Summary (Magill's Survey of American Literature, Revised Edition)
Around the sardine factories of Cannery Row in Monterey, California, lived those who worked only when they had to, preferring to talk, fight, drink, and be lazy. These are the characters of Steinbeck’s Cannery Row, who have been compared to the rogues depicted in English artist William Hogarth’s engravings and in the picaresque novels of the eighteenth century.
Monterey is only a whisper away from Pacific Grove, where Steinbeck and his first wife lived in the early 1930’s. The two worlds, however, are continents apart ideologically. Pacific Grove developed as a Methodist campground. One could not buy liquor there, and the sidewalks were deserted not long after sunset. Three miles away, Monterey’s bars stayed open almost until dawn. The population of each town was distinct, although the communities were virtually adjacent.
Mack presides over a band of derelicts who live from one drink to the next, one fight to the next, and one day to the next. If earlier picaros lived their irresponsible lives in ways that advanced them socially and economically, Mack’s boys do not. Their progress is strictly horizontal. They live by bartering, borrowing, stealing, and conning Lee Chong, the Chinese merchant. They are the street people of an earlier age, although some of them have shacks to retreat into when they must. One of them, Malloy, lives sometimes in a huge boiler that his wife has decorated with chintz curtains.
(The entire section is 486 words.)
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Summary (Identities & Issues in Literature)
InCannery Row, John Steinbeck depicts the precarious survival of a heterogeneous human community in the cannery section of Monterey, California. In emphasizing alternative values to capitalistic greed as the basis for that survival, Steinbeck implies that the only means by which peaceful amalgamation of diverse economic, cultural, and gender groups can occur is through community.
The diversity of Cannery Row is represented by Lee Chong, the Chinese grocer; by the varied group of European American young men, led by Mack, who maintain the Palace Flophouse; by Dora and her girls, prostitutes at the Bear Flag Restaurant; and by Doc, the scientist owner of Western Biological Laboratory. The novel’s rather simple plot concerns efforts to give a surprise birthday party for Doc, the cohesive force within this community. The problems but eventual success of these efforts clarify the alternative values allowing the peaceful transcendence of differences.
The characters in the novel constitute a genuine community because they defy the capitalistic greed and exploitation of Cannery Row. Mack and his friends refuse to work in the canneries except intermittently, and only when there is a specific, emotionally worthwhile objective. Thus, they get jobs in order to acquire enough money for Doc’s party, but quit immediately afterward. Doc says of the group, “They could ruin their lives and get money. . . . They just know the nature of...
(The entire section is 475 words.)
Summary (Masterplots, Fourth Edition)
In 1930’s Monterey, California, sits an abandoned structure near the noisy, smelly sardine factories and wharves that line the Cannery Row neighborhood along the Pacific Ocean waterfront. A good-natured vagrant named Mack, the leader of a gang of vagabonds who inhabit the structure and have named it the Palace Flophouse and Grill, persuades the men to give a party for Doc. Doc is a friendly marine biologist who operates the Western Biological Laboratory, a modest scientific enterprise.
Mack and his gang have no money for the proposed party for Doc, so they hatch a plan to gather the necessary resources. After first considering getting jobs, they unanimously dismiss that idea in favor of a more subtle plan that involves doing a supposed favor for Doc. Under Mack’s leadership, the gang devises a scheme to approach Doc and offer its services in a frog-gathering operation. They would go into the countryside, collect as many frogs as possible, and then sell the amphibians to Doc at five cents each so he can embalm and retail them later as biological specimens. Lacking transportation, the men haggle out a deal with Lee Chong, a local grocer who is also their landlord, to borrow a dilapidated truck on the condition that they restore it into working order. After discussing the details with Chong, the men repair the truck and embark on a madcap frog-hunting expedition that forms one of the most amusing episodes in the novel.
Despite getting drunk...
(The entire section is 904 words.)
Summary (Masterplots II: American Fiction Series, Revised Edition)
Cannery Row is a sentimental, nostalgic portrayal of the lazy, the shiftless, the good-natured lowlifes who survive at the fringes of a fishing and canning community outside Monterey, California. Working only when they must, preferring drinking, fighting, and indolence, “the boys” of Cannery Row are somewhat akin to the old picaresque heroes of the seventeenth and eighteenth century novel. The picaro of these early novels was something of a rogue who lived by his or her wits, and who, despite poverty and social ostracism, displayed a basic goodness and a sense of practical wisdom.
Like their picaro predecessors, Mack and the boys have little or no money; they live off the vagaries of chance and opportunity; they engage in low-key bargaining with tightfisted Lee Chong, owner of the Row’s grocery store; some of them occasionally land in jail. They are not above working when they absolutely have to, but more often than not they borrow, barter, or somehow “find” what they need. Indeed, the essential difference between the picaro and Steinbeck’s modern rascals is that the latter lack a sense of purpose or ambition. Where a Lazarillo de Tormes or a Moll Flanders proceeds from one adventure to another in a purposeful, strategic direction, from less to more, from outsider to member of the establishment, Mack and his fellows simply drift, taking one day at a time, indifferent to the possibilities of their own social reformation, of the...
(The entire section is 695 words.)
Chapter 1 Summary
Steinbeck's novel opens with a poetic description of a town that most people probably would not associate with the poetic ideal. Canneries, by their nature, are smelly places, usually inhabited by the lower classes, men and women of multiple ages and ethnicities, who struggle day-to-day. But Steinbeck sees past the hard work, squalid conditions, and difficult lives. To the author, Cannery Row is not only "a stink" and a "grating noise" but also a "quality of light" and "a dream." Throughout the work, reality and dream will play yin and yang to its denizens: among them are Mack and the boys, who inhabit the Palace Flop House; Lee Chong, who runs the areas only grocery and general supply store; Dora and her "girls" who tend the local whorehouse; and Doc, the wise man and marine biologist who maintains the Western Biological Laboratories and, usually, keeps one step ahead of the residents of Cannery Row.
Chapter 1 begins in Lee Chong's grocery. Here one could find all manner of goods, from the steady supply of "Old Tennis Shoe" whiskey he keeps on hand, to fishing equipment and silk kimonos. The only thing Lee Chong could not supply was women, but Dora, the madam whose whorehouse was across the lot from the grocery, had sexual companionship at the ready.
Lee Chong was not greedy but he did keep his store open until "the last wandering vagrant dime" had been collected. In addition to taking anyone's money who wanted to spend it, Lee Chong also gave out plenty of credit. There was likely not a single person in Cannery Row who did not owe the Chinese merchant money. Lee's generosity was not without its limits, however. When a tab became too large, credit was cut off until some attempt to repay had been made. For having boundaries and for being fair, Lee Chong earned the respect of his community.
While he enjoyed their respect, Lee Chong could not transfer that respect to trust, and he would have been foolish to have done so. Knowing that he would be taken advantage of if he gave his customers half a chance, Lee did not do so. Instead, whenever anyone came in his store to shop, Lee placed himself strategically between the glass-encased cigars and the whiskey. The cash register was on his left and his trusty abacus sat at the ready on his right.
Lee had learned to be cautious but one incident kept him from being militant. One evening, a customer named Horace Abbeville, who already owed him a great...
(The entire section is 681 words.)
Chapter 2 Summary
Chapter 2 begins in a mythical, dream-like tone and continues Steinbeck's give-and-take theme. "The word is a symbol," Steinbeck says. Words are of course only symbolic. The word "tree" is not a tree; the word "factory" holds nothing more than the sum of its letters. But "things" have to have names; they must have a "word" to communicate. Words and things are separate but intertwined.
In the same way, people are more than one thing. The author asks that Lee Chong be considered as "more than a Chinese grocer." He is "spinning in orbit," connecting worlds, his own and his past. As readers, we observe another Lee Chong, a man who goes to China Point in California, digs up the dried and yellowed bones of one of his ancestors. The skull of his dead grandfather still had remnants of its queue, the hairstyle made mandatory for men by the Manchu dynasty. Lee Chong, in his new home in the American West, boxed up the remains and sent them back to his homeland in the East.
Mack and the boys are also "spinning in their orbit" and their gravitational pull has its own special function. Here Steinbeck gives them attributes that seem incongruent but will be proven as the narrative unfolds. He calls the first, "The Virtues." In Platonic mythology, reverence and justice are the virtues Zeus distributes to all people. Secondly, Steinbeck calls Mack and the boys "The Graces." The Graces are of Greek mythological origin, and they are women. As with most of the narrative in the novel, the attributes of both men and women are frequently undifferentiated and here, Steinbeck gives The Graces gifts of beauty, joy, and charm to the boys. It is not a typical beauty, and their charms and joys are not typical either. However, this band of brothers embodies these qualities just as much as their mythological counterparts. The third trait bestowed on Mack and the boys is "The Beauties." Outwardly, the ragtag, unemployed group may not seem beautiful, but as the story progresses, they develop beauty in their own spinning orbit.
