Kind-hearted and open to the world around him, Ed is described as the "the most charming married man in Monterey County”.
Ed is brilliant - a scientist and philosopher. He has a mind of a genius with an endless energy to work, play and discover. He is curious about all of life and the deeper connections not often seen. Ed is on a lifelong journey of self-discovery. He strives to live a life above less-desirable human traits - and often finds this to be very difficult in practice.
He is described as "half-Christ and half-goat", "a great teacher and a great lecher". His greatest weakness is women. His second greatest weakness is beer. He has countless affairs and when he falls in love, he falls hard.
He is unable to hold together his marriage or family. But he's excellent at holding together friendships - and he has many, very powerful friendships. People of all walks of life admire him deeply. He is genuinely interested in people and is an excellent listener. He has a profound impact on everyone he meets. More...
Highly intelligent, deeply creative, and hilariously witty. Carol has a fire burning inside - one that celebrates the unorthodox and bohemian. She enjoys her adventures with John, living as struggling artists. She sketches comical female nudes, publishes erotic poetry under the name Amanda Glasscock, and writes marching songs for Union strikes.
Carol edits and types all of John's manuscripts. She is his mainstay and creative partner. She works day jobs as the sole-breadwinner so John can focus on his writing. She sacrifices her ambitions, talents and a pregnancy for the sake of helping John find his voice. John dedicates his masterpiece The Grapes of Wrath: "To Carol, who willed this book."
John is not an overtly affectionate partner - and Carol falls in love with the young and charismatic, Joseph Campbell - yet she stays in her marriage to John anyway. As John achieves more success and becomes more distant, Carol's alcohol dependency deepens.
Their once-strong bond is continually challenged with mutual infidelities until John finally leaves Carol for a Hollywood starlet.
At 18, Xenia is fearless, defiant – striking out on her own from Alaska as a new transplant in Monterey County. She uses her stunning beauty as a tool for getting what she wants - which is to be taken seriously, as an adult. Yet her immaturity often gets in her own way. She can be impulsive, competitive and attention seeking. She loves to push boundaries wherever she can - in relationships, society and morality.
She is enamored with Ed, partially because her sister, Sasha, has her own intimate relationship with him. Xenia decides to lose her virginity to Ed – regardless that he is married, and pursues him until he relents. Soon after, she seduces Joe as well. These are the men at the center of everyone's attention. And that is right where she strives to be.
Xenia has a growing appreciation for the arts, and for the creative, bohemian spirit of the people in her sister's circle of friends. She finds work as a nude model for sculptors and photographers. She falls in love with composer John Cage, and marries him, regardless of his open relationships with men. Another testament to her attraction to the unconventional side of living.
Nan is dedicated to running an efficient, practical household while raising her and Ed's three young children. She takes great pride in her family and the fact that they own their own Lab business, even though it is small. Nan collects specimens in the tide-pools for the Lab and builds handmade furniture to sell to help make ends meet.
She has a deep sense of morality and lives by a traditional code of social behaviour. But Nan is barely holding on to her dignity as her husband explores his new ideas with his group of friends. While it is painful to not be included in the social circle - she is also less interested in the bohemian lifestyle they all strive for. Nan yearns for stability and even respectability. She isn't a prude and she can appreciate the group's ambitions - the struggle for her is that she is in a marriage that is affected by it all. As Ed explores his
sexuality with numerous women in the community, including the beautiful and wild, Xenia, Nan is deeply hurt, embarrassed and angry.
As a woman in the 1930's, Nan has few options for striking out on her own. She finally finds the strength to leave Ed, take the children and start a new life with a new found dignity in attempt to create her own happiness.
At age 24, Joseph has driven West to California to become a writer. Upon arrival he looks up and old summer flame: Carol, whom he had met once in high school on a family vacation to Hawaii. Joe is handsome and athletic, he is well educated and intelligent. And he immediately fits into the epicenter of the Lab Group, befriending both John and Ed.
Joe is entranced by both men. He starts to dress like John, and spend all his time with Ed at the Lab. He writes and reads and joins the group discussions. When they find out he has never drank before, a huge, multi-day party is thrown for Joe to drink and party like they all do.
Joe and Carol's relationship becomes serious, and threatens her marriage to John - causing major strife in the group of friends. Ed takes Joe on a long expedition to Alaska to get him away from the Steinbeck's so they can work on their marriage. And it is on this trip that Joe finds his true calling, to study mythology and anthropology. Returning to California, Joe packs up and heads back to New York and pursues a career that makes him one of the leading thinkers in American culture. However, his love for Carol never fades even though they never get back together again.
Harold Bicknell likes to go by "Gabe". He is a vagabond living with a group of other vagabonds in the Vacant lot between the Lone Star Brothel and Wing Chong Market - directly across from The Lab.
Gabe was "born, raised and ruined" in Monterey. A former boxer and a terrible drunk. He has a violent side that comes out when he drinks.
Gabe never stops by just to say hi. He always wants something and will try to get it without the other person even realizing they've given something. He convinces Mr. Wong that the boys will be doing him a favor by living in the vacant Fish Meal Shed. And, after Ed gives him a note for gas so he can collect frogs for Ed, Gabe tries to get some of that gas in a canister so he can sell it.
Ed and John both see how Gabe is more content than
anyone because he isn't in the rat-race. He is happy sitting in the shade and watching the frenzied world give itself ulcers from stress and striving.
But Gabe does want to change in some ways. Namely, to learn how to do something nice for somebody without it only benefitting him.
The madame of a bordello/speakeasy named THE LONE STAR CAFE, across from the Lab and next to the Vacant Lot and Wing Chong Market on Cannery Row. Flora runs a tight ship, keeping fishermen, sailors, politicians, businessmen and even clergy happy with the girls she employs. Flora is a large woman with a large personality - never without her signature flame-orange wig piled high and a nile-green evening dress.
Flora is generous to a fault, sending money to needy families, paying grocery bills and giving to every charity in the community - this is part of the cost of doing business in her profession.
Flora becomes a great friend to Ed and leans in on him when the community turns on against her.
In many ways Flora is like Ed. She's kind and caring, and she's got a touch of steel—the "carborundum" that makes Ed punch Gabe in the nose and makes Flora marshal her girls into little Florence Nightingales. And yet, when Gabe needs advice about how to make things up to Ed, he visits Flora. Like Ed, she helps take care of the people in Cannery Row.
Unlike Ed, Flora is right at home with the bums and prostitutes. She's one of them—just successful. Note, there's no Gregorian chants coming from her brothel late at night
Won Yee owns a grocery store on Cannery Row with his family. Since everyone on the Row owes him money, he's also the de facto local banker. Mr. Won is a savvy
businessman, but he is on the front-lines with his customers - most of which are struggling financially - and often finds himself compassionately extending far more credit to people than most stores or banks ever would.
On the surface, Mr. Won is a law-abiding, upstanding citizen. But, like everyone else in town, there is more to him than meets the eye. Mr. Won is a prolific bootlegger and hosts one of the largest poker games in town. Another reason everyone owes him money.
Being of Chinese descent, Mr. Won and his family are targets for racism - overt and covert. For instance, the Sheriff will always bust Mr. Won before others. And many openly wonder how a man can follow the teachings of Lao Tze and the tenets of American capitalism - those same people can't face their own Christian-Capitalist hypocrisy.
Mr. Won and Ed grow close as friends and neighbors. They delight each other with open talks of Eastern and Western spirituality and philosophy. And they have each others backs in the face of harassment.