Cannery Row | Study Guide

John Steinbeck

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Cannery Row | Chapter 7 | Summary

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Summary

Mack and the boys began life in the Palace Flophouse sleeping on the floor. Each has a space designated with chalk. Once Hughie repaired a damaged cot and Mack brought home bed springs from the dump, the boys begin furnishing the home. They spend three days lugging a stove back to the house once they realized no one else would transport it for them.

Eddie is an occasional bartender at La Ida and routinely brings home a jar into which he has poured all the remnants of drinks he has served. This makes him a valued member of the house, and none of the other men ask him to contribute to the housekeeping as a result. Mack and the boys discuss what they could do for Doc. They know he is entertaining a woman when the blinds are drawn and music is playing in the lab. Mack makes fun of Hughie for thinking Doc is "celebrate" because he doesn't show her off naked. Mack has to explain that "celebrate" means someone who can't get a woman. Jones says he thought celebrate meant to give a party. The men discuss what type of party Doc might like, and they decide he would like drinks. Instead of working for a few days at a cannery to earn money for the party, the men decide they will collect frogs for which Doc is always willing to pay a nickel apiece.

Analysis

The boys' banter about Doc being "celebrate" is an example of humor in the novel. Mack, with great authority, makes fun of anyone who thinks Doc is "celebrate" and can't get a lady simply because he doesn't flaunt his conquests. Jones actually knows the correct definition of celebrate, although not the word Mack meant to use, which is of course "celibate." The use of a wrong but similar sounding word is a technique called "malapropism," and is often used for comic effect.

Chapter 7 sets the plot into motion in earnest as the boys decide they want to throw a party for Doc with alcohol. They decide they will need to earn some money to pay for this shindig, and to do so, they will collect frogs for Doc, who pays a nickel for each frog. What does not occur yet to the boys, but may strike the readers as odd, is that this scheme will in effect make Doc pay for his own party. The obliviousness of the boys to the problem with this scheme foreshadows more mishaps to come.

The author develops the boys' work philosophy. It has already been established that Mack and the boys are bums who spend most days hanging out and talking in the vacant lot, rather than working steady jobs. Eddie fills in at the bar part-time, but mostly for the booze. To Mack and the boys, work is a last resort when "finding" things they need or manipulating other people isn't an option, and it is definitely a temporary endeavor. They have what they want, or can procure it with a minimal amount of effort. They have adapted to their environment to survive quite happily.

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