Mack and they boys are beautiful in that they have managed to escape the traps of modern society. They do not need "certain" food. All food is welcomed. They do not develop ulcers due to their work; they do not have jobs. They manage to avoid all the poisons and pitfalls of consumerism by refusing to be traditional consumers. They live in nature and survive by their wit and ingenuity. Laziness becomes not a...
(The entire section is 437 words.)
Chapter 3 Summary
Chapter 3 begins with a map of how Cannery Row is organized. To the right of the "vacant" lot (inaptly named because it is filled with non-working appliances, timber, and other junk) is Lee Chong's grocery. Behind the lot and across the set of railroad tracks is the Palace Flophouse. To the left of the lot is Dora Flood's whorehouse.
"The Bear Flag" may be technically illegal but it is far from an eye-sore. Dora's house is clean and well-managed. Dora has been in the business for an astonishing fifty years, first as a working girl and then as a madam. She maintains her business by being tactful and honest, but perhaps most importantly, by maintaining a "certain realism." That realism is that human beings will engage in sexual activity and it is impossible to prevent it from happening. For this, Dora is hated by the more "respectable" women of the town whose husbands are mostly dutiful but "don't like it very much."
Dora has standards that help her survive in her profession. All of her girls are "one price," thus eliminating bargaining among patrons and reducing jealousy among the girls. She does not sell any hard liquor and does not tolerate a foul mouth. These strictures help keep the peace. As for the girls, she does not dispose of them when they become to old or ill to work and for this reason, among others, she maintains both their loyalty and respect.
Because her trade is not actually legal, Dora must be very careful. In addition to making sure there are no fights or drunks on her property, she pays her taxes and contributes to all manner of charitable needs. Her girls are the epitome of discretion concerning their clientele. Any man in town knows that his visit will be kept strictly confidential.
Most of Dora's employees find a happy haven to call both home and work but just as in other professions, not everyone fits in and sometimes the reason is never quite clear. Once Dora had a bouncer named William. He could never make friends, though he tried very hard, especially with Mack and the boys. One day, he overheard Mack calling him a pimp, which greatly hurt his feelings. William was not a pimp; he was a bouncer.
After overhearing this painful comment, William went to Dora. He said he was going to "bump himself off." Having heard lots of crazy talk in her time, Dora brushed him away. William then told the big Greek cook, Kits, the same thing. Kits said he hears...
(The entire section is 471 words.)
Chapter 4 Summary
The weaving in and out of the world of work and the realm of myth heralds the beginning of Chapter 4. Dusk is a time of transition, not only from day to night but from reality to magic. The magic is not limited to the spells and incantations of Western lore, however. The Bay Area of San Francisco has been a home to Chinese immigrants since the late 1850s when work was plentiful due to the construction of the Central Pacific Railroad and the California Gold Rush. With those thousands of immigrants came Eastern folktales and Eastern magic.
So when a mysterious, elderly Chinese man began to walk through the vacant lot of Cannery Row, it was not as startling as one might expect. The man was dressed in a straw hat and denim, both shirt and pants, and on his feet were heavy shoes. On one of his shoes, the rubber sole had come loose and as a result, every step the Chinaman took announced his passing with a loud flap. He carried a wicker basket but no on ever learns its contents. His face showed signs of age and exposure to the elements of wind and sun. His eyes were brown, even the whites of them.
The old man passed through the vacant lot, crossed between Doc's laboratory and one of the canneries, and headed down to the beach, where he presumably remained until dawn...the next time anyone saw him.
Dawn carries much of the same magic as dusk. It is a twilight time where magic is still possible but fading. The only thing different about the old man, as he returned the same way from whence he had come, was that his wicker basket was now "heavy and wet and dripping." His shoe with the loose sole continued to flap.
The flapping woke up many people in Cannery Row. Although it had been going on for years, "no one ever got used to him." It was unsettling to have a mystery-made-flesh. There was great speculation about who or what he was. Some thought he was God; some thought he was Death. Only the children, with little experience or fears for comparison, failed to label him as anything more than "a very funny old Chinaman."
Of course, there is always one child who is not content to let anything different alone. In Cannery Row, that child was Andy. Perhaps because he was from Salinas and not a Monterey native did he muster the temerity to challenge the old man. He tried to "keep his self-respect," even though he felt a little fearful, and the only way to do that, in Andy's mind, was to shout at the...
(The entire section is 599 words.)
Chapter 5 Summary
Doc's laboratory, Western Biological, faces the empty lot; on the right is Lee Chong's grocery and on the left, Dora's Bear Flag Restaurant. Doc's laboratory is full of the strange and unexpected. There are all manner of sea creatures: sponges, stars, anemones, worms, and many varieties of shrimps. In addition to sea life, there are also land-dwelling animals: rats and snakes, bees and Gila monsters, cats and frogs. In this list of collections, not truly made much more distinct than the other specimens, are the "little unborn humans, some whole, others sliced thin and mounted on slides." Doc does not make any great differentiation between one life form to be studied and any other.
The laboratory has a basement: this is where Doc does his embalming work. In the backyard, a shed holds tanks that contain sharks, octopi, and rays. In the front of the building, a stairway leads to Doc's cluttered office. His desk is piled high with papers. There is a filing cabinet and an open safe. The safe doesn't do much, because Doc never locks it. One time, a can of sardines and some stinky cheese got locked inside and Doc couldn't get it open. Now food goes in the filing cabinet.
Behind the office is another workroom, where smaller tanks house smaller specimens. Here there are also microscopes and other equipment necessary for Doc's endeavors. The place is full of smells: sea water, formaldehyde, acidic odors, and various oils, among others.
Doc's library is to the left of his office. In addition to his vast library, Doc also keeps his beloved phonograph there, as well as his chairs, benches, and his bed. Reproductions of famous works of art cover the walls. The kitchen is behind the library/bedroom.
The description of the laboratory ends and a description of its proprietor begins. Doc is not a tall man, but he is "wiry and strong." He has a beard. His face is "half Christ and half Satyr and his face tells the truth." Doc has the steady hands of a surgeon. Doc is kind and respectful to everyone; he even "tips his hat to dogs." He kills only for science, never for pleasure. His only fear is of getting his head wet, so he almost always wears a hat.
Doc is a part of the landscape of Cannery Row as much as his physical building. Over time, he became the town's resident philosopher and a comfort to those around him, even when he was not directly ministering to their troubles. The music from his...
(The entire section is 519 words.)
Chapter 6 Summary
Chapter 6 finds Doc on a collecting expedition. Located on the "tip of the Peninsula," the Great Tide Pool is a marvelous spot for gathering specimens. When the tide goes out, the sea floor reveals its formerly hidden bounty: crabs, starfish, mussels, snails, eels, and others all scurry about looking for cover or for an easy meal.
The reality of nature is not sugar-coated nor is it studied without judgment. An octopus is described as a "creeping murderer" with "evil goat eyes" who attacks his prey "Coldly...ferociously...savagely." The world of the sea is no more kind or cruel than the world of men, it seems. Here on "life and riches...death and digestion...decay and birth, burden the air."
Doc is not alone on his collecting trip. He has brought Hazel, one of the residents of the Palace Flop House, with him. The narrator explains how Hazel got his odd name. "Hazel" is typically a name given to a female child. But Hazel was his mother's eighth baby. She worked herself to exhaustion trying to support her seven other children and her lazy husband. Hazel's mother was so tired when he was born that she became confused about his gender. Besides, his mother had a great aunt that may have had some life insurance; the naming of her child after her was a long shot at being named in the will. So before anybody could do anything about it, the boy was christened "Hazel."
Unsurprisingly, Hazel had a hard life. He only received four years of formal education; he then spent an additional four years at a reform school. While this sort of treatment may have embittered others, Hazel remained innocent and soft-hearted. He asked Doc lots of questions, not because he was interested, really; he just liked to hear people talk. Doc liked him and considered Hazel to be a good and useful helper, for Hazel was not only willing and loyal, but he had quick fingers and was "sure-footed on slippery rocks." Today, they were collecting starfish.
The pair work quickly. Knowing Hazel likes to talk, Doc asks him about life at the Flophouse. Hazel tells him that a new man who goes by the name of Gay is moving in. As Gay tells it, he is moving out of his home because his wife hits him when he is asleep. Gay has had enough; he is not getting any sleep so he left his wife and moved in with the boys.
To keep the conversation going, Hazel asks Doc about Henri, the painter. He came by the Palace, Hazel tells Doc, to show...
(The entire section is 640 words.)
