I visited Monterey’s Cannery Row yesterday and was disheartened by the presence of a Bubba Gump Shrimp Company, a Steinbeck Jewelry Store, and more t-shirt, fudge, and novelty sock shops …there were two Thomas Kinkade, Painter of Light Galleries. It was no different from any aggressively terrible tourist trap experience — Times Square or Key West come to mind — except this one was founded on the basis of a fine book by a Nobel Prize winner in literature.
John Steinbeck is one of my favorite American writers, a man who gave voice to a place (Cannery Row and Salinas) and its people with great heart and insight. While someone had the foresight to erect a bronze bust of the man on the dock near an overpriced seafood restaurant, and hang some street pole banners quoting his work, I shuffled down the sidewalks a bit ashamed of the dreck and materialism of a place made plastic from the shells of some old smelly sardine canneries. What would Doc Ricketts have made of the scene? He would have been pleased by the world renowned Aquarium (which I passed on due to the amazing crush of infants and toddlers and other ankle-biters) but little else.
It was with some irony that I read online that Steinbeck had turned his back on Monterey in disgust in 1945, a year after buying a home there:
“1944 – Bought his childhood dream house in Monterey (Lara-Soto Adobe), first son Thom was born August 2; harassed by the local people because of his success and the books he wrote.
1945 – An unhappy Steinbeck leaves Monterey to help film “The Pearl”; moved to New York, never returning to the house he bought.”
Given that The Grapes of Wrath were burned in his hometown of Salinas, and Steinbeck’s books are consistently the most banned in America, it should be a surprise that Monterey turned on him as well. Still, the t-shirt sellers and fudge makers are doing well by dropping his good name.
One thought on “Steindreck”
johnSteinbeck in real life was not the hero you may believe. He alienated his children, neighbors and friends. the real Steinbeck may be much closer to the glitz of thw tourist traps you’re writing about. One of the real jokes told about Steinbeck is thati f you wanted to se him run,real fast, make sure he got the bar check for his drinks.
And his relationship with Doc wasn’t exactly the stuff of Leave it Beaver. Sea of Cortez is much better reflection, I believe than the gritty Cannery Row taught in lit classes 3000 miles removed from the manmade catastrophe of the Sardine fishery of depression era Monterey. Monterey of that period was a filthy town that could have been a back lot for films about Pearl Harbor. And Steinbeck ditched it and his friends as soon as he could cash checks from east coast publishers and hollywood film studios.
Dave, sorry to burst your bubble, but Steinbeck was not a nice man, as his two sons attest. He was a fearless writer who broke many molds, but he was deeply influenced by Upton Sinclair.
Buty your analysis of Monterey is spot on , it’s a tourist trap where you can get badly themed tatoos.
Just my outspoken two cents.
JimF a lover of California based writers and their pioneering legacies.