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. ...
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".
The imagery, atmosphere and lyricism present in Chapter 2, combined to bring Cannery Row itself to life as a hub, a character of vital importance and a place possessing all the qualities expressed in Number 11. As evening descended, that emptiness took on a deeper meaning, and the simplicity moved forward into the complexity of meanings that Steinbeck was developing. "Therefore profit comes from what is there; Usefulness from what is not there."
Dora, the whore-house madam lived, by her actions and integrity, the principles of Number 68 - "A good employer is humble" and "This is known as the ability to deal with people". These qualities emerged in her "special gifts of tact and honesty, charity and a certain realism" (Steinbeck 11), denoting an understanding and acceptance of her position in life and related to Number 13 - "Accept disgrace willingly". That was something that was also seen later as applicable to Mack, after the trashing of Doc's home and the failed party. Dora also epitomized 42, in that she could "truly care for all things".
Doc himself might be understood as the hub, the empty space, in Number 11, and also as the wise person in 22, for he seemed "really whole". Steinbeck showed this in the phrase "Everyone who knew him was indebted to him. And everyone thought next 'I really must do something nice for Doc'" (16). This could equate to Number 66, "The whole world will support him and will not tire of him". In relation to Doc's dealings with