Below you will find five outstanding thesis statements / paper topics for Cannery Row by John Steinbeck that can be used as essay starters. All five incorporate at least one of the themes found in Cannery Row by John Steinbeck and are broad enough so that it will be easy to find textual support, yet narrow enough to provide a focused clear thesis statement. These thesis statements for Steinbeck’s “Cannery Row” offer a short summary of different elements that could be important in an essay but you are free to add your own analysis and understanding of the plot or themes to them. Using the essay topics below in conjunction with the list of important quotes at the bottom of the page, you should have no trouble connecting with the text and writing an excellent paper.
Thesis Statement / Essay Topic #1: The Narrative Structure of Cannery Row
In a certain sense, Cannery Row does not have a cohesive plot. Rather, it is comprised of a series of vignettes about individuals who live in an area called Cannery Row, and the sense is that Steinbeck was more interested in creating sketches of a place and a people rather than telling a story or conveying a message about those people and their circumstances and experiences. Write an essay in which you explain and defend Steinbeck’s choice of this narrative approach. If you think that a “plot-less" novel is problematic, then develop an argument that supports your belief. If, on the other hand, you believe that this strategy is effective in conveying a particular feeling or message to the reader, then explain your position.
Thesis Statement/Essay Topic #2: Symbolism in Cannery Row
Despite the brevity of this novel, Steinbeck introduces a variety of symbols that are used to effectively dramatize life on Cannery Row. One of these symbols is the row itself; another symbol is the collecting activity of Doc. Choose one or more symbols that you have identified in the novel and write an explanatory essay in which you identify how the symbols you have chosen convey meaning to the reader. Explain whether you consider these symbols to be effective. Be sure to draw upon textual evidence to support your claims.
Thesis Statement / Essay Topic #3: Success on Cannery Row
Cannery Row is a low-down kind of place, but many characters are struggling to attain their version of success. Consider one or more characters and analyze how each defines success. Be sure to explain how these individual definitions of success either contradict or conform to social norms. Identify whether there are any ethical, moral, or legal conflicts that the characters confront as they struggle to achieve their goals, and determine who is the most successful of the novel’s characters in your own opinion.
Thesis Statement / Essay Topic #4: Violence in Cannery Row
Violence, both physical and psychological, seems to be a fact of life in Cannery Row. Violence is also inflicted upon the self and on others. Take one or more instances of violence that is portrayed in the novel and explain how it is meaningful to the overall scheme of the novel. You may wish to compare and contrast episodes of violence and identify whether they serve a single function or whether they have multiple meanings in the novel.
Thesis Statement / Essay Topic #5: Character Analysis
Cannery Row is densely populated with a group of characters, in the narrative sense of the word and in terms of personalities. There is Dora, an imposing figure of a woman who runs a successful brothel, Henri, the non-French Frenchman, Lee Chong the shrewd but kind-hearted grocer, and a host of other fascinating people who make Cannery Row so compelling. Choose one character and write an in-depth analysis of that individual and his or her relationship with the other characters in the novel. Alternately, choose two characters and compare and contrast their personalities and their functions in the text.
This list of important quotations from Cannery Row will help you work with the essay topics and thesis statements above by allowing you to support your claims. All of the important quotes from Steinbeck’s Cannery Row listed here correspond, at least in some way, to the paper topics above and by themselves can give you great ideas for an essay by offering quotes and explanations about other themes, symbols, imagery, and motifs than those already mentioned and explained. Aside from the thesis statements above, these quotes alone can act as essay questions or study questions as they are all relevant to the text in an important way. All quotes contain page numbers as well. Look at the bottom of the page to identify which edition of Cannery Row by John Steinbeck they are referring to.
“Cannery Row is… a poem, a stink, a grating noise, a quality of light, a tone, a habit, a nostalgia, a dream. (1)
“Its inhabitants are, as the man once said, ‘whores, pimps, gamblers, and sons of bitches’, by which he meant Everybody." (1)
“Had the man looked through another peephole, he might have said, ‘Saints and angels and martyrs and holy men,’ and he would have meant the same thing." (1)
“How can the poem and the stink and grating noise—the quality of light, the tone, the habit and the dream—be set down alive?….[P]erhaps that might be the way to write this book—to open the page and let the stories crawl in by themselves." (2)
“Not that Lee Chong was avaricious. He wasn’t, but if one wanted to spend money, he was available. Over the course of the years everyone…owed him money. He never pressed his clients, but when the bill became too large, Lee cut off credit." (3)
“Lee Chong is more than a Chinese grocer. He must be. Perhaps he is evil balanced and held suspended by good…." (3)
“…Dora, 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." (9)
[Doc] can kill anything for need but he could not even hurt a feeling for pleasure." (16)
“Because he loved true things he tried to explain." (64)
“Henri the painter was not French and his name was not Henri. Also he was not really a painter." (83)