Cannery Row

by

John Steinbeck

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Cannery Row: Chapter 13 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Eddie returns to “the boys” the next morning carrying a carburetor he stole from another Model T. After putting in the new part, Mack and the gang zoom off once again and reach their destination that afternoon. Because “the best time for frogs is at night,” they decide to “just lay around ’til it gets dark.” Meanwhile, they cook a chicken they ran over with the car, all the while drinking from Eddie’s jug. While they’re lounging that evening, Mack says, “God damn it. I hate a liar,” and when his friends asks who’s a liar, he says, “Me. And maybe you guys. […] We worked it out that we wanted to give Doc a party. So we come out here and have a hell of a lot of fun.”
In this moment, Mack begins to express misgivings about the plan he and his friends have devised. Indeed, it seems that he is finally realizing that his attempt to commit an act of kindness is somewhat self-motivated, as he articulates that he and “the boys” are having “a hell of a lot of fun.” As such, he worries that they’ve been lying to themselves by insisting that this is all for Doc.
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“There’s five of us,” Mack continues, “so we’ll drink five times as much liquor as [Doc] will. And I ain’t sure we’re doin’ it for Doc. I ain’t sure we ain’t doin’ it for ourselves. And Doc’s too nice a fella to do that to.” Going on, he says that he doesn’t want to “take advantage” of Doc, adding that Doc one time gave him a dollar even though it was clear he had lied about why he needed it. “I paid him that buck back the next day,” he says. “Just kept it overnight and then give it back to him.” Interjecting, Hazel points out that Doc loves parties, but Mack says, “I don’t know, I’d just like to give him something when I didn’t get most of it back.”
Again, Mack reveals that he has grown uncomfortable with the plan he and his friends have come up with to celebrate Doc. This is because he has finally admitted to himself that he is interested in throwing Doc a party because he himself is looking forward to drinking lots of “liquor.” When he says, “I’d just like to give him something when I didn’t get most of it back,” then, he puts his finger on why his plan to celebrate Doc is flawed, for he knows he will personally benefit from the party.
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As Mack and “the boys” discuss the best way to honor Doc, a man appears holding a shotgun, a Pointer dog standing by his side. “What the hell are you doing here?” he says, adding that they can’t hunt on this land. In response, Mack says, “Look, Captain, we made a mistake and we’re sorry. You’re a military man, aren’t you, sir? I can always tell. Military man don’t carry his shoulders the same as ordinary. I was in the army so long, I can always tell.” At this, the man stands up straighter, and Mack goes on, saying that he and his friends are collecting frogs to give to scientists, who will “experiment” on the creatures in an attempt to find a cure for cancer.
Despite Mack’s newfound revelation about kindness, he has clearly slipped back into his old ways as a smooth-talking charmer. Indeed, readers see in this moment why he’s always so capable of duping people, for it’s clear that he’s quite gifted when it comes to flattering others and encouraging them to ignore his true intentions. First, he praises the Captain as a way of endearing himself to the man, and then he delivers a phony tale about why he and his friends are looking for frogs, ultimately framing their efforts as undeniably altruistic. It’s obvious that the Captain will have a hard time staying angry at him.
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“By God, that’s a fine-lookin’ bitch,” Mack says, sensing that the Captain has relaxed. “She’s lame. Tick got her right shoulder,” the Captain replies, and Mack asks if he can examine her. “She just had pups, didn’t she?” Mack says, and the Captain confirms that she did. Mack then tells the Captain about a “poultice of epsom salts” he knows how to make that would cure the dog’s wound. “Tell you what I’ll do, Captain,” he says. “I’ll look after her myself. Epsom salt’ll do the trick. That’s the best thing.” In response, the Captain says, “You know, I’ve got a pond up by the house that’s so full of frogs I can’t sleep nights. Why don’t you look up there? They bellow all night. I’d be glad to get rid of them.”
When the Captain says that Mack and “the boys” can use his pond to collect frogs, readers see how effective Mack’s charm really is. Now that he has endeared himself to the Captain, he finds himself capable of getting exactly what he wants, thus demonstrating the ways in which he uses kindness to his own personal benefit.
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