Steinbeck writes about a “well-known gopher” living in “a thicket of mallow weeds” in Cannery Row. The gopher is quite happy with this living arrangement, for the soil is good, there aren’t any nearby traps, and the local cats aren’t interested in killing him. However, the gopher becomes “impatient” because he can’t find a female companion. “He sat in the entrance of his hole in the morning and made penetrating squeaks that are inaudible to the human ear but can be heard deep in the earth by other gophers.” Unfortunately, though, no female appears, so he emerges and finds another gopher hole, into which he pokes his head and—though he smells a female—is mauled by another male who bites off two of his toes. After recovering in his own hole, the gopher eventually moves to a garden, where he’s surrounded by traps.
In the penultimate chapter of Cannery Row, Steinbeck crafts a portrait of loneliness by focusing not on his human subjects, but on the animal kingdom. In doing so, he manages to convey a message upholding that loneliness and the desire to be loved are both universal parts of being alive. Indeed, even gophers experience the melancholy that comes along with living in solitude. The gopher must leave his perfect hole and live in a more dangerous place in order to find companionship, ultimately suggesting that living comfortably isn’t always the best way to connect with others. Readers can apply this to human life by considering the fact that greed often cuts people off from the things that matter most in life: community, love, and interpersonal connection.