Chapter 7 Summary
Chapter 7 begins with a history of the evolution of the Palace Flophouse. When Mack and the boys first moved in, they had not thought of their space as anything more than a shelter from the elements. They did not love it yet. The room as long and bare, lit only by two small windows. The unpainted walls were made of wood; the space still smelled of its former occupant: fish meal.
Mack, the unelected yet undisputed leader of the boys, knew that this collection of men must have something to call their own; some privacy, or at least personal space, must be awarded to each resident in order to maintain the peace. To that end, Mack marked out five oblong spaces on the floor with chalk. In each seven by four foot square, Mack wrote each man's name. The space belonged to each man and it was inviolable.
For a time, nothing changed in the Flophouse. The men respected one another's space but no improvements were made to the home itself. However, a month-long rainfall trapped all of them indoors for an unprecedented amount of time. The house began to "grow dear to them." Hughie was the first to make a change. He dragged in an old cot and sewed its numerous holes up with fishing line. The boys were envious. Mack was the next to bring in a touch of domesticity when he hauled in an old and rusty set of springs from the dump. After that, each man made it his work to beautify the place. Soon not only did each have a bed, but there were also aesthetic additions, like pictures and calendars. Mack painted a wicker chaise red. The brown walls were whitewashed "which made it almost light and airy." A grandfather clock, without internal works or a face, graced the room.
Eventually, the boys were able to barter for a stove. It was beautiful and wonderfully functional but also terribly cumbersome and heavy. After exhausting all other options, Hughie and Mack carted it home. It took them three days to traverse the five miles back to the Flophouse. The addition of the stove truly made the house a home.
Mack and the boys managed to survive by various means. One way was through Eddie, who worked as a part-time bartender at La Ida. Eddie filled in for the regular bartender, Whitey, who was always glad to turn to Eddie when he needed a day off, for he knew Eddie was in no way trying to angle for his job. More important that the little bit of money Eddie was able to bring home was the liquor he was able to procure. Eddie did...
(The entire section is 677 words.)
Chapter 8 Summary
Chapter 8 introduces two new characters: Mr. and Mrs. Sam Malloy, the most recent residents of the vacant lot.
Three years prior to their arrival, the boiler at the Hediondo Cannery blew up for the third and final time. The owners decided it would be cheaper to just invest in a new one than try to repair the old one yet again. The troublesome old boiler was moved to the vacant lot. There it sat, between Lee Chong's and the Bear Flag. Rust grew around it but sweet smelling plants did as well, wild anise and the white bell flowers from a datura tree.
The boiler was about the size and shape of a railroad car, minus the wheels. And into this now dry and safe space moved Mr. and Mrs. Malloy. They had to crawl in through a small door but once inside they could stand up straight. They wrestled a mattress inside and called the boiler home.
Two years later, Cannery Row experienced a fishing boom. So many new workers came in to can the sardines that housing soon became a problem. Mr. Malloy surveyed the large, empty pipes that lay strewn below his boiler. It occurred to Sam that he could rent out the pipes as sleeping spaces to the temporary male workers. He covered the holes with pieces of tar paper and carpet squares. Despite being warm and safe, some men just could not get used to not sleeping curled up; these men had to move out. But plenty of men found the arrangement just fine, and incredibly inexpensive as well, so Sam and his wife enjoyed a steady business.
Mrs. Malloy began to think of ways to spend their new-found wealth. She furnished the boiler with rugs and lamps and other homey things. One day, she asked Sam for a little money because a department store was having a sale on curtains. This request seemed ridiculous to Sam, because, of course, the boiler had no windows. Mrs. Malloy pleaded for them anyway. When Sam continued to refuse, his wife claimed that he was "trying to begrutch her nice things." Sam was gentle with his wife and told her this was not the case; he wanted her to have nice things he said, but even if he got her the curtains, not only would they be of no use, there was no way to hang them on the steel walls of the boiler. The logic of his argument fell on deaf ears. Mrs. Malloy claimed that men "just don't understand the way a woman feels." Sam spent a long time sympathetically rubbing her back and getting her to go to sleep.
(The entire section is 444 words.)
Chapter 9 Summary
Chapter 9 begins with Hazel and Doc's return from their collecting trip in the Great Tide Pool at the tip of the Peninsula. Mack and the boys watch from their perches at the Palace Flophouse as Hazel unloads the sacks of starfish from Doc's truck and carries them into the laboratory. They continue to watch as Hazel, jeans still wet in places and salt crusting in others where they were drying, makes his way up the hill and home.
Mack, trying to sound out Doc's state of mind in order to gauge the timing of implementing his plan, inquires about Doc's mood. Hazel says he is happy because they caught the number of starfish required to fulfill Doc's order. This is welcome news to Mack, who, after some mulling, decides it will be best for him to go to Western Biological alone. He has to see to it that Doc agrees to let him and the boys go on a frog collecting expedition so that they are able to pay for the party.
Instinct and experience have taught Doc to be wary whenever Mac comes to the door. Mac chatters nervously and Doc waits patiently for Mac to finally spit out what he has come to ask. Finally, Mac asks if Doc has any collecting needs, as he and his crew need to make a little money. Doc mulls it over and agrees that he does need several hundred frogs and will pay five cents apiece for them. Mack is delighted and promises to find all Doc needs and more.
Mack's excitement is stymied, however, when he realizes that he and the boys have no way to get to the collecting pool. He asks if they can borrow Doc's truck but Doc declines; he is using it for a trip to La Jolla. Both men are disappointed; Mack needs the money and Doc truly does need the frogs. It occurs to Mack that he might be able to borrow Lee Chong's old truck.
Mack thinks of another problem: he has no money for gas. He asks Doc to front him three dollars but Doc has been burned before. Instead of handing Mack the money, he instead agrees to pre-pay for ten dollars worth of fuel at the gas station.
Trudging over to Lee's, Mack meets with another snag. Lee's truck is broken down. Mack asks the grocer if his boy Gay can fix it, would Lee let them then use it? Lee Chong agrees, seeing as how a broken down vehicle was not doing him any good anyway. Never content until he knows just how far he can push things, Mack asks for a pint of whiskey on credit. Unsurprisingly, Lee refuses.
(The entire section is 451 words.)
Chapter 10 Summary
Chapter 10 introduces Frankie, a young boy of eleven, who, like several of the characters in the novel, comes in and out of the narrative. Frankie, it is soon learned, is relatively homeless. He shows up one day on Doc's property. At first, he just peeps in the basement's windows. Eventually, he becomes brave enough to stand inside its door. A few days later, he makes his way into the basement.
Frankie is dirty and unkempt. It is obvious no one cares or looks after the boy. It takes him three weeks to make his way from looking in the windows of Western Biological before he works up the nerve to approach Doc at his workbench and even then he is "ready to bolt" at the slightest provocation, like a feral cat.
Doc, who has a long association with feral things, waits a long time before he asks Frankie any questions. Frankie answers his questions honestly. He does not go to school, he tells Doc "because they don't want him there." When Doc asks about his filthy hands and if he ever washes them, Frankie is deeply ashamed and from that point on, is careful to scrub them clean every day.
Frankie begins turning up at the laboratory daily. Doc makes sure that the story about being kicked out of school was true and it is. The school official tells Doc that Frankie has some sort of disability that prevents him from learning and has a coordination problem as well. Still, he is not "an idiot" and he is not a danger. He just does not fit in and his parents will not pay for any institution or other help. Frankly is essentially left to fend for himself.
Doc allows Frankie to stay and they do not say much to one another but one day Doc asks Frankie why he comes. Frankie says his father is dead and there are uncles at home who either hit him or "give [him] a nickel." Either way, it is clear that Frankie is not wanted.
Doc takes the boy under his wing. He gets rid of the lice in his hair and buys him new clothes at Lee Chong's. For these minor acts of kindness, "Frankie became his slave." At the laboratory, Doc tries and tries to teach Frankie to be his helper but Doc soon discovers that what the school had said was true: Frankie does have a learning disability and cannot seem to grasp even the simplest concepts that Doc tries to teach him. Doc recognizes Frankie's limits and stops trying to push him. Instead, he gives Frankie tasks he can do, like lighting his cigars.
(The entire section is 688 words.)
Chapter 11 Summary
Chapter 11 begins with a history of Lee Chong's ancient Model T. In 1923, the vehicle had belonged to a doctor, who pampered the truck for five years. It was sold in mint condition to an insurance man, who drove it hard and drove it drunk. Eventually, the battered truck was passed to a new owner in a deplorable state. The new owner cut it up in order to add a new truck bed. The truck's next owner was not good at managing his money and traded it to Lee Chong to pay off his tab. It needed lots of work, which Lee did not do, so it sat deteriorating in his lot behind the store until Gay came to fix it.
