Cannery Anne isn’t getting a lot of attention these days. I found only one mention at Google Books. It’s on p. 36 of Daughters of the Great Depression by Laura Hapke. She blows the book off in two sentences, somehow finding it “lightly comic” and (despite its vivid and unusual depiction of interaction among industrial workers at work) “negligible.” She dismisses the title character, who has clearly been around the block a few times, as a “free-spirited but virginal fruit gypsy.” Yes, novels can be read in many ways. As for Morris Hull, my best guess is that he grew up in Illinois, graduated from Notre Dame (in 1931), did some graduate work at Iowa, bounced around the country, worked for a while in a California cannery, married in 1940, lived most of his later life in Arkansas (doing what I don’t know), and died in 1989. I haven’t discovered what else (if anything) he wrote.
Cannery Anne by Morris Hull. Houghton Mifflin (1936), 267 pp.
Anne, an itinerant worker of about twenty, arrives at a small Bay Area cannery at the start of the peach harvest. She’s worked there before and easily gets a job at the conveyor belt pitting peaches. It’s an unchallenging task for an experienced hand, and Anne is soon helping a novice on the line. When Anne’s newly married friends Ruby and Johnny show up, she’s able to abandon her sleeping place in a nearby orchard and move into a small house with them. Another auspicious event is the arrival of Scot, a lithe and unperturbable newcomer to canning who quickly takes an interest in Anne. Her only serious problem may come from Mario, the young and brutish foreman who likes to take liberties with his female subordinates. The story follows these characters and others through one canning season.
Ordinarily, novels about industrial workers have a left-wing orientation. Authors who care enough about the workers to write a book about them usually want to find a solution to working-class problems. Cannery Anne is an exception. Hull doesn’t try to hide the grim terms of employment. Long hours, repetitious tasks, uncertain tenure, arbitrary management, occasional hazards -- all are convincingly portrayed in detail and at length. What’s missing is working-class consciousness. Anne and her fellows don’t like their working conditions, but they accept the system. They never imagine unions, strikes or any form of organized protest. Their hopes are personal. Readers are left to make of this what they will. For that reason the book would make interesting assigned reading in labor history classes.