I found Tender at the Bone to be an interesting memoir that was ultimately shaped by its central theme. The ever-presence of food in the story not only reflected Reichl’s passion for cooking but also allowed the book to avoid becoming too depressing. Reichl, and the people in her life, experience unfortunate and melancholy issues ranging from mental conditions to failed dreams, but food always seems to intervene throughout the pages, distracting the reader and lightening the mood. Alice apparently influenced Reichl by having her adopt the practice of cooking when things are tense, and subsequently writing about cooking when situations are tense also. Another strong point of this book is that the people in Reichl’s life seem as though they are manufactured characters from a novel. Although at first this may sound like a bad thing, in my opinion it is the opposite. An author goes to extraordinary lengths to develop a character throughout a novel, shaping him or her with experiences, personality, etc. However, the people Reichl meets are already so perfectly suited to be in this book. They all tie into the theme and contribute in some way. No character lacks an underlying story or unique personality. Reichl takes advantage of this by discussing these people in detail as well as allow the reader to determine how they shaped Reichl into the person she is today. While it is true that there is something to be said about every character, I feel as thought there were rich stories that were unfortunately left out of the memoir. Reichl’s brother is briefly mentioned as is her biological grandmother.
Wednesday, March 17, 2010
- “He was beaten. He knew that”(11).
- “I’ll look after her myself. Epsom salt’ll do the trick. That’s the best thing.”(84).
The brief sentences that are prevalent in this book serve a purpose. Characters in Cannery Row are described more in paragraphs detailing their personalities instead of through the plot. It is true that much can be inferred by their actions, but the narrator’s description of events he deems unnecessary most often consist of short sentences which are terse but get the point across. The narrator peers into Lee Chong’s thoughts, “He was beaten. He knew that”(11). What Lee Chong thinks about the situation is not central to the larger idea that the boys are trying to intimidate their way into the storage building. The author uses longer and more detailed sentences when speaking of this, not Lee Chong.
Dialogue is treated differently by Steinbeck. Dialogue in short sentence form as spoken by Mack and the boys is characteristically shorter. The boys are not highly educated people, representing the status quo of Cannery Row. The people of the community are not upper class, (those who are are mentioned to live further away) and this can be inferred in the simplistic speech. The dialogue reflects the absolute basics; the boys do not elaborate, instead they say all that needs to be said. The people’s sentences are similar to the narrator’s, however the narrator can, and does elaborate throughout the novel whereas the average citizens speak enough to get their point across. The majority of the in depth details and characterization come from the author’s commentary.
- Opening paragraph before chapter 1.
- Second paragraph of chapter 6
- Fifth paragraph of chapter 11
- Fourth paragraph of chapter 18
Steinbeck’s diction does two things, focuses on small details meant to involve the reader by making him feel as though he is really there, and personify objects through his diction to make them feel as though they too are part of the town. The opening paragraph of the novel contains words that Steinbeck specifically chose to relay the feeling of a town worn and dilapidated by hardship. Words such as “splintered wood”, “chipped pavement”, “weedy lots” “corrugated iron” and “junk heaps” illustrate this community to the reader. The community is shaped by poverty, not only is it evident in the slow economy, but physically visible at every turn in Cannery Row. Reading his diction transports you to the neglected seafaring town.
Lee Chong’s truck passed through many citizens of Monterey, and through that metaphorically became one of the citizens itself. Over the years it had gained as much character as many of the townspeople, and it is because of this that Steinbeck treats it as a person in his writing style. He describes it as “sullen and senile”(63)., a personification due to the elderly persona that this broken-down automobile radiates.
Every part of the town, whether it be human machine, adds to the individuality of Cannery Row. Such personality is even given to an octopus that is described as, “the creeping murderer”(31). “Evil”, “ferociously”, “savagely” and the “murdering” of the crab by the octopus are human descriptions given to the octopus to include it as a character.
