and people, Steinbeck’s novel raised awareness of the values of Taoism, in which non-action, non-materialism, self-knowledge and flexibility made for true contentment. As Number 11 stated, “It is the space within that makes it useful” and this aptly describes the book and the writer’s skills, as he “let the stories crawl in by themselves” (Steinbeck, Intro.) This essay will examine the characters and significant events, relating these to the tenets of Taoism, and contending that it was indeed Steinbeck’s aim to share and enlighten with this novel.
By opening the stories with Lee Chong’s shop, Steinbeck created an immediate psychological link to Chinese culture, beliefs and the Tao. The link was confirmed and extended, when through Lee Chong, Mack and the boys emerged.
“Mack and his friends approached contentment casually, quietly and absorbed it gently” (Steinbeck 9), reflecting Number 48 of the Tao. His dealings with them in allowing for the creation of the Palace Flophouse, showed “Yielding is the way of the Tao”. (40) and “Yield and overcome” (22). His actions resulted in a balanced win-win situation. he had customers, caretakers and defenders of his property, while Mack and his friends had a home. Steinbeck further related Lee Chong to the Tao by suggesting “..perhaps he is evil balanced and held by good” (11), and Mack and the boys he linked thus to Number 22: “Mack and the boys are the Beauties, the Virtues, the Graces” (Steinbeck 11). In two short chapters, Cannery Row and many of its important players began to come alive, and the significant places, the shop and the flophouse were established. In the wider society of the time, these places and people would seem of little value, but in fact, they reflected the concepts in Number 39, that “the low is the foundation of the high” and “Too much success is not an advantage”.