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Analyzing Characters Through Ricketts’ Tidal Classifications

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by Sue Curtin, Delaware Valley High School, Milford, PA, 2009


Rather than strictly relying on classification by phylum, Ed Ricketts developed the idea that diverse species can be studied by the ways that they interact with each other in their own complex tidal worlds. What if this idea were developed and extrapolated upon to analyze different literary characters and their behaviors within different groups and settings within the novel? The result could be a more profound understanding of complex characterization. I will give the students a brief background of Ricketts’ ideas as a jumping off point. I will then give my own take on Ricketts as a way to study literature with examples. Finally, I will ask the students to apply these ideas to Cannery Row.

Grade Level

This lesson is for a medium to lower-level high school student, it may work with a higher level middle school student.


Ricketts & Character PowerPoint PresentationSample Tidal Pool MadMen PowerPoint Presentation, a homework sheet, and an essay assignment sheet. Laptops to write the essay in class.

Structure (using 45-minute periods)

3 to 3 1/2 class periods with two homework assignments and an in class essay. You decide the point values of the three assignments.

Day 1

  1. After students have read Cannery Row, show Ricketts & Character PowerPoint and explain the classification concepts.
  2. Show Sample Tidal Pool Mad Men slides. Discuss. Set up homework assignment.

Day 2

  1. Have student get into groups of 3 or 4 and discuss their homework. Can they answer each others’ questions just from the homework? Have the groups pick one member to present his/her homework to the class.
  2. Go over the Cannery Row homework assignment (assignment on next page copied so you can just cut it and give it out typed up for the students).

Homework Assignment for Day #2

Create 4 tidal pool groupings using characters from Cannery Row. Highlight one character within the different groups who interests you. Ed Ricketts collecting in the intertidal

collector in tidepool

Day 3

  1. Using last night’s assignment and the book, complete the essay (page 3). You may need time the next day for students to finish the essay.

Tidal Pool Essay Assignment

Choose one character from Cannery Row who lives in many different social tidal pools within the book. Write a 5 to 7-paragraph essay that explains the complex nature/personality of your character citing the different tidal pools he/she dwells in. Be as specific as possible. You may use quotes from the text.

backside of cannery, front of Ricketts lab, inside of cannery in operation