Cannery Row

by

John Steinbeck

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Cannery Row: Chapter 16 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Steinbeck narrates the tale of the Bear Flag’s busiest period, a time when the brothel is overrun by “a new regiment” of soldiers and, simultaneously, the entire town comes down with the flu. Although this strain of the flu isn’t as deadly “as it was in 1917,” many children are still particularly vulnerable to the illness. As a result, the local doctors are overextended, so Doc begins treating people when they need help, running around Cannery Row and doing his best to give people extra blankets and food. When Dora Flood sees him looking worn out in Lee Chong’s, she asks if there’s anything she can do to help, and he tells her that she could ask her “girls” to go sit with the sick families, who are “scared and helpless.” As such, Dora’s prostitutes apply themselves to helping the sickly while also accommodating the new influx of clients.
Once again, Doc is a model of kindness. By interacting with so many sick people, he runs the risk of coming down with the flu himself, and yet he selflessly ignores this possibility in order to serve his fellow citizens. What’s more, this act of empathy encourages Dora to consider what she can do for the town’s sick people, thus proving once more that kindness only leads to more kindness. It’s also worth noting that Dora and her employees’ willingness to do this good deed once again proves Steinbeck’s belief that people who aren’t generally considered virtuous (like prostitutes) are perfectly capable of goodness.
Themes
Vice and Virtue Theme Icon
Loneliness, Melancholy, and Happiness Theme Icon
Kindness, Empathy, and Friendship Theme Icon