Gay is an "inspired mechanic" and soon is able to pinpoint the exact problems that needs to be attended to in order for the jalopy to run. He orders the boys to do this and that, get him parts, inflate the tires, and so on. Finally, he has it running but it still needs a few things to continue doing so. What is most needed, Gay determines, are dry cells. Mack is dispatched to Lee Chong's to see if he can get some on credit. Mack returns almost immediately to deliver Lee's refusal.
Gay mulls over the problem and confesses that he knows where they could get some: at his house, down in the cellar. The only difficulty will be getting them without his wife seeing them being taken. This is not a challenge Gay is willing to take up himself; one of the other boys will have to brave it. A meeting is called and Eddie is selected for the task.
While Eddie is gone, Gay further inspects the truck's major problems. The largest was the brakes, insomuch as they did not exist. However, Gay knows that in a Model T, one can use reverse as a brake. He checks the gear band and is pleased to find it relatively in tact. Gay feels that it is in good enough shape to get their job done.
Mechanical problems aside, the boys face other problems in regard to using the truck for their expedition. It lacks license plates and it does not have headlights, both of which are likely to attract unwanted police attention. A rag is hung strategically to "accidentally" cover the plate in the back and mud is caked onto the front tags. They would not travel when headlights were needed.
Their equipment needs were few, just a couple of nets and gunny sacks. For food, they brought bread and what was left in the jug of wine. By late afternoon, they were off.
The expedition stopped at the gas station, where Doc had...
(The entire section is 560 words.)
Chapter 12 Summary
Chapter 12 is a diversion from the main plot, one of the frequent sidesteps into the vortex of life that makes up the working-class town of Cannery Row. Perhaps because fame is hard to come by in the blue-collar environment, anyone with any modicum of fame who has stayed in Monterey or passed through is afforded special star status.
In the days before television and only a few years into modern radio broadcasts, authors were still considered a sort of royalty. Monterey's most touted former resident was Robert Louis Stevenson, and it was observed by many and with great pleasure that his geological descriptions in Treasure Island bore a good deal of resemblance to Point Lobos, California.
Over the years, many other authors made Monterey their home, but none was as esteemed as Stevenson by the older residents. Still, when the humorist Josh Billings suffered a slight there when he died, everyone felt indignant about the mistreatment.
The story goes this way. One early morning, a local, Mr. Carriga, is out for his morning constitutional. Along the way, he notices a young boy and his dog. The boy is carrying a fresh liver in his hands; the dog is trailing a long section of intestines from its mouth, at the end of which is attached a stomach.
Mr. Carriga stops the boy with a polite hello and asks what he is going to do with the liver. The lad replies that he is going to "make some chum and catch some mackerel." With a smile, Carriga asks whether the dog is going to go fishing with his bait as well. The boy replies that whatever the dog has, it belongs to him; they found their discarded items in the gulch.
The boy and the man part ways but something nags at Mr. Carriga about the boy's bait. The liver, he decides, is too small to be beef; it is too red to be that of a calf; nor is it from a sheep.
Carriga meets Mr. Ryan and asks whether he knows of any deaths in Monterey the previous night. He does not know but Carriga tells him about the boy and the dog and his suspicions anyway.
The story still nags at him so Mr. Carriga repeats it at the Adobe Bar. He finds out that no one had died in Monterey proper, but Josh Billings had died at the Hotel del Monte. Without having to discuss it, everyone at the bar surmises what had happened. They feel ashamed that Billings had honored them by dying in Monterey and had been so repaid.
A committee is...
(The entire section is 545 words.)
Chapter 13 Summary
Chapter 13 returns to the plight of Mack and the boys, minus Gay, who went out to find a carburetor for the broken down Model T and failed to return. Eddie had also gone for a spell, but unlike Gay, made it back. He had noticed a construction site not far away and went to see whether perhaps he could find (or steal) a part there. He managed to acquire one. Mack, Hazel, and Jones were asleep when he returned and did not awaken. Eddie caught some sleep himself.
Mack is the first to get up in the morning and the other boys soon are up as well. They eat the bread while Eddie gets the new part installed. Soon, they are on their way again to look for promising pools in which to collect frogs.
As they travel, luck seems to be on their side. Eddie manages to hit a chicken, and Mack cleans it while they are on the road. They scoop up a bag of carrots that had tumbled off a truck and illegally acquire some onions. Eddie drives on, passing through the valley and crossing the Carmel River.
At the base of a cliff, they find a location that appears to be absolutely perfect. Soon, the rooster and his vegetable companions are boiling up over a fire, and coffee is percolating as well. It is time, Mack knows, to rally the spirits for the upcoming frog hunt. Everyone is ready to go and all anxiously await nightfall, when the frogs would come out of their hiding places.
As they wait, the chicken stewing on the fire smells more and more appetizing. The boys talk and Jones suggests that perhaps Eddie could stop mixing all the different beverages into one jug and instead separate them: all whiskey in one jug, all wine in another, for example. The proposal is met with horror and indignation by everyone else. Jones drops the topic immediately. Talk turns to Gay and what may have happened to him. While they do wonder, no one seems overly concerned. In the lives of Mack and the boys, people come and go and reasons may or may not be given. It is no one's business what another man does with his life, really.
Mack becomes concerned about the intended party for Doc and his own motivations. Yes, it is ostensibly for Doc, but Mack also knows that he and his crew will likely outdrink and outeat anything consumed or enjoyed by Doc. He wonders whether the party is more for them than for the object of their affections, and the thought bothers Mack.
It is getting dark and almost time to go, but a sound...
(The entire section is 671 words.)
Chapter 14 Summary
Steinbeck has already introduced the early morning hours on Cannery Row as a time for magic in Chapter 4, and he returns to the premise in Chapter 14. While the earlier chapter revolved primarily upon the mystical Chinaman with the flopping shoe, in this section, the magic belongs to everyone.
The "silvery light" of dawn is the conduit for the mystery and magic. It is a time of peace and a time of rest before the busy workday begins. The hustle that will come once the sun has fully risen has not happened, neither for man nor for beast. Cats slither about unbothered by human activity, not yet on their daytime guard. Dogs roam around and mark territory. Seagulls perch and wait for the day's bounty that will come forth later, just as sure as the sun has risen. Sea lions yap like dogs in the crisp morning air. Gophers emerge from their holes. Some people are in the street, but not too many, "just enough to make it seem more deserted than it is." One of Dora's girls is making her way back to the Bear Flag after a home visit to a client. The old Chinaman is there too, flopping as he walks, but this story is not his story.
On one of these mornings, two soldiers and two girls are lazily strolling down a street. They had just left La Ida, exhausted but happy. Both girls are blonde; neither is petite. Their dresses are wrinkled and clingy from sweat; each girl wears her guy's hat tilted on her head.
The soldiers are just as tired as their girls, and their appearance matches that of their dates, their shirts open and their ties pulled loose. They wear their ladies' hats. Together, the four of them walk hand in hand, passing the Bear Flag and then Lee Chong's. They walk up the railroad tracks and past the boats, finally coming to a small stretch of reef-boarded beach, where all gratefully sit down in the sand. The girls stretch out and the men put their heads in the girls' laps. All four are exhausted but content and smiling.
A watchman spots the couples and soon comes with his dog to investigate. He snaps at the trespassers of his private property and insists that they leave immediately. The soldiers act like they cannot hear him, and the girls continue stroking their hair. Lazily and without malice, the solider turns to the man and tells him to "take a flying fuggut the moon." He returns to admiring his girl. The watchman leaves but none of them pays attention to his departure.
(The entire section is 437 words.)
Chapter 15 Summary
Chapter 15 returns to Mack, the boys, the landowner, and his dog. The boys have left their campsite and gone up the hill to the farmhouse, where Mack is in the kitchen preparing the Epsom salt poultice for the injured dog's shoulder. As he works, the dog's numerous puppies fight for dominance at her teats for milk. The poor dog wearily looks to Mack, her eyes conveying her weariness and seeming to seek his empathy.
The owner watches Mack, grateful to learn how to treat a tick bite. Mack tells him that in addition to healing her shoulder, the owner also needs to get her puppies weaned; they are too old to still be nursing, and the effort to continue providing milk to them is dangerously wearing the mother down.
The captain (as the owner is also called) confesses that he knows that they ought to have been weaned and, furthermore, he should not have allowed so many puppies to live. Mack is horrified and asks whether the captain really would have drowned them. The captain skirts the questions and instead tells Mack of his wife's involvement in politics. Since she has been elected to the Assembly, she is rarely home. The captain is frustrated and lonely.
Mack changes the subject too. He mentions that he could make a "real bird dog" out of one of the puppies in three years. The captain is delighted to offer him one, the pick of the litter. He is happy to see someone appreciate a good, working dog.
