Cannery Row Chapter 23 Summary
by John Steinbeck

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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. 

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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 physical effects of stress or the emotional ones. They "do what they want" and do not have to hide their desires by masking them as a nobler purpose. 

Mack and the boys may suffer the most, but no one in town seems to escape the cloud that hangs over Cannery Row. Everyone seems to be having personal issues with their family and friends. Bad luck comes from the outside, too, as a group of civil-minded ladies takes it upon themselves to try to...

(The entire section is 823 words.)