Cannery Row

by

John Steinbeck

Teachers and parents! Struggling with distance learning? Our Teacher Edition on Cannery Row can help.

Lee Chong Character Analysis

A Chinese man who operates a grocery store in Cannery Row. Lee Chong is a serious businessman who runs a profitable store stocked with countless goods—a store that the majority of the area’s residents shop at quite frequently. Doc, for his part, buys all of his beer at Lee’s store. Even Mack and the boys make use of Lee’s grocery store, though they often don’t have enough money to buy anything (this, of course, doesn’t stop them from trying to convince Lee to give them pints of whiskey). After Horace Abbeville—who has accumulated quite a lot of debt at the grocery store—gives Lee ownership of an empty fishmeal storehouse and then commits suicide, Lee finds himself with a new piece of property that he doesn’t know what to do with. This doesn’t last long, though, because Mack soon convinces him to let him and his friends live in the storehouse, a proposition that Lee agrees to only because he thinks Mack and “the boys” will damage the property if he refuses to let them move in. Still, though, Lee is an entrepreneurial man who needs to maintain his image as an uncompromising business owner, so he charges Mack five dollars per week to move into the building—a fee he knows he’ll never receive. Later, when Mack and “the boys” want to catch frogs to sell to Doc, they ask to borrow Lee’s truck. In this way, readers see that people—and especially Mack’s gang—are constantly asking Lee for favors, and though he acts like an unyielding bargainer, he never fails to provide his friends with what they need.

Lee Chong Quotes in Cannery Row

The Cannery Row quotes below are all either spoken by Lee Chong or refer to Lee Chong. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Vice and Virtue Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Penguin Books edition of Cannery Row published in 2002.
Chapter 1 Quotes

Lee Chong stood in back of the cigar counter and his nice brown eyes were turned inward on a calm and eternal Chinese sorrow. He knew he could not have helped it, but he wished he might have known and perhaps tried to help. It was deeply a part of Lee’s kindness and understanding that man’s right to kill himself is inviolable, but sometimes a friend can make it unnecessary. Lee had already underwritten the funeral and sent a wash basket of groceries to the stricken families.

Related Characters: Lee Chong, Horace Abbeville
Page Number: 8
Explanation and Analysis:

In Mack’s eyes there was good will and good fellowship and a desire to make everyone happy. Why then did Lee Chong feel slightly surrounded? Why did his mind pick its way as delicately as a cat through cactus? It had been sweetly done, almost in a spirit of philanthropy. Lee’s mind leaped ahead at the possibilities—no, they were probabilities, and his finger tapping slowed still further. He saw himself refusing Mack’s request and he saw the broken glass from the windows. Then Mack would offer a second time to watch over and preserve Lee’s property— and at the second refusal, Lee could smell the smoke, could see the little flames creeping up the walls. Mack and his friends would try to help to put it out. Lee’s finger came to a gentle rest on the change mat. He was beaten. He knew that. There was left to him only the possibility of saving face and Mack was likely to be very generous about that. Lee said, “You like pay lent my place? You like live there same hotel?”

Related Characters: Lee Chong (speaker), Mack
Page Number: 10
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 2 Quotes

The Word is a symbol and a delight which sucks up men and scenes, trees, plants, factories, and Pekinese. Then the Thing becomes the Word and back to Thing again, but warped and woven into a fantastic pattern. The Word sucks up Cannery Row, digests it and spews it out, and the Row has taken the shimmer of the green world and the sky-reflecting seas.

Related Characters: Lee Chong
Page Number: 13
Explanation and Analysis:
Get the entire Cannery Row LitChart as a printable PDF.
Cannery Row PDF

