The Old Curiosity Shop

by Charles Dickens

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Do Nell Trent's sacrifices in The Old Curiosity Shop and the failed party in Cannery Row suggest humans can't fulfil good intentions?

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Nell Trent’s sacrifices for her grandfather in The Old Curiosity Shop convey that good intentions do not always yield good outcomes, as they both die. Mack’s efforts to make a fabulous party for Doc in Cannery Row, in contrast, show the benefits of emotional investments.

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Charles Dickens’s novel The Old Curiosity Shop presents numerous sacrifices that a girl, Nell Trent, makes for her grandfather. Both of them have good intentions and want to help each other, but they are held back in various ways. Little Nell’s youth largely limits her ability to add to the family’s financial well-being, but the grandfather’s gambling addiction is more detrimental, because it constantly drains their meager resources.

For a while, the two of them escape the clutches of the villainous Quilp and provide mutual emotional support during the time they are on the run. It seems for a while that they have found sanctuary in working at the church and that the Single Gentleman can provide a more substantial change of fortune. Although Nell’s innocence and virtue are preserved, neither she nor her grandfather live to enjoy a life of ease.

John Steinbeck’s Cannery Row offers a glimpse into the lives of people on the margins of society in Depression-era California. Steinbeck emphasizes the sense of good fellowship and respect that Mack and his associates have for the scientist they call Doc. When they decide to throw him a birthday party, it initially seems that their good intentions will pay off. While the positive aura of the party is shattered by the onslaught of the fishermen, the men seem to enjoy the brawl. When the police arrive, they become guests rather than acting as enforcers of the law. While Mack’s situation does not change for the better, he has succeeded in creating a memorable experience for Doc, who—despite the epic mess left for him to clean up—appreciates the value of the affection the others have shown.

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