So pleased is the captain with Mack that he soon feels them not to be an intrusion at all; rather, they are welcome companions to his isolated life. Mack offers to allow the captain to join the collecting run and the man enthusiastically accepts. The landowner offers Mack and the boys a drink before they go out on their now-approved collecting run. Soon, having a "short one" turns into having many. It is a couple of hours later before all remember their task for the evening.
Quietly, the hunting party heads out to the pools. Humans have been hunting frogs for millennia. Frogs have become used to the game of hide-and-seek. But this time, Mack's band of brothers has a surprise. Instead of a single net and a set of feet, there are many nets and a dozen feet; there is terrible shouting and inescapable illumination from half a dozen flashlights. The frogs are startled and then terrified. Thousands run for their lives, abandoning the old rules without understanding the new. Thousands run; hundreds...
(The entire section is 539 words.)
Chapter 16 Summary
In March, Cannery Row experiences a huge fishing boon. The canneries are operating at full capacity and hiring anyone who wants a job. Business is booming for Dora at the Bear Flag as well, but she has more than she can handle, especially since some of her girls are indisposed: Eva is away on vacation; Phyllis Mae suffered a broken leg in a fall at an amusement park; and Elsie, a good Catholic girl, is away on a religious pilgrimage. It is all a headache for the madam, who must deal with the newcomers as well as make sure her regular customers are taken care of.
The happiness over the bounty of work and money is tempered, however, by a massive influenza outbreak. Schools close down and there is not a single family on the Row who does not have a sick child, a sick parent, or both. In the early 1920s, influenza was especially dangerous for children, who, without the benefit of antibiotics, often developed mastoiditis, from which many died. The local doctors had more cases than they could handle, for, like Dora in her business, they had to tend to not only their regular cases of illness and injury but, daily, new flu cases as well.
Doctors are becoming harder and harder to come by, so Doc begins pitching in. Because he has helped so many people in other dire circumstances, his help is sought even though he is not a medical doctor. Doc assists as much as he is able, running from one home to the next, bringing food and blankets, taking temperatures, and examining people. If he sees that a case is deteriorating beyond his means of help, he phones a doctor.
After one long day and night, Doc bumps into Dora at Lee Chong's, where he has come for a bit of food and a couple of beers. She asks how people he has visited are faring. Doc confirms what she already knows. The situation is bad but it could be worse; at least no one has died yet, though he is worried about the Ransels' children, who "have all developed mastoiditis."
Dora cannot help but notice Doc's fatigue and asks whether there is anything she or her girls can do to help him out. Doc thinks for a second and soon says that there is indeed something they can do for him and their fellow citizens. He knows that part of medicine is ministering to the spirit, not just the body. He tells Dora that the Ransels are scared for their children and afraid of being alone. He asks whether she and her girls will pay them visits.
Of course, Dora...
(The entire section is 504 words.)
Chapter 17 Summary
Chapter 17, for the first time in the novel, is devoted solely to Doc.
Although he is constantly surrounded by people, Doc usually prefers to be alone. Mack may be the only one who notices the scientist is a "lonely and set-apart" man, but it is true. Even on the frequent occasions when Doc has a woman in his laboratory, he appears, to Mack at least, to be lonely.
Although Doc occasionally takes someone on his collecting expeditions, most of the time, he spends his time alone, crawling over boulders and turning over rocks. Doc has been a marine biologist for a long time. He knows not only when the tides come in and go out but also when certain tides are likely to provide the greatest bounty. When one of these special tides is scheduled to arrive, Doc prepares his tools and packs up his truck with bottles and preservatives and heads out.
On this trip, he has an order for small octopi, and one of those special tides is due to come in. Unfortunately, he will have to travel a good distance to get to it, to a beach some five hundred miles away. He has to time his travel carefully in order to arrive when the tides retreat.
The low tide is scheduled for Thursday morning, so Doc has to leave Cannery Row early on Wednesday. He could have used a companion to help collect, but this time no one is available to make the trip with him. Mack and the boys are away collecting frogs for him; the women he knows have to work. Doc even asks Henri, the eccentric painter and builder of non-seagoing boats, but Henri has become enthralled by a local store that has hired a flagpole skater to attract attention. He does not want to miss a minute of the action.
So Wednesday morning, Doc sets out solo for La Jolla's intertidal range. To many people, an entire day and night might seem like a long while for the distance that needs to be covered, but Doc likes to take his time. He drives slowly and stops frequently for burgers. At one of the diners on a past trip, someone quipped that Doc loved beer so much he probably would even drink a beer milkshake. For some reason, the idea stuck with Doc. Every time he saw a milkshake machine after that remark, he wondered about it.
He knows, however, that just being curious is not enough reason for people to let him try one. He thinks about how many lies he has to tell because he enjoys wearing a beard. "People were not liked for telling the truth," he...
(The entire section is 705 words.)
Chapter 18 Summary
Chapter 18 finds Doc still making his way to the La Jolla beach for his octopi-collecting mission. It is late in the afternoon and he has made it as far as Ventura, but time is beginning to become more of a factor. He has only time enough for a bathroom break and a quick cheese sandwich when he stops in Carpenteria. It is dark by the time he arrives in Los Angeles, but he has a full dinner there, refills his thermos, and stocks up on sandwiches and beer.
Night driving is not as interesting to Doc because there is little to see, not even dogs. A benefit, however, is that the miles are covered more quickly. He arrives at his destination around two in the morning, leaving him time to spare before low tide. He sits in his truck, eats a few of his sandwiches, drinks a couple of beers, and falls asleep.
Doc's long habit of being attuned to the tides is the only alarm clock he needs to awaken. He uncurls himself from his sleeping position on the car seat and waits for the sea to recede. When it does, Doc pulls on his rubber wading boots and dons his hat. He gathers up the equipment he needs for his collecting, grabs his crowbar, then climbs down to the beach, where the now-exposed floor is accessible.
Angry octopi soon find their new home to be a glass specimen jar; their angry, ink-spewing protests do nothing to change that fact. Doc is pleased with the results of the day. He has gathered "twenty-two little octopi."
His order for the creatures is fulfilled, but Doc has collecting for his own use he wants to pursue. Carefully, he heads down the edge of the barrier's rock. Eventually, he comes to the outer barrier, where brown algae hangs from the rocks like shredded lengths of curtains. As he is poking around among the red starfish and weeds, a "flash of white" catches his eye.
Doc moves closer to investigate. He parts the floating algae with his hands. What he sees stops him cold. The flash of white is the from the dead body of a young girl. Her dark hair swims about her face in the current. Her eyes are "open and clear." As her face is still intact and "firm," it is unlikely that she has been dead for very long. Even in death, she is beautiful.
Taking his hands out of the water, Doc allows the algae to cover the body once again. He picks up his equipment and carefully returns to the beach. But the sight of her face "went ahead of him."
Back on the sandy...
(The entire section is 615 words.)
Chapter 19 Summary
Chapter 19 returns to the flagpole skater, the stunt performer hired by Holman's to draw attention to the department store. For days, the man has been atop the pole, skating in circles. He has never come down and people begin to wonder how such a thing is possible without cheating. The general consensus among those watching below is that some sort of support pole must rise through the platform at night so that the man could rest a bit. But no one really begrudges the flagpole skater this brief respite since he did not actually come down, not for fifty-one hours.
Holman's made a savvy marketing ploy when they decided to hire the stuntman. People came from as far away as Grimes Point, and it seemed most of Salinas made it to gawk as well. Not everyone went into the store to shop, but many did, and Holman's made the most of their moments in the sun, with sale after sale designed to lure in shoppers.
The flagpole skater has more to worry about than just his stamina, as he was attempting to break his own record (which had stood for a solid year so far). On the second day, the skater reported that he was being fired at with an air gun. After some detective work, the culprit turned out to be Doctor Merrivale. The doctor plugged away at the skater as he hid behind the curtains in his office. Once caught, he swore he would stop and the police left it at that. He was, after all, "prominent in the Masonic lodge."
Henri, the painter, had refused to go with Doc on his collecting trip to La Jolla because he was so enamored with the flagpole skater. His interest has not lessened one bit when Doc returns. He is intrigued with the premise of the whole stunt on a philosophical level. Something about the endurance wed to such futility must have appealed to Henri. He resolves to build a platform for himself at home to study the problem personally and more intensely.
Henri is not the only one whose imagination is captivated by the skater. It seems everyone in town is under a similar spell to varying degrees. Only Mack and the boys are immune. They do take a look to see what all the fuss is about, but quickly decide that it "didn't make much sense" and move on.
For everyone else, after they become used to the daredevil aspect and have more or less solved the sleeping issue, another practical conundrum consumes them: how, exactly, does the skater go to the bathroom?
The mystery bothers one...
(The entire section is 561 words.)
