She had a little bouquet of candy tuft in a collar of paper lace.  (p. 25)

As a determined realist, my fantasy reserved for escape rather than to cotton-candy wrap the world as it exists, I seek the answer to the optimistic attitude that claims it offers opportunities closed to those with dour expressions, hopeless outlooks.  A smile alone will never do it, but it may, by reason of its own false bravado and effect allow another person entry into one’s space and leave a glow within that thus inspires. 

Action, though, action I agree (with Aristotle) is the Plot.  That Diction, Thought and Character are only the modes.  For plot is carried by action, and reaction is a direct response born of character and thought.

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