Characters Discussed

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Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 790


Doc, the owner and operator of Western Biological Laboratory. He was graduated from the University of Chicago. Doc is small, strong, and wiry, and he loves science, beer, women, classical music, books, and prints. He is a thoroughly civilized man and the acknowledged, but unofficial, “mayor” of Cannery Row...

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Doc, the owner and operator of Western Biological Laboratory. He was graduated from the University of Chicago. Doc is small, strong, and wiry, and he loves science, beer, women, classical music, books, and prints. He is a thoroughly civilized man and the acknowledged, but unofficial, “mayor” of Cannery Row in Monterey. He is a fountain of wisdom, philosophy, and sometimes medical and psychiatric advice. Doc has a pointed brown beard and is described as half Christ and half satyr. Doc has a fear of getting his head wet. He is beloved by all but is nevertheless a lonely and remote man.

Mack and the Boys

Mack and the Boys, a group of unemployed men who live in the Palace Flophouse. They are open, honest, and generous in their way, kind and understanding, and sometimes extremely compassionate. They have no greed, meanness, egotism, or self-interest.


Mack, the leader of the Boys. Once married, Mack is very intelligent and without conventional ambition. To the others, he is mentor, sage, and sometimes exploiter. He leads the frog-hunting expedition and plans Doc’s party. It is said that Mack could have been the president of the United States if he had so wanted. Mack loves food, drink, and, sometimes, women and fighting.

Dora Flood

Dora Flood, the proprietor of the Bear Flag Restaurant, which actually is a decent, clean, honest, old-fashioned brothel. Dora is probably in her late sixties and, the narrator says, is respected by the intelligent, learned, and kind; she is hated by spinsters and prudish women. She is a large woman with orange hair and a big heart. During the Depression, she paid for groceries for many poor families, and she is a large donator to local worthy causes. During the influenza epidemic, she put her cook to work making soup and her girls to work delivering it.


Hazel, one of the Boys, twenty-six years old and dark-haired. He is not very bright and has no viciousness or guile. He occasionally helps Doc with the collecting of marine life and is good at it. Hazel, who has had four years of regular school and four years in reform school, was named for his great aunt by his exhausted and confused mother, who had borne seven children in eight years.


Eddie, one of the Boys, the understudy bartender at La Ida, from which he brings home jugs full of dregs from all the drink glasses.


Gay, one of the Boys, married to a woman who sometimes beats him while he is asleep. Gay is an excellent auto mechanic but drinks too much and is often in jail.

Lee Chong

Lee Chong, a Chinese grocery store owner and owner of the Palace Flophouse. He stands behind the cigar counter, in front of the whiskey shelves, wearing half-glasses and extending credit judiciously. Lee Chong is shrewd but kind and can be generous and sentimental. He is a wise man, sometimes abused but always tolerant.


Henri, a painter, who is not French and whose name is not really Henri. He sometimes paints with chicken feathers, sometimes with nutshells. He loves all things French and all things modern. He is swarthy and morose. Henri has been married twice and has had many other women in his life, but they always leave him because he lives in an unfinished boat, up on blocks and with no plumbing.


Alfred, a bouncer at the Bear Flag Restaurant. He is accepted by the Boys. His talent is for keeping order without actually hurting anyone.

“The Captain,”

“The Captain,” the owner of the frog pond raided by Mack and the Boys. The Captain, whose wife is in politics, is clearly henpecked, but she is away.


Frankie, a mentally retarded and physically uncoordinated eleven-year-old who usually is filthy. Frankie loves Doc absolutely but is unable to function in society.


Wilbur, who used to work for Dora as a bouncer. He wanted to be one of the Boys but was never accepted by them.

Sam Malloy

Sam Malloy and

Mrs. Malloy

Mrs. Malloy, who live happily in a boiler in a vacant lot until Mrs. Malloy gets the urge to decorate with window curtains. Seeing an opportunity to go into business, they rent small pipes to single men.