I enjoyed this novel because it was different then others I have read, it did not revolve around the plot, rather the plot (or lack thereof) helped define the characters, which ultimately the story was about. The weak plot line was not a flaw in my opinion, instead I recognized that Steinbeck used this lack of constraint to mold his characters and tell their story. Mack and the gang’s quest for frogs was irrelevant, it was what happened during that journey to get the frogs that was critical. However, I did feel that although the plot was not of importance, more interesting events could have occurred that would have delved deeper into the souls of John Steinbeck’s already philosophic characters. After reading the book it seemed that so many questions remain unanswered, so many stories left untold. Cannery Row and its residents seemed to have so much personality that remained untapped by Steinbeck. The people of Cannery Row together created the mood and feel of the lower class neighborhood of degenerates and low-lives. I enjoyed these realism of these characters, for everything about them seemed genuine and real. Their internal and external struggles as well as the internal and external events that affected their lives were detailed and therefore held my interest. Cannery Row was not merely a small city, it was a microcosm of America at large. This microcosm documents the trials and hardships that these people, as well as Americans, go through: poverty, loneliness, violence, etcetera. Cannery Row reminds us that the purposefully forgotten parts of our society, the, “whores, pimps, gamblers, and sons of bitches,”(1). , have to live somewhere, and the place where they reside is filled with good people who attempt to do good thing. This believable realism is why it is a classic and is so beloved by readers such as myself.
Cannery Row is a story in which nearly every man has family troubles, or more specifically, woman troubles. The book is filled with men who are unable to happily stay with a woman, reflecting John Steinbeck’s personal experience with his two divorces. Mr. and Mrs Malloy’s depressing quarrel over window curtains, McKinley Moran’s three failed marriages (“He got married three times before his dough run out”(79).) , Doc’s past college love trouble as well as present loneliness, Richard Frost’s fights with his wife, Mack’s wife leaving him, and Henri’s temporary girlfriends. One would suspect that Steinbeck’s love life influenced Cannery Row, or even to go as far as to say that it is a symbolic metaphor for his experience with love. Steinbeck curses his male characters with this universal flaw, so that all his characters will reflect him in this way.
Mary Talbot, a woman progressing towards insanity who has an fondness for tea parties, draws similarities with the Mad Hatter of Alice in Wonderland. Talbot remedies her anxiety with parties, to the point of delusion and isolation from what is really going on in reality. After her cat misbehaves she laments, “I’m going to have trouble inviting her again”(155). She attempts to punish the cat by barring it from joining in tea parties; such behavior is completely delusional and akin to the Mad Hatter.
The wave of misfortune that affects Cannery Row in the latter part of the novel is banished and things start to improve. The residents saw this evil as a metaphorical wall, not unlike the Berlin Wall. Once it is broken things seem to improve, “The wall of evil and of waiting was broken. It broke away in chunks”(148). When the Berlin Wall was demolished by the hands of the oppressed it ushered in a prosperity unseen in East Germany since before the wall was created.
- “That Doc is a fine fellow. We ought to do something for him” (13) foreshadowing
- “A chair appeared and a cot and another chair”(12). Symbolism
- “Eddie watched his stove like a mother hen”(123). simile
- “The cat let it get nearly to the cover of the blackberry vines and then she reached delicately out and white thorns had sprouted from her paw”(154). irony, symbolism
Cannery Row, a story of a small town that derives its character from its residents contains rhetorical strategies that illustrate the personalities of the denizens and symbols which allude to greater themes or even other residents.
Steinbeck foreshadows Mack and the boys attempt to repay Doc’s generosity, forgiveness, and kindness by throwing him a party, through the notion that it has entered the group’s mind that Doc deserves to be appreciated. This also shows the compassion that these misfits nevertheless have. Eddie, trying to bake a cake in appreciation Doc’s various assistance over the years, never lets his attention waiver. Eddie cares nothing of the outside world and protects the cake as a hen would protect its chicks. The gopher towards the close of the novel seems familiar because it is a symbol of Mack and his gang. The gopher works diligently trying to find a mate and live comfortably, just as Mack and the boys do. Various tunnels and chambers are created to make a more lavish burrow for the gopher, and parallel to the gopher, Mack and the boys steal furniture to embellish their meager surroundings, “A chair appeared and a cot and another chair”(12). The gophers failure is represented with his battle, similarly Mack and the boys fail by ruining Doc’s first party. Both events cause both parties to rethink their actions.