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Deep Sea Metaphor Project for Cannery Row

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by Doonie Brewer, Holderness School, Plymouth, New Hampshire, 2007

Grade Level: 8th - 10th


  1. Steinbeck-Ricketts connection – approaches to science and philosophy
  2. Deep Sea Life - Symbiotic Relationships
  3. Deep Sea Life - Colonial Communities
  4. The Metaphors - Connection of Characters (or groups of characters) in Cannery Row to 1-3 above


This project is intended to be ongoing and coincide with the reading of the text. It is also intended to be an interdisciplinary approach, combining “ocean literacy” efforts with understanding of literature. Lastly, it is intended to be a final, or culminating, assignment for the novel. Time spent on the project will vary by grade level. To determine how much time to allot for this, be sure to add to the actual reading time…1.) computer lab/research session(s), 2.) student presentation sessions, and 3.) final assessment preparation (essay or creative/visual project)


  1. Teachers will prepare for this project by researching for themselves to determine which creatures in the deep sea are symbiotic, which are colonial in nature. Teachers will also have an understanding of “Doc” Ed Ricketts’ “revolutionary” approach to studying marine life and his influence on Steinbeck. Your preparation will ensure that the students find what is needed for the continuation of the metaphor!
  2. Assign research topics to the students. Splitting the class in any way you deem appropriate (group or individual work), ask the students to research the association between Ed Ricketts and John Steinbeck, particular deep sea creatures (that YOU name) that survive based on symbiotic relationships or colonial communities.
  3. Assessment 1 – Student Research Presentations. Students present their topic/creature to their classmates. (N.B. if the concepts of colonial communities and symbiotic relationships are “fuzzy” or if the relevant Ricketts-Steinbeck connection is missed, teacher will ask concluding questions to evoke these notions from the students)
  4. Assign final essay or creative/visual project, asking the students to choose between 3 topics while making direct reference to the novel:
    1. Considering Ricketts’ notion of the importance of studying a marine creature in its own habitat, explore the importance of the Cannery Row environment to the people who live there.
      [Guiding Questions for students: How has Steinbeck created a unique habitat for his characters? How has the presence of the characters impacted Cannery Row?]
    2. Explore how the notion of symbiotic relationships as they relate to characters in Cannery Row.
    3. Explore how the notion of colonial communities as they relate to characters in Cannery Row.

Word to the Wise

  • Allow for research time during class sessions if group work is assigned.
  • Student Research Presentations should be informative, but “low pressure” (or informal) since this is only the literal part of the metaphor project and it is NOT the final assessment. Consider counting it as a quiz or double homework grade.
  • Student Research Presentations may be understood more fully if the Ricketts-Steinbeck researchers present first.
  • If a creative/visual final assessment is assigned, consider a follow-up student response to the project (in writing).



  • Cannery Row – by John Steinbeck
  • The Sea of Cortez (originally The Log from the Sea of Cortez) - by John Steinbeck
  • Between Pacific Tides – by Edward F. Ricketts and Jack Calvin (rev. by Joel W. Hedgpeth)
  • Any Marine Biology texts or reference books