Mary Talbot

Mary Talbot, a woman with red hair, golden skin, and green eyes. She is a loving, kind woman of infinite optimism.

Tom Talbot

Tom Talbot, Mary’s husband, an as-yet-unsuccessful writer. Mary cheers him up.

Old Chinaman

Old Chinaman, a mysterious figure who walks, for years, into the ocean at dusk with a wicker basket. He emerges at dawn. Some people think that he has powers. Some think that he is God; others, death.

The Characters

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Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 664

The characters of Cannery Row are mostly stereotypes, simplifications which illustrate Steinbeck’s fondness for the vagrant, the eccentric, the genial pariah. Only Doc has the complexity of a major character. Educated enough to know marine biology, sensitive enough to surround his laboratory with reproductions of works of art and to enjoy classical music, shrewd enough to know how to deal with the schemes and cons of the boys, gentle enough to befriend the simpleminded, he is at heart a loafer, a drifter, “concupiscent as a rabbit,” fond of beer and company, yet a loner.

He is, too, literary kin to earlier Steinbeck heroes. Tom Joad from The Grapes of Wrath, for example, who was also a sensitive though politically astute individual whose natural bent seemed to be centifugal rather than centripetal: His temperament drove him away from the family unit and toward a self-imposed isolation. George Milton in Of Mice and Men (1937) was an even earlier antecedent of Doc, clearly the same sensitive yet isolated being, whose care and love for Lenny, the gentle but brutish misfit, keeps him apart from the mainstream of society. Doc’s befriending of Hazel, the simple, slow-witted boy-man of the group, is indicative both of his role as leader and of his isolated position. Doc’s compassion allows him to care for Hazel, to give him a job as laboratory assistant, but at the same time, Hazel allows Doc the opportunity to remain a private person, uncommunicative about the things that really matter, just as an adult plays with a child, keeping his real personality hidden in the game. It is this ambivalence, this need for companionship in counterpoint to his solitary nature, that gives Doc a poignancy which elevates him to the central character of the novel.

Mack is the putative leader of the boys, the angelic bums, the “beauties,” the “Virtues,” as Steinbeck rather sentimentally calls them. Like the boys, Mack is irresponsible, as unreliable in the conduct of social affairs as he is loyal and generous of spirit. Mack always means well, but his good intentions are often foiled by a shiftlessness and an ambition limited to the demands of the hour rather than of the future. He presides genially over the group in the Palace Flophouse, an abandoned storage shack made habitable with the discarded flotsam of the village. Yet Mack is canny when the occasion warrants. He is a born manipulator of people. For years he has been “negotiating” with Lee Chong for groceries and other staples.

In a key scene illustrating his genius, Mack and the boys are caught in a frog pond by the owner of the property. They are busily engaged in catching frogs as a present for Doc, but the irate owner, gun and shotgun poised, wants them off the grounds at once. Mack apologizes, amiably cajoles, praises the dog, and in the end heals its long-standing illness, receiving from the grateful owner a puppy, all the frogs Mack wants, and a few hours of friendly drinking at the owner’s house. Crucial in appreciating the scene is the knowledge that Mack is not being hypocritical. He genuinely likes the owner and simply lets his own amiability and honesty work for him.

Dora Flood, the town madam, is of the same good-hearted nature as the others. Ironically, she is as much a success as the boys are failures. She runs “a good house,” has remarkable business instincts, but treats her girls with dignity, compassion, and generosity. Her good-naturedness is proven when the town is infected with influenza and Dora and her girls nurse back to health the poor, the infirm, and the young. She is, nevertheless, not as interesting a character as Doc or Mack because she is so thoroughly stereotypical. The whore with the heart of gold was a common figure in the post-Romantic literature of the twentieth century, particularly during the Depression of the 1930’s, when “good” girls sold their bodies but kept pure their souls.

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Critical Essays