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When hitch-hiking, never forget the generous person who allowed passageway by the use of their vehicle. Other acts of kindness are shown throughout Cannery Row, but many of them sadly end in complete and utter disaster. Nonetheless, generosity can be found embedded into many of the characters introduced in this novel. Because this great work of literature is set during the period of time when America was at its lowest, the Great Depression, it rises the question of wealth being a key contribution to one’s character. Does lack of money affect individuals natural generous nature? An abundance of impecunious people roam the streets of the small town of Cannery Row, California. In Cannery Row, by John Steinbeck, living becomes increasingly difficult as the necessities to live become more costly than the average citizen can afford. In a town where people are always in desperate need of money, generosity provided by others becomes necessary to society. Each character experiences lack of money and the restraints that come with it, whether they are naturally generous or not. Generous individuals find other ways besides the use of money to express their selflessness to other people.
Almost everyone in the small town of Cannery Row is plagued with the hardships that come with the absence of money. When this becomes a well known problem, the city is left in the hands of those who have items that are necessary to one’s ability to live. Lee Chong is the owner of the grocery store that is dependant on providing food for the population of this town. This man is an individual who gave significantly to the unemployed and ravenous people living in this community (7 Steinbeck). When Lee knew his grocery store clients had a table of underfed children waiting back home for them and no money to purchase their items, he allowed them to take the groceries and pay later, knowing he was never going to get the money (6). Lee Chong gave to people in his community in the only way he could. He could not give them money or jobs, so he blessed them with food. Though Lee Chong quickly became rich in unpaid debt by impecunious community members, he never failed to give to people in need throughout the story.
Another character that disregarded his unfortunate finances, but still gave when he could was Mack. Mack was a gentle soul with a rough exterior, but despite those qualities, he sought to throw a party for the kindest and most benevolent man in Cannery Row (29). Mack is a penniless character who worked more than an average person would to get supplies and food for this party (46). Along the way to throwing this party, Mack committed illegal acts and made promises he couldn’t ensure he could keep (56). He put his life at risk just to throw a party for this man because displaying his gratefulness held much importance to him (82). Though he didn’t possess any money, he did manual labour in exchange for needed items (94). Mack is a character whose generosity prospered into a beautiful flower that never failed to give.
Dora Flood enhances the entire story of Cannery Row with her kind spirit and comforting nature. Dora is the owner of Cannery Row’s whorehouse and when she did make what profit she could off of this business, she decided during these times in need to aid in paying for desperate families’ grocery bills (Steinbeck 18). After a continuation of this much needed generosity, Dora nearly went broke (18). Even when Dora went nearly broke, she continued to provide food and comfort to her community. When Cannery Row had an influenza outbreak, medical professionals refused to help or care for the ill and destitute children because they knew they would lose time and money if they assisted during these vulnerable times (97). Dora was the first person to volunteer anything to help these indigent children. Since she did not have money, she supplied the children with warm soup and comfort (98). Dora ungrudgingly gave her time, comfort, and food to the grateful people of Cannery Row.
There are very few individuals who had any kind of necessities to offer their community. These influential character’s, Chong Lee, Dora, and Doc, changed the lives of many throughout the story by presenting the people of Cannery Row with the natural generous nature each of them held. When the entire town of Cannery Row’s well-being took a step down, these individuals took a step up and gave graciously.
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