Cannery Row Chapter 4 Summary
by John Steinbeck

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Chapter 4 Summary

The weaving in and out of the world of work and the realm of myth heralds the beginning of Chapter 4. Dusk is a time of transition, not only from day to night but from reality to magic. The magic is not limited to the spells and incantations of Western lore, however. The Bay Area of San Francisco has been a home to Chinese immigrants since the late 1850s when work was plentiful due to the construction of the Central Pacific Railroad and the California Gold Rush. With those thousands of immigrants came Eastern folktales and Eastern magic.

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So when a mysterious, elderly Chinese man began to walk through the vacant lot of Cannery Row, it was not as startling as one might expect. The man was dressed in a straw hat and denim, both shirt and pants, and on his feet were heavy shoes. On one of his shoes, the rubber sole had come loose and as a result, every step the Chinaman took announced his passing with a loud flap. He carried a wicker basket but no on ever learns its contents. His face showed signs of age and exposure to the elements of wind and sun. His eyes were brown, even the whites of them.

The old man passed through the vacant lot, crossed between Doc's laboratory and one of the canneries, and headed down to the beach, where he presumably remained until dawn...the next time anyone saw him. 

Dawn carries much of the same magic as dusk. It is a twilight time where magic is still possible but fading. The only thing different about the old man, as he returned the same way from whence he had come, was that his wicker basket was now "heavy and wet and dripping." His shoe with the loose sole continued to flap. 

The flapping woke up many people in Cannery Row. Although it had been going on for years, "no one ever got used to him." It was unsettling to have a mystery-made-flesh. There was great speculation about who or what he was. Some thought he was God; some thought he was Death. Only the children, with little experience or fears for comparison, failed to label him as anything more than "a very funny old Chinaman." 

Of course, there is always one child who is not content to let anything different alone. In Cannery Row, that child was Andy. Perhaps...

(The entire section is 599 words.)