Road Tripping: Cannery Row v. On the Road

Cannery Row - John Steinbeck On the Road - Jack Kerouac, Ann Charters

I watched the film version of On the Road the other night, and while watching it I couldn’t help but compare Sal Paradise, Dean Moriarity and their fellow beats to the inhabitants of Cannery Row, more specifically Mack and the boys from the Palace Flophouse.

That is, there aren’t that many similarities but it struck me that both books deal with the stories of characters who have an innate longing for freedom, individuality and a break away from conventional society.


Both are written with a pinch of nostalgia for road trips.


So, thinking about this for a couple of days I made the following observations:The inhabitants of Cannery are pretty nice people. They just want to mind their own business and get on with their day. They might not all subscribe to the same interpretation of morality, but they all seem to be pretty decent people – if anyone is taken advantage of this is with their knowledge and consent and generally in the genuine spirit of everyone having a right to be a chancer. The whole point of the story of Cannery Row is for Mack and the boys to do something nice for Doc – and even when not everything goes as planned everyone still displays a sense of good will.


By contrast, Sal and Dean in On the Road lack the concern for others and instead are mostly concerned with pursuing their own pleasure seeking interests. Many of which invariably seem to result in sponging off other people – be it Sal’s aunt, their friends, wives, girlfriends, whoever. I first read and adored On the Road in my teens , when the ideas of road trips seems pretty cool and the defying defined roles seemed something to aspire to. I would not say that picking up Steinbeck’s novels in the years since that first reading On the Road changed that perception completely.


I still love road trips! However, I’d much rather hang out or collect frogs with the inhabitants of Cannery Row. And let’s face it, their parties sound much more fun than the ones Sal and Dean end up in.