Chapter 20 Summary
Chapter 20 begins with the triumphant return of Mac and the boys from their frog-collecting expedition. They park the Model T back behind Lee Chong's, set it on blocks, drain the little remaining bit of gas, and take their heavy, dripping sacks of frogs back to the Palace Flophouse. Mack comes back to the grocery store alone to thank Lee for the use of his truck and to brag about their great success.
Doc is still away so Mack uses his considerable rhetorical skills to convince Lee that they need some money fronted to them for a good cause. He tells the Chinaman about the party they are planning to honor Doc. He reminds Lee how he, too, has benefited from Doc's largess, asking him to recall the time Doc gave Lee's wife laudanum for her toothache. But still, Lee is reluctant.
Frogs are as good as cash. Everyone, including Lee, knows that Doc's standard pay is five cents per frog. Mack claims that they have a thousand frogs. Lee and Mack both know that equals fifty dollars. So when Mack asks for a loan and offers "a five-frog profit," even though Lee is initially resistant, eventually he agrees. Mack may not be good for the money, but Doc will be, no question about it.
Before he will give out any merchandise, Lee requires that he actually see the frogs. Satisfied with the great bounty of croakers he observes at the Palace, Mack is allowed to bring two dollars worth of frogs in cans to the store in exchange for goods. Lee creates a damp and comfortable holding space for his charges at the store to await Doc's return.
Soon others from the flophouse arrive with cans of frogs ready to trade. Lee makes a profit by marking up his frogs-to-product ratio. He feels entitled to doing so, for what other merchant would accept frogs as currency? Even though Lee's prices are exorbitant and the boys know they are getting a raw deal, no one gets too upset. They could not bring themselves to get very worked up about the price of anything "for they were not mercantile men."
Back at the flophouse, Darling, the pointer dog given to Mack by the landowner from the frogging expedition, is probably the greatest beneficiary of the new flow of treats into the house, for every man shares a bit of what he has with her.
Their appetites temporarily satisfied, the boys turn their attentions back to planning Doc's party. Hughie suggests decorations and Mack thinks that it is a capital idea. They do...
(The entire section is 728 words.)
Chapter 21 Summary
Chapter 21 concerns the aftermath of Mack and the boys' disastrous party for Doc at Western Biological Laboratories.
The lab is now quiet. Rats and snakes are in their cages. Sea life still sits in aquariums that managed to survive the carnage of the party. Machines make whirring and humming noises. It is the very early in the morning, "the hour of the pearl," where magic sometimes happens. It is the hour before the world must brace itself for the day.
Lee Chong emerges in this predawn hour, lugging out his trash for collection. The bouncer at the Bear Flag surveys the street and scratches his large belly. The steady and plaintive barks of sea lions penetrate the relative stillness. And in this hour, Doc is returning. He parks his car in front of his lab.
With great fatigue, Doc pushes open his broken door and is met with the wake of the party's destruction. He takes in the full measure of the horror, from the broken windows to the busted record player to the burned and greasy kitchen floor.
Doc has reached the limit of his tolerance and is filled with rage. He tries to play a record and hears only an unsteady hiss and becomes even more angry. At that moment, Mack knocks on the sagging door.
Mack tries to explain but only manages to get out, "Well, I and the boys—". These are the only words Mack can say, for in the next instant, Doc's fist connects with his mouth.
Mack does not try to defend himself. He sits down on the floor. He believes he deserves everything Doc has to dish out. But Doc wants him to resist. He commands that Mack get up, that he fight back. Mack refuses. Doc hits him again, hard, and breaks Mack's teeth. Still, Mack will not fight. "I got it coming," he says, and braces for another blow.
Seeing that Mack will never fight back and having expelled most of his rage, Doc can only moan and call him a "dirty son of a bitch," a blow that is likely more painful to Mack than any physical beating Doc might deliver.
The two men sit there in silence for a little while. Doc hears, in his head, music from one of the broken albums that lie smashed on the floor. Eventually, he tells Mack to go wash his face. Mack complies.
Quietly, Doc pours two beers while Mack cleans up his face. When he is finished, Mack gratefully gulps down the offered glass. Finally, Doc asks him what happened. Mack explains the best he can,...
(The entire section is 521 words.)
Chapter 22 Summary
Chapter 23 focuses on Henri, the painter. Henri, it is learned, is neither French nor truly a painter. But in his mind, Henri has imagined himself French for so long that he has convinced everyone, especially himself, that he truly has lived in the Left Bank in Paris. In reality, he has never even visited Paris, much less lived there. His knowledge of French art and the latest trends, like Dadaism, are learned from periodicals. Henri is quick to adopt whatever trend is fashionable in Parisian circles, whether in philosophy, politics, or art. He becomes so enamored of whatever movement is fashionable that he does not find much time at all for actual painting.
While his few odd paintings leave something to be desired, the same is not true of Henri's skill as a boat builder. Henri has been working on his boat for ten years. It is huge, "thirty-five feet long . . . had a clipper bow and a fantail." It is a thing of beauty and Henri is always changing it. Because it is always in a state of flux as far as the design goes, the boat is never finished, thus relieving Henri of any duty to actually take it to sea.
The boat sits on a rented lot for which Henri annually pays the landowner five dollars. Henri gets into his home by way of a rope ladder, which is only left hanging when he has guests. Inside, his galley is equipped on three sides with padded seats. There is a table that folds down. Each and every item has been carefully planned, and all have a useful purpose.
Despite his odd living arrangements and perhaps because he is a decent-looking fellow, Henri has little difficulty attracting women. Many even end up moving into the dry-docked boat, but most leave after a few months; the small space becomes claustrophobic for two people, and not having a proper working bathroom soon becomes tedious.
Having gone through women moving in and then leaving several times, Henri begins to notice that he actually enjoys the time after their departure. He feels himself to be a free man, living the way he desires without female intrusion or comment.
On one such evening following another abandonment, Henri begins drinking and then suddenly feels as if he is not alone. Cautiously, he looks about the cabin. In the shadows, he sees a terrifying sight: a "devilish young man" appears. The man has a face that looks somewhat comforting and somewhat horrifying. Beside the devil-man is a blonde baby. The...
(The entire section is 566 words.)
Chapter 23 Summary
Chapter 23 describes the "black gloom" that is hanging over Mack and the boys back at the Palace Flophouse. Mack's face is still covered with blood, a result of the beating he took when Doc lost his temper after seeing the destruction that occurred at Western Biological following the disastrous party. As penance for his sins, and as a reminder of his deeds, Mack refuses to wash his face. Instead, he takes directly to his bed and stays there for the remainder of the day. Hurting worse than his broken mouth is his broken spirit; he feels he can do nothing right, no matter how good his intentions may be.
The other boys, while not physically injured, feel the weight of their crimes as well. Hughie and Jones decide to go to the Hediondo Cannery and apply for jobs. They get them. Hazel leaves home, goes downtown, and starts a fight with a solider. He lets the smaller man win on purpose. Eddie heads over to La Ida and plays sad songs on the jukebox over and over. Everyone knows they are "under a cloud" and they all "knew they deserved it." And even though better than half the town had contributed to the downfall of the party, it is Mack and the boys who suffer the social stigma of the disaster.
The only resident of the Palace who is happy and feels not a bit of guilt over the whole affair-gone-awry is Darling, the pointer dog. Every man tries to erase the bad they had done by being overly kind to her. With even less guidance than usual, which is never much at all, Darling is free to go on a destructive binge and eats up Mack's shoes.
No one in town would talk to them. Lee Chong is still burning over the considerable loss of income from the loss of the frogs for which he had extended to the boys fifty dollars of credit. Sam Malloy, the resident of the abandoned boiler, refuses to speak to them. The boys try to be extra patient with one another, for one another is now all they have.
Leaving the boys in their misery, the narrative turns to Doc, who is at his laboratory and sharing a beer with Richard Frost, the man who had been brave enough to ask the flagpole skater how he uses the bathroom. Doc observes Mack and the boys sitting outside the flophouse. Doc remarks to Richard that Mack and his crew are really the "true philosophers." Unlike everyone else, the boys are not consumed by ambition. As a result of eschewing what is viewed as success by the rest of the world, Mack and the boys do not suffer...
(The entire section is 823 words.)
Chapter 24 Summary
Chapter 24 introduces two new characters, Mary and Tom Talbot. Young Mary is lovely. She has golden skin and green eyes with gold flecks. She has long legs and seems to float when she walks. Her face is often flushed with excitement.
Better than anything in the world, Mary loves throwing parties and going to parties. Her husband does not make a good deal of money, so often, Mary has to convince other people to give the parties. But whenever she is able to do so, Mary throws her own. She has numerous birthday parties every year and no holiday is neglected. Her husband, who loves her very much, is excited because she is excited.
