Cannery Row | Study Guide

John Steinbeck

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Cannery Row | Chapter 20 | Summary



Mack and the boys return with their jug of whiskey, sacks of frogs, and a new puppy they name Darling. Mack gets Lee Chong to agree to take frogs for groceries since Doc is still not back. The boys talk about the details of the party while taking small sips from the jug, which they remind each other is for the party. Eddie attempts to make a cake, but it doesn't turn out well. The puppy eats some of it and throws up. They make more trips to Lee Chong's for supplies, and by the end of the day the jug is empty, and Lee Chong has nearly all of the frogs.

The boys spend the last of the frogs on more alcohol and decorations for the lab. Lee Chong's container of frogs is placed in the middle of the room as a surprise. By 11 P.M. Doc has still not arrived, so they eat the food they intended for the party. Bear Flag customers mistake the lab for their destination and fight the boys. The front door and windows get broken. A drunk wanders in and insults Doc, so Mack hits him, knocking over the container of frogs. The place is in ruins and by morning all the frogs have escaped.


Chapter 20 is a comic warning about good intentions. Although the boys intend to throw a special party for Doc, complete with drinks, decorations, and a cake, all their efforts fail in hilarious fashion. They end up drinking all of the whiskey before the party even begins. They decorate the lab, only to completely wreck it later. The cake is a disgusting mess that makes even the dog vomit. By the end of the night, what they have given Doc is not a party to show how much they appreciate him, but a huge mess. Lee Chong loses in the deal too since his payment escapes. Good intentions mean very little when they come from Mack and the boys.

The disastrous outcome of the party is a low point in the novel, but it isn't the climax. As readers will find out, Mack and the boys won't let the failure—no matter how awful—keep them from pursuing their goal of doing something nice for Doc. All of the action of the plot, including this setback, builds toward the climax of the novel yet to come.

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