It is a great matter to observe propriety in these several modes of expression, as also in compound words, strange (or rare) words, and so forth. But the greatest thing by far is to have a command of metaphor. This alone cannot be imparted by another; it is the mark of genius, for to make good metaphors implies an eye for resemblances. (Aristotle, Poetics, Part XXII)
And here lives Steinbeck’s gopher.
Cannery Row is well described in detail of "across the street" and "down the tracks," etc., and it is a neighborhood held together by the canneries. It is a working part of town; it is not sleek and beautiful. Yet, I do not see it as grimy or poverty ridden. This, I believe, is what Steinbeck’s message is in part; that the place is the people, the people are the place.
Within the narrative structure of Cannery Row and the stories of its primary characters, Doc, Mack, Lee Chong, and the rest, we met Mary Talbot, who loved parties; two little boys, Joey and Willard, who sparred mentally dangerously close to cruelty; and a gopher, who makes his home in the vacant lot and builds an underground paradise, lays in a larder, and goes out to seek the one thing missing, the one thing that will not come to his door–a female gopher.
The gopher goes outside his territory in his quest because this pull of companionship–or simple need–is more important than his home. He finds one, but she is kept by an old battle-worn male, and the gopher is forced to fight and flee. Even in his gopher palace he is not content. He must travel outward, far from the safety and beauty of his chosen home to the more likely possibilities of a garden, where traps abound yet promise of a female awaits.
There is a Chinaman who does nothing but wander from one place in town to another every dusk and dawn. He is a thread of "within" and "without" the boundaries of Cannery Row. He is alone and no one knows him; a child named Andy boldly questions him and is frightened off by what he sees within the Chinaman’s eyes. It is, I think, the unknown, the unfamiliar.
Cannery Row becomes more than embellishment or Spectacle as Aristotle would proclaim it. It is, I feel, the grounding and the proper place for the action and the characters to belong. Their world, as they created it. As Mack near ruined it with the dishonoring of his deed. As it recovered and became a good place again with the coming together of all the residents at the second party.
It is a living thing.