In a way, Mary tries to stay gay in order to boost her husband's spirits. Money is often very tight and Tom gets depressed. She thinks it is her job to "keep the dark things out of the house." Sometimes, though, the "dark things" get in despite her efforts. In these instances, Mary puts in extra effort to be festive.
On one such occasion, when the Talbots are short on rent and Tom has received a notice of termination from the water department, Mary goes out and collects a little bouquet of wildflowers. She brings it to Tom and asks him whether he knows what day it is, although there truly is not a special occasion to celebrate and Mary is frantically trying to think of something to say.
Tom is not in the mood to be taken out of his thoughts. He snaps at his wife and says they have to face facts: they are about to "go down" and they are kidding themselves.
Mary refuses to accept it. She tells Tom that they will not "go down." They, she says emphatically, are "magic people." She reminds him of a couple of times when they had mysteriously come into money, either finding it or having it sent to them unexpectedly. Mary is certain that once again, something, somehow, some way, will come along to rescue them this time too. "Nothing can happen to us," she asserts.
Finally, Mary comes up with a reason to celebrate. She tells Tom that today is the "anniversary of the founding of the Bloomer League." Having settled on an occasion, Mary throws herself into decorating the house for the party. Tom, however, still cannot be persuaded out of his blues. Mary sees that he means it and dejectedly gives up and goes out to their yard.
Sometimes, when Tom must be away for work and Mary is in a party mood, she throws a little fete for the neighborhood...
(The entire section is 573 words.)
Chapter 25 Summary
Chapter 25 finds Mack mulling over the possibilities of a new party for Doc and reviewing exactly how the first one got so out of hand. Even though no one will admit to being superstitious, there is nevertheless a widespread belief among most people that once things go bad, they stay that way for a time, despite any attempts to alter the course of bad luck. Similarly, once things begin to take a turn for the better, a string of good luck follows. No one believes it, yet everyone accepts these things to be nonetheless true.
No one is more glad to see the good times start again than Mack, but everyone is sensing the change in fortunes. Doc has a run of success with women. Sam Malloy makes his wife happy by planting flowers outside the boiler. Business is booming at the Bear Flag. Even Darling, the pointer dog at the Palace Flophouse, has adopted a new attitude. Since the boys never house-trained her, she trains herself and now goes outside to do her business.
The plans for the new party are coming together and everyone in town knows about it. It would not be a "sudden thing." The idea "grew like a pupa in a cocoon" in everyone's imaginations.
Mack, having thought for so long about what had gone wrong with the first party, is determined to not make the same mistakes again. For obvious reasons, he knows he cannot tell Doc a new celebration is in the works. It must be a surprise party but he wants to fix on a date. Hazel suggests a birthday party; Mack thinks that is just the occasion to celebrate. The only problem is that no one has a clue of the date.
Mack rejects asking Doc outright when his birthday is for fear he will catch on. Mack decides to just go over to Western Biological once for a sort of reconnaissance mission; he will see what angle might be used to get the information on the sly. Hazel wants to go with him, but Mack says two of them showing up might arouse suspicion.
Once inside at Doc's, Mack hits upon a scheme to find out when Doc's birthday is. As the two men talk, Mack mentions that Hazel has become interested in astrology. Slyly, he asks for the date of Doc's birthday so that Hazel can map his chart.
Doc, who has known Mack and his ways for years, answers not with his real date, December 18, but with October 27. Delighted, Mack makes his excuses and happily heads home.
(The entire section is 429 words.)
Chapter 26 Summary
As Chapter 26 begins, two little boys, Joey and Willard, are playing in the yard of the boat works. A cat jumps up on the fence and the boys give chase. They run after the cat for a good distance, picking up good, smooth rocks along the way to chuck at the creature but lose the crafty feline in the tall weeds. Even though their chase failed, the boys are pleased with the rocks they have picked up, for they are the perfect size and shape for throwing.
Walking back to Cannery Row, the two boys stop to practice their pitching and wield a few of their rocks at a metal sign. A man hears the commotion and comes out to find the perpetrators, but the boys are too quick for him. They run, hide, and giggle at the incompetence of adults.
They hide for quite a while but eventually realize no one is looking for them. The boys emerge from their cover and head down to Doc's laboratory.
Doc's workplace is a sort of mystery that invites the creation of dares among adolescent boys. The sea creatures he has in aquariums are both dangerous and curious. There are snakes, too, perfect for scaring one's companions with, as well as jars and potions. Strange smells are always wafting through the windows. At night, unfamiliar music can be heard and dim lights fill the small workspace. It is the closest thing Cannery Row has to a haunted house.
In addition to the creatures, equipment, and odd sounds and smells, almost every boy in town has heard the scary but unsubstantiated rumor that Doc has something very creepy bottled up in his laboratory. Any boy who gets to pass on this lore to a boy still in the dark about it considers himself to be very lucky indeed. On this day, Joey gets to be the one who tells Willard that Doc has human babies in bottles in there.
Willard says he does not believe Joey. Indignant, Joey says it is true and that the Sprague boy had told him he had seen them with his own eyes, and that the dead babies even had little hands and feet. Willard calls the Sprague kid a liar.
Bored and angling for a fight, more for something to do than for any other reason, Willard tries to provoke Joey into a fistfight. He says he will call the Sprague boy a liar to his face. Does Joey "want to make something of it?"
Joey refuses to fight. Willard tries again. He calls his friend a coward and again asks whether he wants to make something of it. When Willard still fails to...
(The entire section is 580 words.)
Chapter 27 Summary
Chapter 27 begins with a reminder of the mythical names the author has bestowed on Mack and the boys: the Virtues, the Beatitudes, and the Beauties.
The boys are sitting around the Palace Flophouse and discussing the planning of Doc's new party. October 27, the day Doc has falsely told them was his birthday, has been settled on but the location has not. Mack says he had considered holding the party at their place, but it would be impossible to do so without losing the element of surprise.
There are a number of advantages to having a repeat of the party at Doc's own place, Mack reasons. First of all, Doc likes his laboratory. Second, he has music to play for the guests. Mack threatens to "kick the hell" out of anyone who tries to mess with the phonograph this time. All agree that these are good reasons to have the party at Doc's. No decorations this time, they decide, just a real party with plenty of liquor.
Word spreads quickly around Cannery Row; even though no invitations are issued, everyone knows and everyone plans on attending. The fact that the occasion is to honor Doc on his birthday is especially exciting, and plans are made for gifts. Dora has noticed the poor state of the blanket Doc uses on his bed and resolves that she and the girls will stitch Doc a new and beautiful quilt. The patches are made from leftover silk from their dresses, so the quilt is both lovely and brightly colored. Lee Chong decides that a very long string of firecrackers and a bag of China lily bulbs are the perfect gifts. Sam Malloy, a collector of antiques, settles on giving one of his most treasured pieces to Doc: the rod and piston from a 1916 Chalmers automobile. Mack and the boys do not have Dora's skills nor Sam's resources, but they do know that Doc always needs cats. They decide that twenty-five felines will be a most welcomed gift.
Even Gay, a former flophouse resident, sitting in a jail cell in Salinas, hears about the party. He manages to convince the sheriff to let him go for the night and gets two dollars from the man for round-trip bus fare.
Henri is inspired by the occasion to try a new art form he has recently discovered: pincushion art. He works tirelessly creating a huge, intricate, and colorful pincushion for his friend.
Even though the whole town is buzzing with excitement and plans, it takes Doc a long time to realize something is afoot. He only begins to piece...
(The entire section is 593 words.)
Chapter 28 Summary
Chapter 28 brings Frankie, the young, relatively homeless boy, back into the narrative.
After a disastrous attempt at helping Doc serve guests at a former party, Frankie made himself scarce. But eventually, even Frankie hears about the new party; everyone in Cannery Row is talking about it, and seemingly everyone is planning to attend.
Frankie learns that the party is to honor Doc on his birthday. Like everyone else, Frankie wants to do something special for the unofficial mayor of Cannery Row. He does not want to try to offer his help again, since he had failed so miserably before. In every conversation Frankie overhears, people are talking about what gift they are planning to give Doc. Frankie wants to give him a present as well.
Of course, Frankie, having no job, consequently has no money. This does not stop him from gazing into store windows and daydreaming. At one store, he spies something that captures his imagination like nothing else: in a jewelry store window sits the most wondrous clock Frankie has ever seen. Its body is made of black onyx; on the top, in bronze, is a little statue of St. George killing a dragon. The saint even has a little beard, much like the beard Doc sports.
For a couple of weeks, Frankie looks at the clock in the window. Although he had been admiring the clock for a month prior to hearing about the party, now his lust for the timepiece takes on a new urgency. More than anything in the world, Frankie wants Doc to have that clock.
One day, Frankie gets up enough nerve to go inside and ask the shopkeeper how much it costs. The owner quickly sees that this lad has no money, so he does not waste time with him. Gruffly he tells Frankie the price: fifty dollars. Frankie leaves the store without a word.
