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Point-of-view Cannery Row Essay, Research Paper


By: Ryan Walsh

In Cannery Row, John Steinbeck used the third person omniscient point-of-view. He could have used the first person point-of-view, but it wouldn’t have gotten his entire story across. He could have used third person limited, but then he wouldn’t have been able to tell about everything that was going on in Cannery Row. It is my opinion that Mr. Steinbeck used the best point-of-view possible for this book.

Cannery Row is a book about a row of canneries in Monterey, CA. One of the main characters is Doc. Doc is a scientist who likes to experiment on marine life. Mack and the boys try to throw a party for him, but it goes awry, and Doc’s lab gets trashed. If Steinbeck had not used third person omniscient, he would not have been able to tell what happened at the party, why all of it happened at the party, and what Doc thought of what had happened at the party.

The third-person omniscient view told everyone’s thoughts on the subject. If Steinbeck had used first person he would have only been able to tell it from one person’s viewpoint. He could have told the entire story from Doc’s eyes, though we would not have learned about why the boys threw the party, or how bad they felt after they found that they had made Doc mad. He could have told the entire story from Mack’s eyes, but then we would never have known about the beer milkshake that Doc had while he was on the road, we also may have never learned about the Malloys moving into the boiler. Also, we would not have ever heard about the old Chinese man who had a shoe with a loose sole.

Steinbeck could have told the story in third person limited point-of-view, however I’m not sure how we would have learned about anyone’s feelings about anything. He would have been an onlooker. We might have never met Henri the Painter. There’s a good chance that we wouldn’t have ever known about the dead girl that Doc found floating in the ocean. If he had used third person limited, the story would have been limited indeed. We never would have heard about Doc’s beer milkshake, or his shrimp ice cream. We wouldn’t have heard about the liquor jug that Eddie filled from half empty glasses in the bar where he sometimes filled in. Steinbeck could have done some good, however, by using third person limited. He could have gotten rid of some of the excess information, such as the Malloys’ argument over curtains. He could have also gotten rid of Henri the painter, Henri didn’t add much to the actual storyline anyway.

The point-of-view that Steinbeck did use was third person omniscient. Because he used this, we are able to adequately see everything that goes on in cannery row. We can see Lee Chong’s grocery and all of the items in it. We can see the Palace Flophouse, and everyone who inhabits it. We can see Western Biological, and the Bear Flag. We also get to meet people that all of the other points of view wouldn’t cover. We get to meet Doc, Mack and the boys, the man with the dog and the frog pond, Doc’s hitchhiker, and all of the people that work at the Bear Flag.

The Bear Flag was an interesting place within cannery row. Dora, the madame, was always very careful to donate generously to the police department and she was also

careful to abide strictly by the law. She had to because, though the Bear Flag was called a

restaurant, it was really a quiet brothel.

She had several girls who she took very good care of, a watchman, and a Greek cook. Her first watchman, William, was killed by the Greek cook. If the author had not used third person omniscient we would never have known about this. Her new watchman is named Alfred. Nobody really cared about William, but everybody likes Alfred.

Another place in cannery row was Lee Chong’s grocery. Everybody went to Lee’s because he had everything in his store. He had everything from Fourth-of-July bunting and fireworks to fishing line to slippers and everything in-between. Mack and the boys wanted to go frog hunting for Doc, so they asked Lee if they could fix up his car and leave to go and find frogs. Lee didn’t trust Mack and the boys, but he couldn’t find any excuse why they couldn’t, so he let them.

John Steinbeck told a great story of the life in Monterey that is centered around the sardine canneries in cannery row. I have come to the conclusion that if he had not told his story in the third person omniscient point of view it would not be the great work that it is today. In fact, it would simply be another book collecting dust is a disused room in the basement of a publisher’s warehouse in New York.

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