Mack and the boys . . . are the Virtues, the Graces, the Beauties
of the hurried mangled craziness of Monterey and the cosmic
Monterey where men in fear and hunger destroy their stomachs
in the fight to secure certain food, where men hungering for
love destroy everything lovable about them . . . In the world
ruled by tigers with ulcers, rutted by strictured bulls, scavenged
by blind jackals, Mac and the boys dine delicately with the tigers,
fondle the frantic heifers, and wrap up the crumbs to feed the
sea-gulls of Cannery Row. What can it profit a man to gain the
whole world and come to his property with a gastric ulcer, a
blown prostate, and bifocals? Mack and the boys avoid the trap,
step over the poison. . . .
I think they survive in this particular world better than other
people. In a time when people tear themselves to pieces with
ambition and nervousness and covetousness, they are relaxed.
All of our so-called successful men are sick men, with bad stomachs,
and bad souls, but Mack and the boys are healthy and
curiously clean. They can do what they want. They can satisfy
their appetites without calling them something else.
And the final paradox of all, Doc continues (a paradox which bemuses
Ethan Hawley in The Winter of Our Discontent), is the fact that virtues like
honesty, spontaneity, and kindness are - in the world of the machine - almost
always associated with "failure," while the traits of "success" include greed,
sharpness, suspicion, hypocrisy, envy, disaffection, and general meanness -
what Dostoevsky called "the toothache of the soul." It is this paradox which
Steinbeck examines lightly, lovingly, and sardonically; after all, where both
human freedom and human virtue are obsolete, the result is itself an
absurdity. The result of this examination, of course, is a "lightness" which
contains a total bitterness - the bitterness not of a...