Cannery Row | Study Guide

John Steinbeck

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Cannery Row | Chapter 30 | Summary



Mack and the boys go to the lab to wish Doc a happy birthday, telling him about their gift of 21 cats. He invites them in, and the atmosphere is awkward and formal. The girls from the Bear Flag arrive, followed by the Malloys. Mr. Malloy gives Doc an antique car part. Soon the whole city crowds in. The party gets started as Mack plays dance music and Doc cooks up the steaks. With the food quickly devoured, the party lapses into "a kind of rich digestive sadness." Doc reads a poem aloud, and the mood is somber until a voice in the doorway asks where the girls are. It is the crew of a tuna boat looking for the whorehouse. Mack and the boys are delighted at the excuse to beat up the rude new arrivals, and a huge fight breaks out. Dora's girls hit the outsiders with the spikes of their heels, and Doc swings his gift from Mr. Malloy as a weapon. The place is quickly in shambles, but the locals drive the tuna boat crew away. At the sound of sirens, everyone rushes back inside and are found by police sitting happily in the dark. The second shift of girls from the Bear Flag arrive, and the party gets its second wind. Soon, the police return and join in. Even the crew from the tuna boat are welcomed back to the party which "had all the best qualities of a riot and a night on the barricades." Someone lights fireworks.


The party for Doc in Chapter 30 is the climax of the novel. This is the moment toward which all the action of the plot has been building. Doc's party is a success, although not materially different from the first attempt at a party. It certainly has its ups and downs, but everyone seems happy by the end of the night, even relishing the drunken brawl. The party seems strangely like the first party for Doc with the key difference that this one includes Doc. His place is a mess, but he gets to enjoy and participate in the fight this time. After the climax or high point of a plot, what remains is the resolution, which will come in the following chapters. It ends, literally, with a bang.

The fight is meant to be comedic and ridiculous. After the sad seriousness of the poetry reading, Mack and the boys are delighted at the arrival of the tuna crew, and joyful at the thought of a brawl. This drunken fight is socially silly because it includes the whole city, with prostitutes whacking people with their high heeled shoes and Doc himself swinging an old car part. Everyone is enjoying themselves even as they beat on the rude seamen. The lack of ill will is also evidenced by the fact the tuna crew and the police are later welcomed to enjoy the rest of the party.

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