Cannery Row | Study Guide

John Steinbeck

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Cannery Row | Chapter 26 | Summary

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Summary

Two young boys, Willard and Joey, walk down Cannery Row, looking in windows and throwing rocks. Joey tells Willard he has heard there are fetuses in jars inside the lab. Willard doesn't believe him and tries to pick a fight. When Joey won't be provoked, Willard brings up Joey's father. Although Willard knows Joey's father committed suicide, Joey is afraid of Willard. Willard forces Joey to retell the story of how his father ate rat poison because he had been out of work for over a year. Willard makes fun of Joey's father, mimicking a rat. Joey says after his father died slowly and painfully, a man came the next day to offer his father a job.

Analysis

This interchapter has two notable connections to the rest of the novel. First, it includes the third suicide in the novel. The death of Joey's father is similar to the suicide of Horace earlier in the novel. Both men struggle to support their families, reaching the point of despair because of a lack of money. The author makes this suicide especially poignant by including the ray of hope that came a day too late for Joey's father. Second, Willard's intentional cruelty to Joey is reminiscent of the cat in Mary Talbot's backyard that was torturing the mouse. Just as the cat toyed with the mouse, clawing it for amusement, Willard brings up the most painful thing he can think of to hurt Joey, forcing him to retell the story all while mocking him.

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