Cannery Row | Study Guide

John Steinbeck

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Cannery Row | Chapter 15 | Summary

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Summary

Mack tends to the captain's dog and admires her puppies. The captain tells Mack he can have one of them. The captain's wife, a politician, is away, and Mack and the boys are glad she is. They know she would recognize them for the threat they pose to "neatness, order, and properness." The captain offers the boys a drink of his homemade whiskey, and they agree to have just one small glass before beginning the frog hunt. This turns into two hours of drinking.

Men have hunted frogs for millennia, and the rules of the hunt are clear to both sides. Mack and the boys have a new "bold" approach that the frogs could never have anticipated. The frogs are not prepared for "the horror" that ensues. The men line up and walk through the pond, driving the frogs out of the pond to one end where the men scoop them up by the hundreds into bags. The frogs "swam frantically" and "crawled, leaped, scrambled" to get away only to be plopped into sacks. The captain enjoys the hunt immensely, and falls asleep on the kitchen floor. Mack knows the captain will wake up in a different mood, and the thought of his wife returning makes Mack "shiver." He picks his puppy and takes the whiskey jug as they leave.

Analysis

In Chapter 15 the author returns to the plot of the frog hunt. Mack's charm has earned the men an even better spot for catching frogs, the pond next to the captain's house. Even better, befriending the captain leads to a free puppy and a jug of homemade whiskey. After drinking for hours, the boys finally get around to catching the frogs, which is the whole reason they are there. They are very successful by the end of the chapter, catching even more frogs than they need.

The frog hunt is one of the funniest scenes in the novel. It is also thematically a pivotal point. The author narrates the hunt from the frogs' point of view. It is comic to imagine frogs thinking about the acceptable rules of frog hunting only to be horrified by the unconventional, surprise attack. The mental picture of Mack and the boys drunkenly splashing through the pond, all in a row, flushing frogs out of the water is humorous. It's far from Doc and Hazel's scientific observation and specimen collection described earlier in the novel, which makes it even more comical. But it also gives a small, horrifying glimpse into the reason so many people in Cannery Row are content with what they have. They have been the frogs. The Great Depression and two world wars changed their world forever. A return to the normal order of things, in which an occasional frog gets caught in a net and most of them live peaceably, is sublime. And they cling to their little pond with everything they have.

Wives like the captain's wife are the enemy of Mack and the boys because wives represent everything the men want to avoid—responsibility, obligations, and social expectations. They are suspicious of wives in general, avoiding them whenever possible. Readers may interpret this as misogynistic, especially in light of the few positive representations of women in the novel, most of whom are prostitutes. But the wives also represent the culture that expects all of the characters in the novel to return to life pre-war and pre-depression, which for many people in the mid-20th century was an impossibility.

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