What is the symbolic importance of collecting in this novel? How do Doc's collecting activities inform the plot? How is collecting a metaphor for the act of writing?
How is success defined in this novel? Who is the most successful: Doc, Mack, Dora, or Lee Chong? Why? Try to argue the case for each of these characters.
How do the interspersed vignettes and anecdotes about the people of Cannery Row inform the main plot? Do they have anything to do with the main plot or are they there merely for atmosphere?
What are some of the important historical events that influence this text? How are they handled in the text?
What is the function of violence in this novel? Why are there so many suicides and other deaths?
Would you characterize Steinbeck's writing as realistic? As fairy-tale-like? As abstract? As allegorical? Explain the reasons for your answer.
How does Steinbeck use the idea of place? What does it mean to be part of a neighborhood or community in this novel?
How do families and marriages function in this novel? Who are the most important people in a character's life? Why might family be a troublesome concept?
What are the financial and social issues surrounding drinking in this novel? Consider the two parties at Doc's, Dora's policies for her girls, and Lee Chong's success as a purveyor of "Old Tennis Shoes."
Doc claims that it's easier to lie than to tell the truth and that people like you better when you lie to them. Does Steinbeck "lie" in his narrative? Why or why not? If he does lie, what are his reasons?
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