Lee Chong Character Timeline in Cannery Row

The timeline below shows where the character Lee Chong appears in Cannery Row. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 1
Vice and Virtue Theme Icon
Kindness, Empathy, and Friendship Theme Icon
Steinbeck introduces Lee Chong, a grocer who runs a well-stocked store, which opens early in the morning and... (full context)
Vice and Virtue Theme Icon
Kindness, Empathy, and Friendship Theme Icon
One night, Lee Chong stands in the grocery store in front of the pints of whiskey (called Old... (full context)
Vice and Virtue Theme Icon
Loneliness, Melancholy, and Happiness Theme Icon
Kindness, Empathy, and Friendship Theme Icon
After Lee and Horace strike this deal, Lee gives him a flask of Old Tennis Shoes, at... (full context)
Vice and Virtue Theme Icon
Loneliness, Melancholy, and Happiness Theme Icon
Kindness, Empathy, and Friendship Theme Icon
Having heard that Lee now owns the fishmeal storehouse, Mack comes into the grocery store to make a proposition... (full context)
Vice and Virtue Theme Icon
Kindness, Empathy, and Friendship Theme Icon
“We’ll keep up the property,” Mack says to Lee, insisting that he and his friends won’t let anyone “break in or hurt anything” in... (full context)
Vice and Virtue Theme Icon
Kindness, Empathy, and Friendship Theme Icon
“And that was the way it was,” Steinbeck writes about Mack and Lee’s deal, adding that, although Lee never receives any money, he doesn’t feel as if he... (full context)
Vice and Virtue Theme Icon
Kindness, Empathy, and Friendship Theme Icon
...where Doc works and lives. And when Doc leaves the laboratory to buy beer at Lee Chong’s, Mack says, “That Doc is a fine fellow. We ought to do something for... (full context)
Chapter 2
Vice and Virtue Theme Icon
Reality, Randomness, and Disorder Theme Icon
...world and the sky-reflecting seas.” With this in mind, the author turns his attention to Lee Chong, who he asserts must be “more than a Chinese grocer,” suggesting that perhaps he... (full context)
Chapter 3
Vice and Virtue Theme Icon
Kindness, Empathy, and Friendship Theme Icon
Along with Lee Chong’s grocery store and the Palace Flophouse, Dora Flood’s brothel is an important place in... (full context)
Chapter 5
Kindness, Empathy, and Friendship Theme Icon
...who hang around and listen to the Gregorian records he often plays on the phonograph. Lee Chong also comes around to Western Biological, where he first heard a record of English... (full context)
Chapter 8
Loneliness, Melancholy, and Happiness Theme Icon
...owners decided to purchase a new one, so it was moved to the area near Lee Chong’s grocery store and the Bear Flag. When the Malloys come upon it, they decide... (full context)
Chapter 9
Vice and Virtue Theme Icon
Kindness, Empathy, and Friendship Theme Icon
...that he needs it to drive to La Jolla. As such, Mack decides to ask Lee Chong to borrow his truck, but first he asks Doc to lend him money for... (full context)
Vice and Virtue Theme Icon
Kindness, Empathy, and Friendship Theme Icon
Mack goes to Lee Chong’s and asks to borrow his truck, but Lee informs him that the truck is... (full context)
Chapter 11
Vice and Virtue Theme Icon
Kindness, Empathy, and Friendship Theme Icon
Lee Chong’s truck is a converted Model T that has seen a lot of use. Although... (full context)
Chapter 16
Vice and Virtue Theme Icon
Loneliness, Melancholy, and Happiness Theme Icon
Kindness, Empathy, and Friendship Theme Icon
...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... (full context)
Chapter 20
Kindness, Empathy, and Friendship Theme Icon
...thousand frogs. Doc isn’t home yet, so they start preparing for his party. Going to Lee’s grocery store, Mack says, “I and the boys are pretty short and we’re pretty hungry.... (full context)
Vice and Virtue Theme Icon
Kindness, Empathy, and Friendship Theme Icon
As soon as Lee agrees to accept frogs as payment, Mack and “the boys” go crazy buying items from... (full context)
Kindness, Empathy, and Friendship Theme Icon
...day goes on, Mack and “the boys” revel in their ability to purchase goods at Lee’s. They also lounge in the Palace Flophouse and play with Darling, their new puppy. Sitting... (full context)
Kindness, Empathy, and Friendship Theme Icon
...it, eventually deciding that they should place the crate of frogs (which now belongs to Lee) in the center of the room so that Doc will immediately see the bounty. (full context)
Vice and Virtue Theme Icon
Kindness, Empathy, and Friendship Theme Icon
Reality, Randomness, and Disorder Theme Icon
...rest of the whiskey, and people start filtering into Western Biological and getting quite drunk. Lee, for his part, drinks so much that he has to go home. At this point,... (full context)
Chapter 21
Vice and Virtue Theme Icon
Kindness, Empathy, and Friendship Theme Icon
...your face,” he says to Mack before going to buy beer at the store, where Lee can’t bring himself to look at him. (full context)
Chapter 23
Kindness, Empathy, and Friendship Theme Icon
...crack had developed in the wall of evil,” and the Bear Flag reopens. What’s more, Lee Chong forgives Mack and “the boys,” cancels their “frog debt,” and gives them a pint... (full context)
Chapter 27
Kindness, Empathy, and Friendship Theme Icon
...For instance, the prostitutes at the Bear Flag decide to make him a silk quilt. Lee Chong prepares “a twenty-five-foot string of firecrackers and a big bag of China lily bulbs.”... (full context)
Chapter 32
Loneliness, Melancholy, and Happiness Theme Icon
Reality, Randomness, and Disorder Theme Icon
...damage and smells a combination of firecrackers, wine, whiskey, and perfume. Rising, he walks to Lee’s to buy beer. “Good time?” Lee asks. “Good time!” he replies before returning to the... (full context)