Cannery Row

by

John Steinbeck

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Cannery Row: Chapter 15 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
In the Captain’s house, Mack applies the “poultice” to the pointer and tells the Captain that the puppies should be “weaned.” The Captain, for his part, admits that he probably should have “drowned” them because he doesn’t have enough time to care for so many animals. “I’ve been so busy trying to keep the place going,” he says. “People don’t take the interest in bird dogs they used to. It’s all poodles and boxers and boxers and Dobermans.” Agreeing, Mack asserts that Pointers are the best breed, but he expresses astonishment that the Captain would even think about drowning the puppies. “Well, since my wife went into politics, I’m just running crazy,” the Captain says. “She got elected to the Assembly for this district and when the Legislature isn’t in session, she’s off making speeches.” In response, Mack says that “must be pretty lonely.”
Once again, loneliness surfaces in Cannery Row. At first, Steinbeck presents the Captain as somewhat of an antagonist, considering that he appears with a shotgun and tells Mack and the boys to leave his land. However, he soon reveals that the Captain is a nice man who is simply lonely, and once he opens up, he has no problem showing Mack and the boys an admirable amount of kindness.
Themes
Loneliness, Melancholy, and Happiness Theme Icon
Kindness, Empathy, and Friendship Theme Icon
“Now if I had a pup like this,” Mack says, picking up a puppy, “why I bet I’d have a real bird dog in three years.” Hearing this, the Captain tells Mack to take a puppy, saying that he might as well because “nobody seems to understand bird dogs any more.” As this conversation continues, the rest of “the boys” stand in the kitchen and look around, noticing the influence of the Captain’s wife and feeling thankful that she’s not home, since “such women” know that they are “the worst threats to a home.” This, Steinbeck says, is because Mack and “the boys” provide “ease and thought and companionship as opposed to neatness, order, and properness.” At this point, the Captain offers the group some whiskey that he has been saving since Prohibition, and they all become drunk.
As the Captain warms up to Mack and “the boys,” he becomes increasingly accommodating, even going out of his way to offer them whiskey. Considering that he first appeared as an antagonistic character, it’s easy to see how much Mack’s charm can affect a person. Indeed, this is because Mack and his friends put people at “ease” and lend them a feeling of “companionship”—something the Captain sorely lacks because he is so lonely without his wife. In turn, readers see once again that Mack and the boys use kindness and generosity in order to get what they want, though it’s also worth noting that their efforts aren’t purely exploitative, since Mack’s goodwill seems altogether genuine despite the fact that he benefits from endearing himself to the Captain.
Themes
Vice and Virtue Theme Icon
Loneliness, Melancholy, and Happiness Theme Icon
Kindness, Empathy, and Friendship Theme Icon
Although Mack acts as if he doesn’t want too much to drink, he subtly encourages the Captain to keep pouring glasses of whiskey, eventually suggesting that it would be easier if he simply poured some of the cask into a “pitcher.” Later, they all raid the pond, successfully rounding up a very large number of frogs and having a great time as they do so. “It is doubtful whether the captain had ever had so much fun,” Steinbeck writes. “He was indebted to Mack and the boys. Later when the curtains caught fire and were put out with the little towels, the captain told the boys not to mind it. He felt it was an honor to have them burn his house clear down, if they wanted to.”
That the Captain’s curtains catch fire is an indication of the kind of mayhem that comes along with Mack and the boys’ kindness. Although they don’t mean any harm, it’s clear that their shenanigans often lead to calamity—a fact that doesn’t bode well for Doc’s party.
Themes
Kindness, Empathy, and Friendship Theme Icon
Shortly thereafter, the Captain passes out, and Mack asks Eddie to confirm that the man did indeed offer him a jug of whiskey and a puppy. “I never did roll a drunk and I ain’t gonna start now,” Mack says, adding that they should leave before the Captain wakes up. “He’s gonna wake up feelin’ lousy and it’s goin’ to be all our fault,” he says. As they leave—whiskey and puppy in hand—Mack says, “We shouldn’t go forgettin’ we’re doin’ all this for Doc.”
Although Mack’s tactics often lead to disaster, it’s worth noting that he has a strong moral compass. Indeed, he goes out of his way to make sure he’s not stealing from a drunk man, thereby demonstrating his virtuousness even as he brings chaos into the Captain’s life.
Themes
Vice and Virtue Theme Icon
Kindness, Empathy, and Friendship Theme Icon
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