The thought of giving the clock to Doc will not leave Frankie's mind even though he knows there is no way he could ever buy it. Frankie begins to panic. He must have that clock.
Even though he has not slept in a long time, Frankie is not at all tired, for "the beauty burned in him like fire." Walking up and down the street, Frankie waits until people have thinned out, going to the movies and to dinner and elsewhere; a policeman spots him and asks what he is doing. Frankie runs away.
In the wee hours of the morning, Frankie returns the shop. He tries the door; of course, it is locked. He goes to the alley to sit and...
(The entire section is 522 words.)
Chapter 29 Summary
In Chapter 29, the day of the party has finally arrived. It is late afternoon and Doc is finishing securing everything that can possibly be secured. Doc tries to foresee every possible scenario for destruction. He locks up his records and makes sure no rattlesnakes are anywhere close to where a curious, inebriated guest might find them. Doc does not want the party to be boring, but he does want it to be as safe as it can possibly be, for both himself and his guests.
Doc brews a pot of coffee and puts a record on the phonograph. He takes a shower and puts on clean clothes. No one has yet told Doc the party is indeed happening on this particular day, but Doc feels certain that today is the day. All day long, he senses that people are watching him. He resolves to act surprised when people eventually do turn up.
Cautiously, Doc peers out the window, but no one is yet making their way toward the laboratory. He decides to head over to Lee Chong's and pick up a little more beer even though he has already purchased quite a bit of alcohol for the party at the bigger market in town. Even at Lee's, Doc can sense the "suppressed Oriental excitement," further confirming Doc's suspicions. Doc goes home but still the streets are empty.
Back at the Palace Flophouse, Mack and the boys are consumed with excitement. It is very hard to wait, but they decide that at eight o'clock, they will head over to Doc's. The cats they have collected are yowling in their crates in the corner. There are far too many of them to cart over to the laboratory, so the consensus among the housemates is to tell Doc about them and let him come to look them over at his leisure.
Anticipation is coming to a crescendo over at Dora's Bear Flag as well. Some are disappointed, though, as the house cannot be left empty and the girls must go to the party in shifts. This means that girls who drew later shifts will not be afforded the pleasure of seeing Doc open the quilt they had all worked so hard on making for him. Still, they bear up their lots with aplomb and look forward to their turn. The only one who will not be able to go at all is Alfred, the bouncer. While he understands the reason, he is still gravely disappointed to miss such a great occasion. Seeing how much he is hurting, Dora relents a bit. She tells him that he may come later so long as he promises to watch the house from the window. Of course, Alfred readily agrees.
(The entire section is 489 words.)
Chapter 30 Summary
In Chapter 30, the long-awaited party is taking place. Like anything that is overly anticipated, there is bound to be some letdown, and this occasion is no exception to the rule. Still, as things are getting under way, everyone's hopes are high for a fantastic evening.
At eight o'clock, just as they planned, Mack and the boys pick up their jugs of alcohol and head down the hill to Western Biological. When Doc opens the door, Mack makes his best attempt at a formal speech, to the embarrassment of them both. Still, Mack forges ahead; on behalf of all the boys, he wishes Doc a happy birthday and informs him that they are holding twenty-one cats as a birthday present over at the Palace Flophouse.
Mack finishes his speech and stands uncomfortably on the stairs, waiting for Doc to say something. Doc asks them to come in and expresses surprise that they even know that it is his birthday. He offers them a little drink, but Mack does not want Doc to think they have come to mooch. He points out the wining jugs they all have with them. Kindly, Doc refuses and offers to share some better-quality whiskey with them.
The air of formality has not yet dissipated as the men sit quietly sipping their whiskeys. Fortunately, Dora and her girls are not far behind. They happily present their beautiful quilt to Doc and lay it over his bed. They, too, accept a drink, and now things begin to loosen up at the party.
Next at the door is Sam Malloy, who is pleased to give Doc his antique piston-and-rod set. He cheerfully tells his friend that the parts are likely to be worth a good deal of money very soon as so few are to be found anymore.
A steady stream of guests now begins to pour over the hill, across the railroad tracks, past the vacant lot, and through Doc's door. Like a queen, Dora watches over the behavior of her girls from a seat she has taken in the main room. Doc had been correct about his guests' failure to consider food, so he is in the kitchen frying up steaks. Mack is at the phonograph, selecting records. Eddie is tap-dancing out in the office. Doc takes a swig from the bottle he has brought into the kitchen and is feeling fine. He is actually enjoying the party.
The steaks are done and Doc takes them out to the main room to the surprise and delight of the partygoers. Dora asks him to play some "nice music" and Doc is happy to oblige. He chooses Monteverdi and wallows in the...
(The entire section is 582 words.)
Chapter 31 Summary
Chapter 31 leaves human trials and looks at the natural world, which humans are, of course, a part of but rarely do they see their own troubles as bearing any resemblance to those of other, "lower" mammals.
This chapter is about a gopher. Fully grown and very able-bodied, the creature has moved into a weedy area of the vacant lot, the same lot where Mr. and Mrs. Malloy live in the windowless, abandoned boiler.
The mallow grass growing in the lot is green and thick. The ends of the grasses hold "little cheeses," which are delicious to gophers. The earth is ideal as well: rich and dark and composed of just enough clay to make it perfect for building sturdy tunnels that will not fall apart.
The gopher eats very well. He is fat and clean. His paws are strong and his fur is soft, shiny, and altogether lovely. He is in "the prime of his life."
In this ideal location, the gopher creates a perfect burrow. He constructs many easily accessible entrances and exits. From these portholes in the earth, the gopher is able to monitor all situations, both favorable and unfavorable. He is safely able to watch Mack and the boys move around. Once the main room of his new home is dug out, he burrows down even farther and is delighted once again, for here are huge rocks. He knows that he can dig under a rock to create a space for storing food, confident that the great rock will never allow the cave to collapse even in the worst and most steady of rains. The gopher makes the perfect home for himself and thinks about all the children that will one day inhabit this great burrow and how it might eventually extend in many directions.
After a great deal of work, all of which, of course, he must do alone, the gopher finally finishes his little empire. He has created four exits from the main lodge and has dug out the area under the rock for food storage. Now he begins collecting mallow stems and stacks them neatly and carefully in storage.
He has found and created the most perfect gopher burrow in the world. Beyond the home's attributes, the area is ideal as well. Since no human has created gardens here, no traps will be put out for him. Cats are not a worry because they gorge all day on fish remains and are now too fat and lazy to bother with hunting.
But after a while, a problem presents itself. Even though he has created the perfect home, there is no female with which to share it....
(The entire section is 515 words.)
Chapter 32 Summary
Chapter 32 is the final installment of Cannery Row. The party is long over. Doc struggles to awaken and return to reality as glimpses of the previous night slowly come into focus. He sees the new quilt on his bed, a birthday present from Dora and the girls, lovingly stitched for him out of remnants of their silk dresses. There is lipstick on his beard.
Less pleasant sights soon follow. Broken dishes are strewn about the floor. Wine has been spilled, seeping and staining where it has not been wiped up. Books have tumbled off the shelves and lie splayed out "like heavy fallen butterflies." Spent firecracker shells have left their red paper carcasses lying around.
The mess in the kitchen is disheartening as well. Plates with congealed grease from the fried steaks are stacked here and there and everywhere. Cigarettes have been stamped out on the floor, their butts lying in the spots where shoes extinguished them. The entire laboratory is a mix of smells, "wine and whiskey and perfume."
Doc manages to prop himself up and look out the broken window. The town is quiet; there is no hint of the mayhem that had been raging just a few hours earlier. Everything is back to normal on Cannery Row. He sees that the door stands open over at the Malloys' boiler. Dora's is quiet and the door to the Palace Flophouse is closed.
Finally out of bed, Doc knows he must inspect the damage to his laboratory more closely. But first, he decides to take a shower and put on fresh clothes. He heads over to Lee Chong's.
Lee's shop is closed but when he sees who is at the door, he opens it for his friend. Lee's eyes are a little red and puffy, like almost everyone else who is waking up on Cannery Row this morning.
Lee asks Doc whether he had a good time at the party. "Good time!" Doc enthusiastically responds, and then he heads back home with a quart of Lee's beer.
Doc makes himself a sandwich and sits down with his beer. He listens to music that is playing only in his head. After he is finished, he goes to the kitchen and begins the lonely work of cleaning up. He clears all the dirty dishes out of the sink first, then fills it with soapy water. As the dishes are soaking, he unlocks the room where he had wisely put his favorite records for safekeeping and puts one on the turntable. He washes carefully and quietly so as not to make any noise that might clash with the music that...
(The entire section is 504 words.)