Because the dead woman that Doc finds in the tidal “flats” of La Jolla elicits such a complicated reaction from him, she becomes a symbol of life’s fundamental complexity. When Doc finds this unknown woman’s corpse stuck in a “crevice” just beneath the waterline, he starts hearing “a high thin piercingly sweet flute” in his head, but the melody reaches “beyond the hearing range.” This strange experience gives Doc “goose pimples,” as he struggles to understand why, exactly, he is reacting this way to seeing a dead stranger. “He shivered and his eyes were wet the way they get in the focus of great beauty,” Steinbeck writes, suggesting that what Doc feels in this moment isn’t abject horror, but an appreciation of “beauty.” At the same time, though, there’s no denying that Doc is deeply troubled by this experience, since he knows right away that the haunting image of this woman’s face is now “burned into his picture memory” forever. In this way, Steinbeck uses the dead woman to embody the complicated emotional response that the idea of mortality elicits from humans—a response that Steinbeck intimates is in and of itself a thing of “great beauty.”
The Dead Woman Quotes in Cannery Row
He sat down on the beach in the coarse dry sand and pulled off his boots. In the jar the little octopi were huddled up each keeping as far as possible from the others. Music sounded in Doc’s ears, a high thin piercingly sweet flute carrying a melody he could never remember, and against this, a pounding surf-like wood-wind section. The flute went up into regions beyond the hearing range and even there it carried its unbelievable melody. Goose pimples came out on Doc’s arms. He shivered and his eyes were wet the way they get in the focus of great beauty.