John Steinbeck is an author who wrote in the early 1900s that makes use of setting, characterization, theme, irony, foreshadowing, and symbolism in his many novels. Steinbeck has modeled most of his work off of his own life. His home state, California, has been found to be the setting for some of his novels. Cannery Row, Of Mice and Men, and The Pearl are all novels by John Steinbeck. These novels not only encompass rich sensory details of each setting, but also use characterization, theme, irony, and symbolism to their advantage. Cannery Row, Of Mice and Men, and The Pearl have similarities in setting, although one does not take place in the same area as the others. Cannery Row and Of Mice and Men take place in California. Both of these novels concern conflict with the working class during the early 1900s.
The Pearl takes place in a village in Mexico around the same time as the other two novels. Although the setting is not exactly the same, The Pearl, like the other two novels, concerns the life of the working class. Another difference is that The Pearl examines working class from the point of view of one family, but the other two novels use characters from different areas of the working class. Taking that into consideration, the characters in these three novels by John Steinbeck are basically in the same situation; however, the different personalities of the characters change the outcome of conflict they encounter. Cannery Row is focused around the protagonist, Mack, and his friends. They all face conflict when they decide to throw a party for Doc, the town biologist. There is a unique structure to Cannery Row in terms of plot structure. Steinbeck uses multiple concurrent stories merging together to draw parallels in the lives of the characters.
This is a unique characteristic about the literary style used in the novel to give an account of the lifestyles of the characters rather than have the novel focus on a central conflict. However, the subplots in the concurrent stories occurring while Mack and his friends are trying to organize the party range from serving as an example of character development to being completely insignificant. Among the subplots in Cannery Row, a reoccurring and significant character is introduced. Frankie is a mentally handicapped boy who has been living with Doc since he was eleven (Cannery Row 57). Frankie often messes up simple tasks that Doc gives him, but there seems to be an unconditional love and a general desire for wellbeing between them in a father-to-son way.
This is nearly identical to the relationship between Lennie and George in Of Mice and Men. Lennie is a mentally handicapped laborer around the same age as his friend, George. Because of Lennie’s frequent mistakes, George and he are run out of town and headed toward a new job. In the end, Lennie makes the same mistakes he has done before in his old town, which ultimately leads to his death. The relationship between Lennie and George is not necessarily a father-to-son relationship, because there is no real age difference between the two; however, the unconditional love, forgiveness, and desire for wellbeing creates one character serving as a caregiver and one character in need of care, which is also present in Cannery Row. The pearl in The Pearl by John Steinbeck can be identified as a character because it seems to posses a supernatural presence. This unique pearl falls into the hands of Kino and his family, and their reaction is to use it to fund a future for their baby, Coyotito.
Although the family has good intentions, Kino is left morally and socially handicapped with greed. In a sense, this is the caregiver and care receiver relationship at work. The pearl provides for Kino and his family while Kino is left with a handicap. With these distinct characters placed in the midst of the world of mentally and physically demanding labor, a theme emerges. In Cannery Row, Frankie gets arrested for stealing a clock from a jewelry store to give to Doc for his party. When Doc asks him why he did it, Frankie replied, “I love you,” Instead of fighting to try and get Frankie freed, Doc runs out of the police station (Cannery Row 173-175). The theme that emerges here is: sometimes broken things should be cleared out of the way to make way for change, even if it means giving up something that one has grown accustomed to. Doc did not try to avoid getting rid of Frankie, although it may have caused him pain to let go of someone who has been around him for so long.
This theme also appears in Of Mice and Men. Lennie, throughout the story, is known to like to pet soft things, but he accidently kills small animals from petting them too hard. Despite this, George says that when they get enough money to buy a house together, he will let Lennie tend the rabbits. Throughout the story, Lennie constantly asks George to repeat to him the story of getting a house with rabbits that he will be in charge of. One of the coworkers of Lennie and George complains to his boss, Candy, that his dog is old, crippled, and no longer useful, so he suggests that he shoots the dog to put it out of its misery while Candy gets a puppy from one of the workers (Steinbeck 45). Two workers go outside and shoot the dog while Candy lays down silently looking at the ceiling (Steinbeck 47-50).
After a while, Candy asks Lennie and George if he could pay for some of the cost of the house, and in exchange, he could tend the house. Candy goes on to explain that the reason he wants to join them is because he realizes he will end up just like his dog. People would eventually realize he’s too crippled and old to work and kill him (Steinbeck 59-60). This draws parallel to Lennie who, at the end, accidently kills his boss’s son’s wife and is shot by George, showing that the main theme of this novel involves getting rid of the old and broken in order to achieve change. In The Pearl, Kino and his family also face having to let go of something that was flawed. After Coyotito is shot and killed in an attempt to escape being punished for murder, Kino looks at the pearl and sees that it is ugly and gray, contrary to what he claims it was before the murder of Coyotito (Steinbeck 103).
