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Cannery Row | Study Guide

John Steinbeck

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Cannery Row | Chapter 18 | Summary



Doc arrives at the tidal flats in La Jolla at 2 A.M., and sleeps until he senses the tide going out. He collects octopi and sea cradles. When he has enough, he explores the tide pools, and is shocked to find the dead body of a girl caught in a crevice. He finds the body beautiful. Shaken, he walks back to the beach to sit down and can hear music in his head. A man asks if he is all right, and Doc tells him about the body. The man says there is a bounty for reports of dead bodies, and Doc tells the man to report it himself and claim the bounty. He just wants to leave.


Doc's reaction to finding the body of the girl is somewhat ambiguous. Certainly, most people would be shaken at finding a dead person, but Doc's reaction is unique. He finds the body beautiful, and he hears music. The latter may remind readers of his liaisons with women when he predictably draws the curtains and plays loud classical music. Readers may wonder if he is sexually attracted to the body and appalled at his own response. It is possible he is just surprised to find beauty in death. It is also possible that as someone who works daily with animal specimens—some living, others dead—he realizes humans are subject to the same forces, and is confronted with his own mortality.

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