Cannery Row | Study Guide

John Steinbeck

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Cannery Row | Chapter 13 | Summary

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Summary

The next morning Eddie returns with a carburetor he has stolen. The boys drive through the picturesque scenery overlooking the bay. They pass through beautiful agricultural land, hitting a rooster on the side of the road. Hazel plucks his feathers as they drive along, and they soon come to the Carmel River and their destination, "a pool, green and deep" with a sandy area on which to sit. The boys cook up the chicken along with a bag of "carrots which had fallen from a vegetable truck, [and] half dozen onions which had not." As they enjoy their food with what alcohol is left in the jug, Jones suggests Eddie separate the alcohol by kind next time instead of putting all the remnants into a single jug. He soon realizes he has said the wrong thing. They turn to speculation of what has happened to Gay, and Mack guesses he has returned to his wife. It occurs to Mack that perhaps he has been lying to himself about Doc's party. He wonders if he is really throwing the party for his own benefit, a thought that bothers him because "Doc's too nice a fella to do that to."

A man suddenly shows up with his dog and demand the men leave his land. Mack turns on his charm for the man, flattering him as a military officer by calling him "Captain." Mack explains they are looking for frogs to help cancer research, and suggests he knows a cure for the captain's dog's leg. Soon the captain is offering his pond full of frogs. Hazel claims Mack could be president if he wanted. Jones responds "there wouldn't be no fun in that."

Analysis

The descriptions of the pastoral setting serve as a contrast to the ridiculous reality of the men's outing. Amidst the hills, the view of the bay, and the beauty of the river, are these bums in a dilapidated truck on a quest to bag frogs to pay for a party for Doc, who will have financed the whole thing. They eat their makeshift meal in a pristine natural setting. The biggest social gaffe of the evening is a suggestion by Jones about the way Eddie steals leftover booze at work. It is a complaint about their mismatched lives that is intolerable, suggesting that one person is not contributing in a fair and even fashion.

The author develops Mack's character further in this chapter. Readers may be surprised to learn Mack is actually capable of self-reflection. He even seems to have a conscience. It occurs to him his motives regarding the party are not entirely unselfish. What's more, it bothers him, and he thinks Doc deserves better. Just as readers believe Mack may be more than just a conman, the captain gets the full Mack treatment. Mack ingratiates himself to the man by flattering him, invoking sympathy, and claiming to know how to treat the dog, identifying the man's soft spot. Readers are likely inclined to agree with Hazel that Mack is so good at manipulating people he could use his skills to gain just about anything, even the presidency. However, Jones knows something more about Mack's character—he only exerts effort to gain pleasure. He doesn't want obligations or responsibility.

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