Chapter 4 Summary

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 599

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...

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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.

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 because he was from Salinas and not a Monterey native did he muster the temerity to challenge the old man. He tried to "keep his self-respect," even though he felt a little fearful, and the only way to do that, in Andy's mind, was to shout at the man. So Andy braced himself and shrilly called out "Ching-Chong Chinaman sitting on a rail—'Long came a white man an' chopped off his tail." 

Probably Andy expected the old man to ignore him and continue his flapping-walk. Instead, the Chinaman turned his ancient brown eyes on the boy. His "thin corded lips moved" but the words were imperceptible. And then the truly inexplicable occurred. The old mans eyes spread until they appeared to be one huge brown door. Through that door, Andy saw "flat countryside" that went on for miles; he saw mountains shaped like animals. There were earthen mounds too, and on each mound sat an animal, perhaps a woodchuck. Andy was consumed by a feeling of utter loneliness and he whimpered. He closed his eyes tight to escape the feeling of abandonment. When he opened them, he saw nothing other than the regular landscape of Cannery Row. 

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