Kino has to examine the entire situation with the pearl at this point to realize that it has been only bringing him misfortune, and in order to achieve change, he has to get rid of it. Another theme that spreads across all of these books by John Steinbeck is that sometimes, good intentions turn bad. In Cannery Row, Mack and his friends have the good intention of throwing a party for Doc, but along the way they encounter many struggles that result in the failure of the first party. In Of Mice and Men, Lennie has the intention to simply feel the softness of his boss’s wife’s hair, but he accidently kills her out of unintended aggression and fear. In The Pearl, Kino and his family plan to use the pearl for their son’s future, but Kino gets overwhelmed with greed and allows harm to come to his family. This theme is also a source of irony in all three novels. Irony is when an event occurs that is opposite to what it expected; therefore, the theme of good intentions turning bad further defines the irony in the novels. There is also a slight character irony in Of Mice and Men. Lennie is physically strong, but not mentally strong, and George is mentally strong, but not physically strong.
Their friendship signifies the overcoming of personal flaws. Another example of irony presides over the plot of The Pearl. This example of irony comes from sacrilegious actions carried out in a setting where the lifestyle of the people revolves around a sacred, faith-based community. The irony of this also leads to the protagonist’s main conflict. However, to say that the conflict in this novel is limited to this community with a sacred lifestyle is a severe understatement. As the plot unfolds, the true conflict is seen as the protagonist’s struggle against supernatural forces rather than against another person. The fact that the conflict is focused around the supernatural presence and omens of the pearl is ironic, because it is expected that the people of the village to not believe in omens. Steinbeck uses a great amount of foreshadowing in his novels.
The first example of which is when he speaks directly to the reader at the beginning of Cannery Row and The Pearl on how he or she should interpret his work. In Cannery Row, He claims that the best way to read the novel is to “let the stories crawl in by themselves,” This is a reference to the work carried out by the people of Cannery Row and a foreshadowing of the writing style of the novel, which is a collection of stories from different people from different lives in the working class (Steinbeck 3). In The Pearl, Steinbeck also speaks to the reader before going into the story. He says that there are only good things and bad things with no in between. He also says “If this story is a parable, perhaps everyone takes his own meaning from it and reads his own life into it,” (Steinbeck 10).
By stating this, Steinbeck is foreshadowing that the story should be a learning experience for the reader. Steinbeck does not directly address the reader in Of Mice and Men, but the title holds foreshadowing for the entire novel. . The title of this book is based on a poem by Robert Burns, which holds a line that says “the best laid schemes of mice and men often go awry,” (“Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck” 1) This foreshadows that there will be a breaking of plans or expected conflict as the plot unfolds. Steinbeck uses the title of the novel effectively as a foreshadowing tool, because as characters and themes emerge, irony becomes evident as a dominant literary technique right from the start. George also foreshadows conflict in the story when he tells Lennie that if Curly, the boss’s son, ever provokes him so far that a fight breaks out, he wants Lennie to hid in a bush that they traveled past while going to their new job. (Of Mice and Men 26).
Among Steinbeck’s many literary techniques, symbolism is one that he uses in a very unique way. Steinbeck often uses the concept of a dreams or hallucinations to get his symbols across to the reader. In Cannery Row, Doc has a hallucination of a dead body of a pale girl with dark hair floating in the water while he was looking for Octopi. The body symbolizes two things. First, it symbolizes natural beauty because Doc stands there and admires how beautiful she looked in the clear water. Second, it symbolizes a parallel image of what happens to the marine animals he takes into his lab once he catches them (Steinbeck 109).
In Of Mice and Men, when all the guys all discover Curley’s wife is dead, they automatically know that Lennie did it. Curley searches for a shotgun to shoot Lennie and brings George along to help hunt him down. Meanwhile, Lennie is in the bush having hallucinations of a giant rabbit and his Aunt Clara, who once took care of him, telling him all the things he has done wrong (Steinbeck 98). This hallucination of the rabbit symbolizes that Lennie’s mistakes have consequences that are now coming back to haunt him. The significance of Aunt Clara telling him what he has done wrong in this hallucination is to symbolize the pain of the guilt that Lennie feels. For the reader to interpret how emotionally hurt Lennie feels, Steinbeck uses a character that the reader knows is a crucial person in Lennie’s life.
The Pearl also uses hallucinations as symbols; however, it is not a primary example of symbolism as in Of Mice and Men and Cannery Row. After realizing that people desire his wealth, Kino became very possessive over the pearl and hides it when he goes to sleep. One night he hears someone attempting to dig up the pearl outside so he grabs his knife and discovers that no one was there. This is a hallucination that symbolizes the paranoia that accompanies greed. The primary example of symbolism in The Pearl is the pearl itself. The pearl symbolizes greed, and how it consumes one’s mind into thinking that one always has good intentions.
All three of these novels are written with unique literary style. Steinbeck’s reoccurring features says a lot about him personally as well as an author. Some of the specific events that occur in each novel may seem bleak, such as the frequent murders in the novels, but Steinbeck effectively uses them to make a statement of an important theme. Cannery Row, Of Mice and Men, and The Pearl by John Steinbeck are all novels that include similar use of setting, characterization, theme, irony, foreshadowing, and symbolism; however, each novel is still unique in literary style.
“Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck.” Enotes.com. Novels For Students/Gale Cengage, n.d. Web. 01 May 2013.
Steinbeck, John. Cannery Row. New York: Penguin Group, 1992. Print. Steinbeck, John. Of Mice and Men. New York: Penguin, 1993. Print Steinbeck, John. The Pearl. New York: Penguin Group, n.d. Apple