In Cannery Row, Dora Flood’s brothel—called the Bear Flag Restaurant—represents the fact that vice and virtue are often not so easy to separate. Although the Bear Flag is a house of prostitution, Steinbeck introduces it as a “virtuous club.” What’s more, he asserts that Dora has the “special gifts” of “honesty” and “charity,” adding that she is “respected by the intelligent, the learned, and the kind.” By presenting both Dora and the brothel itself in this flattering light, then, Steinbeck challenges readers to look beyond conventional notions of right and wrong, ultimately suggesting that someone whom society might generally consider to be morally corrupt can still be an honest, upstanding citizen. In turn, the Bear Flag comes to stand for the ways in which vice and virtue aren’t necessarily mutually exclusive, but rather inextricably bound.
The Bear Flag Restaurant Quotes in Cannery Row
But on the left-hand boundary of the lot is the stern and stately whore house of Dora Flood; a decent, clean, honest, old-fashioned sporting house where a man can take a glass of beer among friends. This is no fly-by-night cheap clip-joint but a sturdy, virtuous club, built, maintained, and disciplined by Dora who, madam and girl for fifty years, has through the exercise of special gifts of tact and honesty, charity and a certain realism, made herself respected by the intelligent, the learned, and the kind. And by the same token she is hated by the twisted and lascivious sisterhood of married spinsters whose husbands respect the home but don’t like it very much.
William thought dark and broody thoughts. No one loved him. No one cared about him. They might call him a watchman but he was a pimp—a dirty pimp, the lowest thing in the world. And then he thought how he had a right to live and be happy just like anyone else, by God he had. He walked back angrily but his anger went away when he came to the Bear Flag and climbed the steps. It was evening and the juke box was playing Harvest Moon and William remembered that the first hooker who ever gaffed for him used to like that song before she ran away and got married and disappeared. The song made him awfully sad. Dora was in the back parlor having a cup of tea when William came in. She said, “What’s the matter, you sick?”
“No,” said William. “But what’s the percentage? I feel lousy. I think I’ll bump myself off.”
Dora had handled plenty of neurotics in her time. Kid ’em out of it was her motto. “Well, do it on your own time and don’t mess up the rugs,” she said.
And William saw the change, saw first how the Greek knew he could do it and then the Greek knew he would do it. As soon as he saw that in the Greek’s eyes William knew he had to do it. He was sad because now it seemed silly. His hand rose and the ice pick snapped into his heart. It was amazing how easily it went in. William was the watchman before Alfred came. Everyone liked Alfred. He could sit on the pipes with Mack and the boys any time. He could even visit up at the Palace Flophouse.